Nicholas White


The Strategy1 has been developed to provide a blueprint for the management of caves and karst in Victoria. The Strategy is currently in draft form and is open for public comment. This paper describes the process of strategy development and its contents and then tries to objectively stand aside from it and ask pertinent questions about the contents and the actions proposed.

Strategy Development

The Caves Advisory Committee as part of its work commissioned the preparation of a catalogue of Victorian caves and recommendations for their management2. This study has been previously described3. It was decided to prepare a strategy based on this report to provide a guide for more detailed management at the regional levels of the Department.

The strategy objectives are given in Figures 1 and 2. The principle objectives involve a recognition of the significance of caves and karst and the need for professional management of the Victorian karst estate to protect the many values of caves. Departmental objectives are to conserve and protect caves and to provide skilled and sensitive management of karst resources.

Cave management is to be based on the classification scheme of Worboys et al4 as modified by Davey and White2. This is shown in Figure 3 together with the types of management for each classification. It should be stated that access restrictions for any of the classifications is based on the significance of the site and the vulnerability to damage. The Strategy does not dictate specific management actions for each site. These are left to management plans. Access policies for each cave are to be specified in these plans and are to be consistent with their values and classification. Emphasis is placed on the continuing need to foster research and investigation of caves both for its own sake and to directly serve management objectives. Equally emphasis is placed on the need for informed management in the special management skills required for sensitive karst management. Management is to be based on cooperation and education. Users of caves are to be encouraged to join recognised caving groups and to adhere to responsible practices (ASF Code of Ethics).

The Strategy covers caves in public ownership but is less specific for caves in private ownership. There are a number of mechanisms whereby these caves can also be brought under the ambit of the Strategy but many of these are less direct than when ownership is with the State.


It is difficult to stand aside and criticise a policy which I have been involved in drafting. Perhaps the obvious criticism would be that the strategy is soft and does not have many measurable or time limited actions. It was considered that these were more appropriate within management plans. The strategy is very directly a document of the Department. The challenge will be to ensure other government owners of karst and private owners peruse management compatible with the long term health of and quality of Victorian karst. This area will need to be addressed through planning mechanisms. Indeed one of the comments on the strategy was that amendments to planning schemes should be prepared in conjunction with local government where necessary to protect cave and karst values.

VSA felt that information on cave locations should be exempt from access via the Freedom of Information Act. Most of their submission related to co-operation and sharing of information.


Redrafting the Strategy will take account of comments and will be the next task. Already a number of Management Plans have been or are being drafted. The Strategy is the basis upon which these plans have been drafted. It is hoped that the Strategy will be the basis for managing karst in years to come.


The Strategy was developed by a subcommittee of the Caves Advisory Committee comprising Nicholas White, Elery Hamilton-Smith, Miles Pierce and John Lane of the Department. It would not have been possible without the writing by Janice Grieves and then Andrea Thomas who were policy officers attached to the committee.


1 Draft Strategy for the Management of Caves and Karst in Victoria, March 1991. National Parks and Public Land Division, Department of Conservation and Environment

2 Davey, A.G. and S. White. Preliminary Management Classification and Catalogue of Victorian Caves and Karst. A report to the Caves Classification Committee, Department of Conservation Forests and Lands Applied Natural Resource Management 1986

3 White, Nicholas. Cave Classification in Victoria Paper to the 6th Australasian Conference on Cave Tourism and Management (unpublished)

4 Worboys, G.; Davey, A.G.; Stiff, C. Report on Cave Classification. Cave Management in Australia IV pp11-18, 1982. Published National Parks Authority WA and ASF


  1. Identify the significant values, impacts and concerns relevant to the protection of caves and their related land forms
  2. Provide guidelines to assist management and planning of cave and karst areas on both public and private land
  3. Foster sensitive and appropriate attitudes amongst public land managers, private owners and planning authorities to the conservation of caves and their related landforms



1.1  Adventure. Completely unrestricted access. Actively encourage recreational visitors. Passive on-site interpretation
1.2  Show Cave will be gated. General public will be admitted only under supervision of duly authorised guide. Diversity of tour experiences encouraged. Personalised interpretation. Researchers/Investigators encouraged but admitted by special arrangement with site manager.


2.1  Reference. Access only to researchers/investigators and only then in relation to the reference functions of the site
2.2  Special Value. Each site must have a specifically defined policy and management prescription, based on (a) the reason for the classification and (b), the vulnerability of the site. Strategies will then range from gating and tightly limited access; limited access, by season, visitor category or both, without gating; access as for wild caves but with on site interpretive signs as appropriate; secrecy and concealment of site; to unrestricted access with on-site interpretation in some cases
2.3  Dangerous. Closed to access


3.1  Wild. No restriction on access, other than localities not to be generally publicised. However, for safety reasons and managerial oversight, all visitors will be encouraged to inform the site manager of any intended visit. Speleological investigation encouraged, and such investigators encouraged to make all results of their work available to the Department
3.2  Unclassified. Every effort should be made, either by departmental staff or the cooperation of experienced investigators, to assess the site resources and assign classification at the earliest feasible date. otherwise treated as a wild cave.