Illegal camping skyrockets across Capes region

Warren HatelyAugusta Margaret River Times
Shire rangers are directing people facing housing stress to support agencies.
Camera IconShire rangers are directing people facing housing stress to support agencies. Credit: Media - Shire of Augusta Margaret River

Penalties for illegal camping have soared during the past summer in one of the clearest indicators yet of the pressure faced by the Capes region.

The Shire of Augusta-Margaret River and the City of Busselton have both reported big upticks in fines handed out by rangers, with calls for help to Augusta-Margaret River rangers double what they were last summer.

At the same time, Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attraction rangers were also handing out increased penalties to campers, many of whom the Times understands were Perth visitors who did not book ahead.

Augusta-Margaret River Shire sustainable economy and communities director Nick Byrne said the local government was looking to expand its team to meet demand.

“Calls for rangers’ assistance have unsurprisingly increased by nearly 100 per cent in the last 12 months, from 897 in 2022-23 to 1674 in the 2023-24 season, reflecting the increased population over the summer season all of us in town have experienced,” he said.

“This is clearly a nuanced and complex situation, and from the shire’s perspective we are treating it carefully.

“We have been recruiting new rangers to ensure the team is well staffed to meet the needs of the growing population of the shire.”

Busselton community planning director Gary Barbour said rangers gave fines when illegal camping was proven, but an increase in homelessness and workers without housing meant the issue was being treated with compassion.

“The City has observed an increase in illegal camping throughout the City, particularly in popular coastal areas over the summer period,” he said.

A DBCA spokesperson said campsites within the Leeuwin-Naturaliste National Park were “very busy” during holiday season, with 102 infringements delivered up from 60 during the previous summer.

Among the greatest risks posed by campers was bushfire, with 52 ignitions contained by DBCA crews this summer alone.

“Many are suppressed before the community is aware they have occurred,” the spokesperson said.

“Community sentiment around bushfire awareness and interest generally peaks in response to nearby bushfires and is heightened around seasonal weather events which trigger total fire bans,” DBCA said.

“In a general sense, most members of the public are well-informed and very co-operative.”

Augusta-Margaret River’s acting ranger co-ordinator Garth Baxter dispelled any myths that backpackers and overseas visitors were the main culprits.

“We’ve issued more infringements because there are more visitors in the region, but we’ve also taken a firmer stance to keep the broader community safe given the elevated risk of bushfires over summer,” he said.

“We find most people are co-operative, although I would say international travellers are generally more respectful and environmentally conscious than their Australian counterparts.”

Augusta-Margaret River rangers also handed out three fines for people setting fire to bush, though all were residents of the shire, Mr Byrne said.

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