Pressure is growing to see more conservation
measures taken on land outside parks and reserves. But who should
decide when and where this conservation takes place, who will pay
for it, and who benefits? Kathryn Thorburn, Peter Jacklyn
& Kate O'Donnell explore the issues.
Roper River at Elsey Station west of Katherine
in the NT. Landowners in the area took part in a Landcare project
that fenced 80 km of the river from grazing and feral animals to
protect the sensitive riparian environment
Photo: Kathryn Thorburn
Private parks |
Goodwill hunting | Who
should pay | Rules and regulations frustrate
landholders | Managing grazing pressure
In recent years it has become increasingly clear that we cannot
rely on National parks and reserves alone to conserve native plants
and animals. Some types of environment, for example, are not
abundant in parks and reserves, such as the valuable pasture
country of Mitchell grasslands and blue-grass pastures. There is
also a limit to the amount of land that can be placed in parks and
reserves as they need to be managed within a finite government
Lands outside reserves are vital for many plants and animals.
They contain areas such as riverbanks and monsoon vine forests that
provide refuge for animals in the dry season as well as routes to
According to Dr John Woinarski, a senior wildlife ecologist with
the Parks & Wildlife Commission of the NT, many species use
‘off-reserve’ areas like these as they move across
large areas of country—from reserves to unreserved lands and
back—to cope with seasonal fluctuations in food and shelter.
These species will not persist, even in reserves, if the
surrounding lands are degraded.
So how can we safeguard populations of native plants and animals
in north Australia? For John Woinarski, coordination is the
“For many species the greatest conservation security will
be achieved when management across properties and tenures is
coordinated,” he said, “rather than having a pronounced
distinction between conservation lands and production lands.”
It appears this coordination still has some way to go as there are
now a number of different and often isolated approaches to
One trend that has received much publicity is where land is
bought specifically for conservation using funds from sympathetic
individuals and businesses.
Bush Heritage is independent, non-profit, and dedicated to
protecting species and habitats through creating reserves on
private land. The organisation currently owns 13 reserves across
the country. Carnarvon Station in central Queensland near Emerald
is the latest acquisition, protecting 59,000 hectares of brigalow,
grasslands, vine thicket, and other threatened vegetation. Another
such organisation is the Australian Wildlife Conservancy (AWC)
which owns five properties in Western Australia, and has just
purchased Mornington Station in the Kimberley. This organisation is
involved in the recovery and protection of endangered species,
especially mammals, and reintroduces these animals to areas after
addressing threats such as feral animal predation. It also has
research and education programs.
According to managing director Barry Wilson they don’t
believe any native animals have been lost at Mornington. “Our
project there is more about protecting what is there,” he
said. “We want to use the place as a window of how the
Australian environment was elsewhere, and should be
As the property is under pastoral lease, AWC is obliged to
continue running cattle there, but the plan is to destock key
areas, and manage them for conservation and also for public
Earth Sanctuaries Ltd (ESL) has a more commercial approach.
Founded by Dr John Wamsley in 1969, the company was publicly listed
on the Stock Exchange in May 2000. It is the world’s only
publicly listed conservation company. It has 10 sanctuary projects
around Australia, with 92,000 hectares under its care. Each
property is fenced off to exclude feral animals like foxes, rabbits
and cats. Four of the sanctuaries are open to the public:
Warrawong, Yookamurra, Scotia and Hanson Bay.
However, at the Earth Sanctuaries annual general meeting on
November 26, chairman Dr Don Stammer conceded that the company had
lost momentum in developing new sanctuaries, and posted a $13
million loss in the past financial year. The share price has also
While there was a 10 per cent increase in revenues in the four
months to October, ESL is now listing several properties for sale
that it had bought to develop into sanctuaries.
Wendy Craik, former executive director of the National Farmers
Federation and recently appointed chief executive officer of ESL is
optimistic. During a recent trip to Townsville, Dr Craik raised the
possibility of opening new wildlife reserves along
Queensland’s east coast, and eventually one in north
Queensland. Another strategy the company will pursue is to build
reserves close to towns and cities to draw more visitors.
Despite the promising start for private conservation parks, in
the foreseeable future most conservation outside reserves will have
to be carried out by landholders. But this type of conservation
effort will rely on the goodwill of landholders and assistance from
A number of pastoral properties are choosing to manage parts of
their land for conservation rather than production. Elsey station
south of Katherine has fenced off sensitive riverbank areas to
exclude stock. This has protected the riverbank environment from
overgrazing and erosion, but also made mustering easier. On Newry
station east of Kununurra, a section was fenced off to protect the
habitat of the endangered Gouldian Finch. Other stations receive
assistance from research programs such as Biograze which helps them
implement effective conservation strategies (see separate story
below ). For many of these pastoral stations, the cost of fencing
and other materials has been covered under government-funded
programs such as Landcare, and the labour supplied by the
Land for Wildlife is a national program that encourages
landholders to maintain corridors and patches of native vegetation
to provide animals with habitat and corridors to move through.
Landholders admitted to the scheme get support, advice, technical
notes, field days and links with other LfW members, which is funded
by the Natural Heritage Trust through Bushcare. The scheme has been
most effective in semi-rural and agricultural areas where habitats
are drastically altered or removed entirely. The NT branch of Land
for Wildlife was launched in October this year, the last state and
territory in Australia to implement the program.
But goodwill only goes so far, particularly when you are
struggling to make ends meet. For those landholders who don’t
actively pursue adequate conservation there is always legislation.
