Protecting Wilderness and National Parks

Horse Riding in Wilderness Trial - a biased, politically motivated flop

The final report on the two year horse riding in wilderness trial has been released this week by the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.  Few riders accessed wilderness during the trial, it was a flop.  The trial established that wilderness does not ‘improve opportunities for sustainable recreational horse riding in NSW national parks[1]’,” said Keith Muir director of the Colong Foundation for Wilderness.

Political motivation

“The horse riding trial had a predetermined political goal to provide for horse riding.  This goal established a bias in the scientific methods at odds with the legal protection purpose of wilderness declaration,” Mr Muir said. 


  • “The trial considered only legitimate riders, so riding when a trail was closed, riders with dogs and foals were all excluded, as was the regular destruction and theft survey cameras that compromised and reduced data collected. 
  • “Collection of soil compaction data was discontinued when significant compaction was indicated, despite these data being an important indicator of environmental damage.
  • “The acceptable threshold for management intervention was to prevent irreversible damage, only, so that damage was tolerated under the trial.
  • “Little use was equated with little impact, contrary to other reported science.
  • “Three alleged safeguards: riding on existing trails; camping at designated campsites; and compliance with the NPWS horse riding code do not protect wilderness or threatened species as all these safeguards are voluntary and will be ignored, and compliance will not even be monitored.

“The trial rode rough shod over the precautionary principle, a guiding objective of the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974.  Instead of avoiding damage by management actions up front, damage to wilderness was only avoided by sheer good luck.  This risky ‘suck it and see’ approach is not the way to protect wilderness or national parks”, he said.

Little interest from riders

“The trial established that there was little interest in horse riding within declared wilderness areas.  Excluding horse riding from declared wilderness will ensure these precious areas have less risk from weed invasion, abuse by illegal trial bike riders and environmental damage without reducing horse riding opportunities.  Many concessions have been made for horse riders in national parks and the lack of interest in this trail establishes that further access is unnecessary” said Mr Muir.

“Based on this trial, future horse riding in wilderness would allow vandalism, illegal activity, theft, trial bikes, animal cruelty, environmental degradation and a loss of wilderness values.  These abuses will not be monitored by the NPWS but left to self-regulation that has proven to be a failure.  The grounds for protecting wilderness from such threats are strong”, Mr Muir said.

For more information contact: Keith Muir, (02) 9261 2400 (wk) or 0412 791 404 (mob)


[1] Quoted as the overarching goal for the horse riding wilderness trial site on page 6 in each of the three Review of the Environmental Factors reports.