Hundreds of feral horses in Victoria’s High Country are set to be shot after the Federal Court ­rejected claims of their heritage value.

Professional shooters using thermal imaging and noise-suppress­ors will soon move into Victoria’s Alpine National Park, targeting horses in bushfire-­affected areas.

The ruling will have cross-border ramifications and comes two years after the NSW government passed legislation recognising and protecting the cultural heritage of brumbies in Kosciuszko National Park.

It’s a win for park managers and scientists, who have long-battled pro-feral horse groups for the right to cull numbers, now thought to be more than 25,000 across the Australian Alps.

The Australian Brumby ­Alliance had sought an injunction in the Federal Court in 2018, challenging the validity of a proposed cull of about 100 horses in the Bogong High Plains area, saying it should be referred to the federal environment minister.

It argued that removing the horses would have significant impact on the national heritage values­ of the Australian Alps and breach federal environmental protection laws. Judge Michael O’Bryan ruled on Friday in favour of Parks Victoria and ­ordered the ABA to pay costs.

During last July’s hearing the ABA tendered $10 notes, depicting poet Banjo Patterson and a herd of horses, as evidence of the horses’ cultural heritage value.

The organisation also claimed free-roaming horses enhanced the health of the natural ecosystem. In his ruling, Justice O’Bryan was scathing of both claims, saying the legal arguments rested on a “strained ­interpretation” of the UN Convention on Biological Div­ersity.

“The ABA’s argument is based on selective emphasis being given to words and phrases of the convention divorced from their context. I reject the ABA’s contention that the brumbies are part of the national heritage values­ of the Australian Alps,” Justice O’Bryan wrote.

ABA president Jill Pickering said she was shocked. “We’ll continue fighting for the brumbies,” she said. “Their small popul­ations in Victoria’s eastern alps are an irreplaceable part of Austral­ia’s cultural heritage. It’s the loss of that heritage that’s the ­really devastating part.”

She said Parks Victoria’s ­announcement of “free-shooting” horses was in contravention of its own 2018 management plan, which stipulates only horses trapped in yards may be shot. “They’ve totally ignored it, and they acknowledge themselves that this is against the community’s will. It’s horrifying.”

A Parks Victoria spokesman said: “Over the past 18 months, the injunction led to Parks Victoria suspending the majority of the alpine feral horse management operation. Trapping and rehoming programs that were previously implemented were put on hold, subsequently limiting the effectiveness in significantly reducing the feral horse population and … damage to the fragile wildlife, plants and habitat­s in the Victorian Alps.”

Phil Ingamells of the Victorian National Parks ­Assoc­iation said: “Horses are causing great damage.

“The moss beds and fens, high-altitude wetlands and peatlands … are ­especially vulnerable to trampling by horses.”

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