Cyclists should be restricted to riding at "20 km/h or less" on the proposed Richmond Vale Rail Trail to help "protect wildlife and pedestrians from disturbance and potential collision", a birdwatchers club has said.
In one of 144 submissions lodged during the recent exhibition of Newcastle council's development application for the 32-kilometre trail, Hunter Bird Observers Club outlined a series of changes it believes are necessary for the project to proceed.
While it stopped short of fully objecting to the trail, the club lamented the DA's "totally inadequate surveys of avifauna" in the Hunter Wetlands National Park and Pambalong Nature Reserve, which the trail traverses.
The environmental impact statement and biodiversity report had a "lack of scientific rigour" and did "not reflect the significance of Hexham Swamp for birdlife", it said.
The club said the reports had not used the most up-to-date birdlife data, surveys were "opportunistic", and only threatened status species had been assessed, which ignored the area's importance to congregatory species. They also "omitted" the threatened Australian painted-snipe, it said.
"We also object to the inadequacy of the mitigation measures proposed considering the national and international importance of Hexham Swamp to endangered, vulnerable and threatened species, and Australia's international obligation to protect migratory shorebirds," the club said in its submission.
The club was critical of the trail being referred to as a "commuter" cycleway and said "special provisions" had to be made "to compensate for the harm to wildlife".
"High speed commuting is incompatible with the character ... of this environmentally sensitive area," it said.
"Cyclists commuting ... at speeds of up to 40 km/h will cause serious disturbance to any species foraging or roosting in the vicinity of the track."
Provisions are made for bird watching with widened sections of path and viewing platforms through the wetlands, but the club wants a cycling speed limit of 20km/h or less, separate walking and cycling paths and the exclusion of dogs along the entire length of the trail.
It also called for motion-sensing track lights to ensure they are on "as briefly as possible", vehicular access for birdwatchers and funding to manage the wetlands.
Other notable submissions included: Donaldson Conversation Trust, which contributed $750,000 towards the trail over a decade; Hunter Wetlands Centre, which raised concerns about a lack of consultation; and Hunter Local Land Services, which made recommendations to inform the final design regarding hydrology, access, and bird disturbance.
Rail Trails Australia said the trail's proximity to a large population, scenic route, length and flat topography would make it a "wonderful tourism asset" that would enable "cycling holidays".
"From our experience over several decades with rail trails around Australia ... [it] has many features that would make it very successful and extremely well used," the national group said.