SURVEY ON CAVE GATING, APRIL 1997
The following cave and karst locations were surveyed (Figure 1):
Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust (Jenolan, Wombeyan & Abercrombie Caves), Buchan Caves, Naracoorte Caves, Wellington Caves, Chillagoe Caves, Augusta-Margaret River Caves, Bungonia Caves, and the Tasmanian Department of Parks, Wildlife & Heritage (Mole Creek Caves & Hastings Caves, various karst reserves).
QUESTION 1: Do you have a policy on wild cave gating, and if so could you briefly elaborate?
Only one cave system, Buchan, indicated a formal written policy, which is part of its cave management plan, and is annexed hereto. Tasmania possesses something of a de facto policy. All other locations had no formal policy. In Tasmania gating proposals must go through the Tasmanian Cave & Karst Management Advisory Committee, and are treated on a case by case basis. The Committee's general requirement is that gates only be considered where damage is otherwise likely. This prescription is, however, spelt out in the Tasmanian World Heritage Area Plan of Management, but there is no written policy for caves outside the WHA. Any gating proposal, stemming from the Committee, must then pass through an internal environmental impact assessment process.
The Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust only gates if there is sufficient evidence that a cave needs protection from illegal caving, or on safety grounds. Gates must be placed so as not to be seen from outside the cave, and must not interfere with biota or geomorphic processes. At Naracoorte, gating is only used where essential for the protection of reference caves, or dangerous caves. Yarrangobilly has no firm policy, although it has some caves which have been gated historically, but might not be gated if considered for such today. In the view of Andy Spate, in completing the Yarrangobilly survey, gates provide a reinforcement of the idea of protection, rather than physical protection. Again, Wellington has no formal policy. Gating is undertaken only if there is an obvious hazard, such as a deep pitch or a CO2 risk. At Bungonia, access is restricted on a case by case basis based on local classification, or seasonally restricted to protect bat maternity sites. At Augusta-Margaret River, gating is considered to be part of an integral management plan, but no formal policy has been put in place.
QUESTION 2: How many wild caves, under your jurisdiction, do you have gated?
Relatively few caves are gated at the surveyed locations. Ten are gated under the Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust at Jenolan, Wombeyan and Abercrombie, 8 in Tasmania, 7 at Buchan, 5 at Wellington, 4 at Bungonia, and 1 at Chillagoe. The number of gated caves somewhat reflects the physical expansiveness of the managed karst systems involved, and/or its local peculiarities. For example, Wellington has a high proportion of its known caves gated, but these are all located in a relatively small area with most entrances easily noted by casual visitors. On the other hand, Buchan, the Caves Reserve Trust, and the managed Tasmanian karst covers widely diverse areas. At Bungonia, many caves feature deep, vertical entrances, making gating advisable from a safety point of view.
QUESTION 3: Please name each wild cave, and describe in a few words why it is gated?
Some of Australia's most significant wild caves are gated, particularly in Tasmania. However, there is no prescriptive uniformity in this process, with most decisions carried forward on an ad hoc basis. As Andy Spate pointed out, the reasons for gating a cave historically may not necessarily be valid today. No formal, or even ad hoc, policy seems to be in place at any location enabling a periodic review of past gating decisions.
QUESTION 4: Are the gates respected by cavers/user groups? Any comments?
Most respondents considered their gates to be respected, although some expressed reservations. Break-ins have occurred at more than one location in the past, and several commented on the need for regular condition checking of gates.
QUESTION 5: Are any or all of your wild caves signposted, or the gating explained? Please elaborate.
Only gated caves in Tasmania are signposted, although Buchan has an unimplemented signage policy. The Tasmanian signs are generally designed to explain the reasons for the gating.
QUESTION 6: What is your access policy to gated wild caves, and under what conditions can access be gained?
All respondents, except Buchan, have a permit system in place, but not all require the issue of written permits. In Tasmania, for example, restrictions are placed on the size of parties and the number of visits per year on a specific cave basis. Some can only be accessed for scientific purposes, and some are effectively totally closed. At Buchan, a Letter of Application is needed to gain access. All caves are more favourably disposed to permit applications from ASF-affiliated cavers, but few have a specific policy in this regard.
QUESTION 7: What materials do you use, or prefer to use, in cave gate construction?
All respondents gate in case-hardened steel, usually black steel, with some galvanised mesh used, and usually stainless steel for internal gating.
QUESTION 8: What locking mechanisms do you use and/or find effective?
Padlocks are universally common. Tasmania often employs bell-housing so that no leverage can be placed on the lock to force it.
It is clear from the survey that cave gating procedures in Australia are largely arranged on an ad hoc basis, with only one karst area having a specific written policy. Clearly, in future management planning it would not be inappropriate to consider cave gating options and arrangements. Indeed, it could be argued that Australian or Australasian frameworks could be usefully developed, bearing in mind the diverse needs of disparate karst locations.
|CAVE GATING SURVEY||Formal Policy?||Gate on needs?||# gated caves||Gating respected?||Signage used||Access Policy||Type of gates||Type of Locking|
|Jenolan Caves Reserve Trust - NSW||No||Yes||10||Yes||No||Permit||Steel||Padlock|
|Wellington caves - NSW||No||Yes||5||Yes||Yes||Permit||Steel||Padlock|
|Yarrangobilly Caves - NSW||No||Yes||Not stated||Yes||No||Permit||Steel||Padlock|
|Bungonia Caves - NSW||No||Yes||4||No||No||Permit||Steel||Padlock|
|Buchan Caves - Victoria||Yes||Yes||7||Mostly||Proposed||Letter Needed||Steel||Padlock|
|Naracoorte Caves - SA||No||Yes||Not stated||Yes||No||Permit||Steel||Padlock|
|Augusta-Margaret River Caves - WA||No||Yes||Not stated||Yes||No||Permit||Steel||Padlock|
|Dept. PW&H Caves - Tasmania||No||Yes||8||Yes||Yes||Permit||Steel||Padlock,
|Chillagoe Caves- Qld||No||Yes||1||Yes||No||Permit||Steel||Padlock|
CAVE GATE SPECIFICATIONS FOR THE BAIRNSDALE REGION, VICTORIA.
Gates to physically block human access to caves should only be used as a last resort to protect cave values. All other options to restrict access should be considered first.
Gates must be carefully constructed to allow for the natural entry of organic material into the cave, to permit unhindered access to bats, to stop entry by people and to not influence the cave climate.
The following prescriptions must apply where gates are constructed:
- Gates over natural entrances must be constructed to allow for movement by bats even if the cave has not been used in the past by bats. Grid measurements should be no less than 150mm x 600mm which is large enough for bats but too small for humans (J Nelson 1988) (ed. note - ref not supplied).
- Gates should be located where bats can congregate on the outside of the gates before exiting the cave if possible.
- Gates over entrances used by bats should be constructed in stages over several days to ensure that the bats are not disturbed by the sudden appearance of the gate. Observations of the reaction by the bats to the partially completed gate should be made.
- Solid gates should only be used where artificial entrances have been constructed. Airlocks should be considered where the gates are frequently used in order to limit unnatural air movement.
- Where a gate covers an artificially enlarged entrance, the area of open grid should be the same as the original entrance to minimise the effect on the cave climate.
- All gates must have an accompanying sign explaining why the gate is needed, and if appropriate, how access can be arranged.
- Gates are to be constructed of steel or other non-organic material.
- Gates should not be visually obtrusive and should be located in such a way that minimum modification of the cave entrance is required.