Neil Taylor


On 9 October 1989 the Cave Management Advisory Committee (CMAC) for the Leeuwin Naturaliste National Park (LNNP) first met. Their tasks were outlined in the Management Plan for the LNNP. Their prime task was to advise Conservation and Land Management (CALM) on how to set up a Cave Permit System for cave access within the park.

It took three years before a Cave Permit System was introduced on 1 September 1992. The process took time due to the extensive public consultation undertaken and the fact that the system was a first for Western Australia. The Permit System had five basic objectives:

  1. Improve cave conservation within the park.
  2. Improve cave safety - minor accidents were common.
  3. Undertake a wide based education programme through all types of user groups.
  4. To raise revenue for management of caves.
  5. Gather data on cavers, types, frequency, age groupings, etc, via the Permit System.

Caves were broadly classified as Adventure Caves (AC) or Restricted Access (RA) Caves (Appendix 1). Access into RA caves was largely unchanged from the system evolved between speleological clubs. Permits (attracting a fee) were required for AC II and III type caves and four were left as free access (within the AC I category). Financial incentive was offered to encourage cavers to book in advance which has been taken up by approximately 70% of user groups. Bookings have been organised through the Margaret River Tourist Bureau which is central to the caves and open 7 days per week. Bookings are taken on "a first in best dressed basis". However Commercial Operators are accommodated to pay on a monthly basis rather than per permit basis.

Events of the first 8 months

There has been a concerted effort to get everyone aware that the new system is in place and the Cave Management Advisory Committee have conducted regular surveys one weekend per month. The survey results are giving a range of information but are indicating that very few visit the area to go caving, unaware that the new system is in place. There has been general acceptance of the system by school groups, commercial operators, speleological clubs, etc.

The CMAC appears to be meeting the five basic objectives set:

  1. Some traffic has been focused on the 'freebie' caves but other significant caves have received less visitors. More track marking is being done to reduce impacts in heavily used caves.
  2. There appears to be a reduction in the number of reported minor accidents in caves, but eight months is too short a time frame to be absolute on this issue.
  3. One trip leader course was piloted successfully, plus there are numerous information shelters put at the entrances to the busiest caves. A mailing list of as many interested cavers (individuals and groups) has been prepared and an ad hoc newsletter sent out to keep as many people as possible directly in contact with changes/issues within the caving scene.
  4. Over $9,000 has been raised in the first 8 months. After collection expenses are deducted, 100% of this revenue is used for cave management in the first two years. After two years only 50% is retained.
  5. The computerised booking system and the monthly cave surveys have yielded considerable data for future management decisions.

The first eight months have seen some changes made 'on the run'. For example, one abseiling site became bookable almost upon request to ensure potential users knew it was available after travelling three hours from Perth.

The first eight months have been very busy keeping up with issues as they arise. The real challenges are still ahead of CALM and the CMAC.

The Future

The long term philosophy that protecting karst in the park is best done via public education is not a new idea but does require resources to get up and running.

The CMAC intends to review upward fees charged for cave permits but the best option for the future is to build an education centre resourced by people paying to enter the building. Such a facility could have numerous attractions: coffee shop, theatrette, static display, interactive displays, research rooms, etc.

Each would attract a different clientele. The envisaged attraction will raise revenue to enable resources to be acquired to run a broad based cave awareness programme as well as advanced trip leader courses.

At the conclusion of 12 months operation of the system a thorough review of all aspects will be undertaken. Issues such as advance bookings, fee levels, cave classifications, caves within existing classifications may be adjusted, method of getting trip leader status, etc. In short, anything that is deemed to be improvable will be re-worked.

The CMAC sees a necessity for a statewide body on caving to be able to lobby at a political level for major issues such as legislation funding; tenure decisions etc. This statewide body would have representation from Australasian Cave and Karst Management Association and Australian Speleological Federation and would not be under the direction of CALM but rather an independent body such as the Environmental Protection Authority (EPA).

Of major concern to the CMAC is that our 'testing' of trip leaders is very cosmetic and of all the people who have applied for trip leader status for AC 2 and 3 caves, none have failed (some have had several goes). The standards for trip leader status ideally should be set at a national level. If this doesn't evolve quickly enough then as soon as we get the resources we intend to hire someone to run testing and educational programmes

The future will probably see one cave leased out as a commercial adventure cave. This will have a protective function for the cave (lease will specify types of uses and group sizes etc, as well as an educational role.

The number of commercial operators within the LNNP will probably have to be limited. Currently any operator who applies is accepted. If a limited number of licences are advertised successful operators will have a long term vested interest to protect the caves.

Accommodating and encouraging research on all aspects of the caves are badly required. The CMAC recognises the need to offer assistance to get various institution interested in travelling 3 hours from the metropolitan area.

In conclusion it is obvious that CALM in conjunction with the CMAC have challenging tasks ahead. The ultimate task is to creatively raise revenue in a publicly acceptable manner so that a broad based caves education programme can be run alongside research and daily management functions.

Appendix 1


Adventure Caves Class IMax no. people/trip
Tunnel Cave10
Giants Cave20
Northcote Grotto Cave10
Calgardup Cave10
Adventure Caves Class IIMax no. people/trip
Golgotha Cave15
Nannup Cave8
Block Cave6
Quinninup Lake Cave10
Mordang Dar Cave10
Terrible Cave10
Adventure Caves Class IIIMax no. people/trip
Brides Cave20
Mill Cave10
W.I. 1620
Dingo Cave6
Arumvale Pipe6
Blackboy Hollow Cave*8
Giant Pipes (2) (one site)20
Calgardup Pipe*#

#: Numbers to be determined once pipe rehabilitated it will be bookable.
* indicates locked cave, key will need to be collected once permit paid for.


Restricted Access Cave Class I   W.I. 69
Restricted Access Cave Class II   Bulldozer
Restricted Access Cave Class III   Oops-it-Hurt
Restricted Access Cave Class IV   Devil's Lair
Restricted Access Cave Class V