There are various laws to protect plants and animals outside parks
and reserves, ranging from those that protect endangered or
threatened species to laws that restrict the activities that can be
undertaken on different types of tenure. However, these laws are
often difficult to police in remote areas, and in the case of
legislation like Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act,
designed to limit land-clearing, they have kindled fierce
opposition from many landholders.
Much of the problem comes down to who pays for conservation
efforts and who stands to benefit. Many landholders see
conservation laws that prevent them from developing their land as
depriving them of income. A recent report released by the House of
Representatives Environment Committee into Public Good Conservation
examined these issues in some detail.
According to committee chair, the Hon. Ian Causley MP, current
policy approaches are often out of touch with the realities of
rural and regional Australia.
“Very often landholders have to meet significant costs out
of their own pockets for conservation works from which they can
anticipate little immediate or even medium-term benefit,” he
said. “The benefit flows to the community, but the cost is
borne by the landholder.”
The report recognised that landholders were the key to
implementing sustainable environmental practices that would ensure
the future of not only Australia’s rural sector but the
health of its landscapes for generations to come. (See separate
The committee developed six basic principles as the basis for
public good conservation policy, among them the recognition of
landholder rights in respect of land use; and that all landholders
have duty of care to manage land in an ecologically sustainable
manner. The report was released in September 2001, and the Federal
Government is yet to respond.
Although not the main focus of the committee’s report, the
situation on Aboriginal land has many similarities to that on
pastoral land. Increasingly, pressure from the broader community
may require Aboriginal communities with few resources to manage
their extensive lands for conservation.
Ultimately this may come down to whether urban Australia, which
represents the majority of those who stand to benefit from
off-reserve conservation, is willing to provide adequate resources
to those people in regional Australia who have to implement that
The NSW Farmers’ Association recently called for a debate
on introducing a GST on fresh food as a way to raise public funds
for repairing the environment—a signpost, perhaps, to the
ABC TV Landline footage of landholders at Winton
in February 2000 protesting against Queensland’s new
Vegetation Management Act
Picture courtesy of ABC Landline
THE recent Parliamentary Standing Committee report into public
good conservation received submissions and evidence from more than
250 landholders. According to their report, those landholders
reported widespread frustration, anger and resentment in the rural
community as a result of what were perceived to be inappropriate
The committee said that Australia’s present conservation
policies were not addressing the country’s environmental
problems. In fact, the committee suggested that “nothing
short of a reconfiguration of land-use practices in Australia was
required.” And the major drivers of that reconfiguration of
land use would be landholders.
While the inquiry noted that landholders were eager to change
their land-use system, they often did not have the resources to do
so. Without those resources, conservation works were unlikely to be
undertaken and the environmental problems facing the country would
remain and only get worse.
According to Leon Ashby, organiser of a landholder lobby group,
that anger and frustration is because of what he calls
over-regulation. In February this year, Leon and his wife Jane
started an email newsletter Landholders for the Environment, which
goes out to landholders, green groups, scientists and government.
Even a quick perusal of the newsletters reveals the depth of that
anger and differing views to some generally accepted tenants of
sustainability and conservation. Leon identifies that anger as
landholders being sick to the teeth of over-regulation.
“We are good managers. We are gradually improving the
management of our properties and there is no recognition of
that,” he says. “We believe we need minimal regulation
because profits will come from good management, and from looking
after our ecosystems.
“We don’t see a need for regulation that
doesn’t understand the environment or the need for
flexibility in management.”
Leon was the organiser of two rallies held last year in Roma and
Winton that attracted more than 1000 landholders protesting against
the implementation of Queensland’s Vegetation Management Act.
A lack of consultation was a key reason for landholder resentment
over the Act’s implementation.
In NSW, a number of landholder groups, principally the Fiveways
Landholders group, are preparing their own vegetation management
processes, and when complete, will be implementing them, rather
than those in place under NSW legislation. He says this form of
‘civil disobedience’ is the way a number of landholder
groups are heading, and that there are other groups looking at
exactly the same measures.
“Landholders are starting to say we’re going to take
on the governments now.”
Leon says the Standing Committee’s report has resonated
very well with his members, especially those recommendations
supporting landholder’s property rights. “Most of them
we would agree with, a few technical differences—essentially
it was a very good report.”
See below for links to where you can read the Public Good
Conservation Report, and Landholders' for the Environment
Pastoralists know that there are plant and animal species that
change in abundance under different grazing pressures. These are
known as ‘decreasers’ and ‘increasers’.
While good pastoral management practice encourages numerous and
evenly spread watering points to manage grazing pressure,
‘decreaser’ species require a network of lightly or
ungrazed areas; that is, areas remote to water.
To demonstrate to producers how they might achieve this,
CSIRO’s Arid Lands Division and the Parks & Wildlife
Commission of the NT developed the Biograze program. Biograze
assists producers to retain some areas of their properties in a
water-remote and therefore ungrazed state. Fencing off lightly
grazed areas is another option. Biograze can demonstrate not only
the practicalities of these developments on the ground, but also
minimise costs to producers in terms of lost production.
See web link below
Australian Bush Heritage
Australian Wildlife Conservancy
Biograze: Waterpoints and WildlifeGIS procedures for regional planning;Regional planning for off-reserve conservation in rangelands;Economic costs of off-reserve conservation in rangelands;Voluntary conservation agreements; andEnvironmental Management Systems and biodiversity.
This website provides a series of fact sheets for managing the interactions between grazing and biodiversity, covering the following topics:
CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems Centre for Arid Zone Research
Landholders for the Environment
NSW Farmers' Association report
Public good conservation: Our challenge for the 21st century,
The House of Representatives Environment Committee Report.