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Department of the Environment and Heritage Annual Report 2003-04

Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2004
ISSN 1441 9335

Review of performance: Outcome 1 - Environment (continued)

Conserving and managing biodiversity

The Department aims to protect wildlife and their habitats, and works to ensure that Australia's use of biological resources is ecologically sustainable.

In 2003-04, the Department worked on a broad range of initiatives to protect and conserve biodiversity including:

This section reports on activities funded using the Department's appropriation for its 'biodiversity' output. For more information about the Department's biodiversity conservation activities see also:

The Land Water and Coasts Division, Natural Resource Management Policy Division, Approvals and Wildlife Division and Parks Australia contributed to this output.

International activities

Objective

To work internationally to conserve biodiversity.

Activities

Australia is party to international agreements relevant to the conservation of biological diversity, including global agreements like the Convention on Biological Diversity and regional agreements to protect wildlife occurring in several countries. (For information about migratory waterbirds see the next section: 'Protecting and managing coasts and oceans'.)

In February 2004, the Department led the Australian delegation to the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity. At the conference, Australia supported more international work to develop globally applicable indicators for countries to meet the target to 'significantly reduce the current rate of loss of biological diversity by 2010'. Australia helped to strengthen the convention's marine work programme, focusing on marine protected areas beyond national jurisdictions and on coral bleaching.

In March 2004, the Department represented Australia's interests at the 50th meeting of the Standing Committee of the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. Australia continued to promote capacity building activities in the Oceania region, and nominated the Great White Shark for listing under the convention. The Conference of the Parties to the convention will consider the nomination in October 2004.

In August 2003, the Department led the Australian delegation to the 6th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification in Countries Experiencing Serious Drought and/or Desertification, Particularly in Africa. Australia focused on the relationship between the Convention to Combat Desertification and the Convention on Biological Diversity to ensure that the Joint Work Programme includes achievable objectives and does not duplicate activities in other conventions.

Result

Australia continued to lead international efforts to protect biodiversity. The Department nominated the Great White Shark under the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species of Fauna and Flora. If successful, this will protect these sharks globally from unregulated trade. See below for the results of Australia's domestic implementation of international biodiversity agreements.

National strategies

Objective

To enhance the protection, conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biological resources.

Activities
Climate change

During the year, the Department worked with other government agencies and stakeholders to develop the National Biodiversity and Climate Change Action Plan - a key action highlighted in Australia's National Objectives and Targets for Biodiversity Conservation 2001-05. The action plan outlines ways to manage the impacts of climate change on marine and estuarine, inland aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems for the period 2004 to 2007. The Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council endorsed the plan, due for release in 2004-05.

Biodiversity hotspots

In October 2003, the Minister for Environment and Heritage announced 15 national biodiversity 'hotspots' - that is, areas rich in biodiversity but under immediate threat. Identifying biodiversity hotspots raises public awareness and improves targeting of environmental investment decisions such as Natural Heritage Trust funding. Investment in these hotspots could avert long-term and irreversible loss of their biological values. For more information, see www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/hotspots.

Invasive species

In May 2004, the Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council adopted a proposal to review national arrangements for preventing and controlling invasive species. As a result, the Department is leading a high-level group that in 2005 will develop a national framework.

Concurrently, the Ministerial Council's Vertebrate Pests Committee initiated development of a national vertebrate pest strategy, and the Australian Weed Committee started the first review of the National Weed Strategy.

During 2003-04 the Department continued work on invasive species, including foxes, cane toads and nationally significant weeds, to improve knowledge and develop control measures (Natural Heritage Trust national investments).

The Department supported the Fox-free Tasmania project to eradicate Tasmanian fox incursion. Following a review of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) project on developing a permanent biological control agent for cane toads, additional funding was allocated to develop quicker ways to protect key habitats like Kakadu from cane toads.

The Department also managed projects for other invasive species, including phytophthora root-rot fungus, chytrid fungus, Bridal Creeper, Cabomba, Mimosa, Pond Apple, Hymenachne, Salvinia, and Alligator Weed.

