Fight to save threatened Fairy Tern leaves a Australian neighborhood without beach access
It's not your usual neighbourhood fence dispute.
On the one side is the solitary dog walker, the boisterous family of five, and the couple seeking an escape from the city.
And on the other is a threatened Australian bird.
For years, Raspins Beach at Orford, on Tasmania's east coast, has been a people's paradise. Its shallow waters beckon families with young children, paddleboarders and kayakers, sun-seeking teens, even bird-watchers.
Property owners on the bordering Tasman Highway said they were surprised when, six months ago, the entire beach was fenced, without consultation. It caused much confusion.
"Locals, residents and tourists alike use this area in summer, it's a very popular area," said John Ryan, a part-time resident of 15 years.
"We all live and have lived in harmony for many years."
By "we", Mr Ryan is referring to the threatened Fairy Tern, of which there are about two dozen pairs in the area.
The wire fence first appeared along the beach's edges about two years ago.
In November, the Glamorgan Spring Bay Council completely closed off the beach, without notice to residents.
Dr Eric Woehler from Birdlife Tasmania said the birds had shown up earlier than usual, allowing no time for consultation.
"Consultation can drag out for six to 12 months or longer," he said.
"People are never happy with the outcome so they ask for more consultation.
Colony abandoned because of 'disturbance'
And this is where the real dispute lies.
While Dr Woehler said dog and human disturbance were threatening the bird's population, long-time residents disagreed.
Rosemary Wood, an environmental science teacher who has spent three decades of summers on the beach with her children and grandchildren, said it was unlikely residents would disturb the birds.
She said the fence had confused visitors to Orford this past summer, with signs suggesting only dogs were banned.
Consequently, many climbed through or over it to use the popular beach.
"Crown land is for both natural resources protection and availability, and we must come up with a solution that shares and brings about the best result for the birds, the flora and the people of the area," Ms Wood said.
She said many in the neighbourhood, including she, believed the Fairy Tern population was most recently threatened by high tides and the remarkable summer hailstorm of January 2018.
But Dr Woehler said that claim was "rubbish".
"I was up there every 10 to 12 days that summer, and the Fairy Terns were there before and after the hailstorm," he said.
"The colony was abandoned because of disturbance, likely human or dogs."
One thing both parties agree on is that the bird population has been harmed by controversial sandbags installed to maintain boat access to the Prosser River.
"Before those bags were in place, there were many more areas available to people and their children for swimming," Dr Woehler said.
"What is left for people to use is now under greater pressure."
Finding a way forward
Debbie Wisby first heard of the fence the day before she was sworn in as local mayor.
"The way that this was done was far from ideal," she said.
"That's why we've put a stop to any further works and we're going back to the drawing board."
On Tuesday, council will finalise a working group, including residents and bird advocates, to find a way forward.
Dr Woehler said re-opening Raspins Beach could sound the death knell for the Fairy Tern.
"The population is crashing, so something like this is just another knife in the back of these birds.
"While that might please the locals up at Orford, it's a black mark for Australia."