Good management plus protection of land and water resources are all factors relevant to environmentally responsible horse stud farming to reach both a business end game and correct sustenance of Australia’s vulnerable environment. Our water resources support a variety of important environmental features including wetlands, vegetation, caves, streams, springs and seeps. They are also used to supply public drinking, stock, irrigation, industry and domestic garden waters. Inappropriate land uses can harm the quality of Western Australia’s limited and valuable water resources as well as its unique and diverse fauna and flora. Horses produce nutrient-rich waste that can cause problems within the community if chemicals and microorganisms leach into the soil and groundwater or run off into water courses.
Horses also can cause land degradation (compaction, erosion), weed spread, dust and other hygiene problems if not managed properly. The breeding of pests such as rodents and flies can also cause concern. Careful consideration needs to be given to design and management of holding facilities, stocking rates and the collection and disposal of wastes so that impacts to land and water resource quality are limited. It is important that the horse industry flourish while not damaging the environment.
By using suitable land and water management measures etc and by incorporating appropriate stocking rates, horse activities can achieve minimal environmental impact. Management practices have been prepared to promote knowledge and understanding of potential environmental impact from horse activities. The keeping of horses is generally guided by zoning restrictions within local government planning schemes. These zonings account for the general planning requirements.
More specific conditions may apply in environmentally sensitive areas where special conditions apply. Proponents wishing to keep or use horses contrary to these conditions need to demonstrate to local government, the WRC and Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) that their proposed activities include measures that prevent adverse impacts on the environment.
Horse keeping is incompatible with management objectives and is opposed in these areas. The only exception where approval may be given is for horses on large pastoral leases. For trail riding outside public road reserves, WRC written permission is required. Horse facilities are considered a conditional land use, i.e. special stocking rate limits apply. Normal approval processes should be followed. Horses are compatible with management objectives, provided standard stocking rates are applied. Horses should not be kept or allowed access to within 200 metres of wetlands (contact WRC if unsure about a wetland’s category)
Horses should be kept away from wetlands and seasonally boggy areas, with a minimum distance of at least 30 metres from the banks of permanent or ephemeral streams and rivers which have bank slopes less than the pre-ordained level as per regulation policy, and 50 metres for streams and rivers whose banks have similar levels.
Horses should be kept as far away as practicable from these areas, with a minimum fenced buffer distance of at least 30 metres from water supply wells and farm dams; Horses should be kept away from swampy or seasonally water-covered ground, with a minimum distance of at least 1.2 metres above the highest annual groundwater table level. A sand pad may be used to increase the distance from the groundwater table provided it is acceptable to the LGA and it is not located where stormwater runoff can erode the pad.
Horses should not be kept on “Bush Forever” sites. Information on “Bush Forever” sites can be obtained from the Department for Planning and Infrastructure (DPI). The keeping of horses among remnant vegetation is considered equivalent to clearing. Further advice can be obtained from the DEP about areas covered by Environmental Protection Policies and the clearing of remnant vegetation.
Stables sited on sandy soils or in an environmentally sensitive area, need floors and wash down areas constructed with a water resistant hard-stand such as concrete or compacted limestone. These should comply with building regulations and the local government by-laws. Most local governments require an impervious hard-stand for stables on all soil types. The use of impervious hard-stands or rolled, compacted limestone is encouraged as it will reduce the concentration of nutrients in the leachate from manure, urine and wood waste reaching the groundwater. If compacted limestone is used, it should have a minimum depth of 300 millimeters. Straw, clean white sand, river sand or wood waste may be used as a soft absorbent overlay to improve the comfort and well-being of horses. The use of creosote and oil treated wood in the construction of stables exposed to the weather should be avoided where practical. Toxic elements may leach from the treated wood into the groundwater.
The level of contaminants from horse waste reaching groundwater and surface water will depend on a number of factors. These include rainfall/ irrigation patterns, manure management, land slope and soil type. Leachate and runoff from horse waste will infiltrate and contaminate groundwater and surface water resources if the waste is poorly managed. Horse manure can also create hygiene and fly problems.
Where practical, manure should be collected daily then contained and covered, especially if rain is anticipated. Manure stored prior to removal off-site or for composting as fertilizer should be covered with a waterproof cover on a low permeability surface to prevent fly breeding, liquid waste runoff and discharge to ground. Manure storage areas should be designed to hold all manure collected prior to disposal or use. Worm drenches given to horses can kill non-target organisms such as dung beetles and earthworms when it leaches out of manure and urine. The active ingredient in some of the wormers can also pose a serious contamination risk to water resources.
Horses should also be kept away from watercourses for at least two days after the drenching. If it is necessary to worm during that time of the year, use a wormer containing ‘lvermectin’ as the active ingredient, which research has shown to have a less detrimental effect on the environment compared to other commercial products.