A group of travellers caught in bushland in Margaret River have been hit with $4,500 in fines for camping illegally amid increased surveillance of such activity.
- Rangers say the tourist town of Margaret River is experiencing a spike in illegal camping
- There are no free campsites in the shire, which is already buckling under an influx of domestic tourists
- Authorities are on high alert after two suspiciously lit fires threatened lives and homes
The popular town is already buckling under the strain of capacity numbers of domestic tourists left with limited travel options due to continued restrictions.
Local rangers have increased patrols and shire management is considering contracting additional resources to assist in the policing of illegal campers.
Shire of Augusta Margaret River ranger coordinator Narelle Graue said the “high volume” of campers setting up in bushland was putting “significant pressure” on the environment.
“Our visitor numbers peak at this time of year, with little accommodation or campsites available last minute,” Ms Graue said.
“The true cost of this type of camping is paid for by the environment and indirectly by residents whose rates go towards cleaning up the rubbish left behind, rehabilitating trampled bushland, and covering water bills from travellers relying on public showers and other facilities.”
Authorities and residents are on high alert following two emergency level bushfires in Margaret River, which police say were deliberately lit.
The shire’s emergency services manager, Adam Jasper, said illegal camping and the prospect of open fires or gas cooktops being used under current fire alert levels added to those concerns.
“Firefighters won’t know where you are if you’re free camping in the bush, and I’ve seen fires move so quickly they can create incredibly dangerous situations in a short period of time,” Mr Jasper said.
“Bush cooking on open stoves or lighting campfires in undesignated spots can unintendedly cause a bushfire.
“This creates a very real risk to the surrounding community where people live and work.”
Shire of Augusta Margaret River president Paula Cristoffanini said wording on signage at the entrance to towns to deter illegal campers had been altered to be made “more direct” following continued infringements.
“We are hoping that the message will get out,” she said.
“If you do want to come here you need to find somewhere to stay.”