For more information see www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/invasive.

Forests

Australia's regional forest agreements protect forest reserves and meet the need for regional jobs. The Department monitors implementation of regional forest agreements to ensure the key environmental objectives of these agreements are met.

During the year, the Department worked with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry to develop and oversee annual reporting and five-yearly reviews of the forest agreements. The Tasmanian Regional Forest Agreement was reviewed, and as at 30 June 2004 the Australian Government was considering the review report.

Integrated natural resource management

As part of the Natural Heritage Trust and National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, the Department supported the development of integrated natural resource management plans for 56 regions covering all of Australia. These plans provide the basis for spending Natural Heritage Trust and National Action Plan funds in a way that targets the key problems in each region.

As at 30 June 2004, 16 plans were accredited under the Natural Heritage Trust and 17 plans were accredited under the National Action Plan.

The Department also worked closely with the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry on national capacity-building projects, which enhanced regional plans and increased the level of stakeholder involvement in the planning process.

For information about outcomes, see the Natural Heritage Trust's annual reports at www.nht.gov.au/publications, and the National Action Plan's annual report at www.napswq.gov.au/publications.

Result

The Australian Government continued to improve national strategies for conserving biodiversity. Current efforts are aimed at all three levels of biodiversity - genetic diversity, species diversity and ecosystem diversity.

Biodiversity conservation continued to underpin agreements for delivering funding under the Natural Heritage Trust and the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality. Through the framework for the extension of the Natural Heritage Trust, state and territory governments have agreed to:

The Department administered Australian Government expenditure totalling $99.208 million on environmental work under the Natural Heritage Trust's Bushcare programme.

The Australian Government's independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee, in consultation with biodiversity conservation experts, identified 15 national biodiversity 'hotspots'. The hotspots will help target funding and hence slow down environmental damage.

Work on controlling invasive species continued. Over recent years, Australian Government support has led to successes in combating invasive terrestrial and freshwater species, particularly in world heritage areas and Commonwealth reserves. They include virtual elimination of Mimosa pigra and African Big-headed Ants from Kakadu National Park, control of Crazy Ants on Christmas Island, and the eradication of feral cats from Macquarie Island.

National biodiversity conservation laws

Objective

To conserve and protect biodiversity by administering the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Activities

Under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, the Department identifies at-risk species and ecological communities, protects them from human activities (including the illegal international trade in wildlife specimens) and develops plans for their recovery. Detailed information about 2003-04 activities is contained in the report on the operation of the Act included under 'Other reports'.

Wildlife protection and trade

The Department issues permits for the import and export of wildlife and wildlife products, and works with the Australian Customs Service to fight illegal wildlife trade. The Department's investigations into illegal wildlife trade incidents led to successful prosecutions. In addition, the Department continued to provide external advice and training about wildlife protection laws.

Threat abatement

During the year, the Department continued to develop threat abatement plans for amphibian chytrid fungus, feral pigs, and the psittacine circovirus (parrot beak and feather disease). The Department also started work on threat abatement plans for red imported Fire Ants and harmful marine debris. These projects were Natural Heritage Trust national investments.

Threat abatement plans set out the actions needed to reduce the impact of a listed key threatening process on a threatened species or ecological community. A listed key threatening process is a process that:

Species recovery

The Department worked with the South Australian Department for Environment and Heritage to reintroduce a sub-species of the Tammar Wallaby that was long extinct on the South Australian mainland (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment). The wallabies came from Kawau Island in New Zealand, where their forebears were shipped over a century ago.

The Department continued to implement recovery plans for other threatened species, including the Orange-bellied Parrot, the Swift Parrot, the Regent Honeyeater, the Northern Hairy-nosed Wombat, and stream frogs of south-east Queensland (Natural Heritage Trust national investments).

Recovery plans set out the actions needed to support the recovery of threatened species and ecological communities that are listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The aim of a recovery plan is to maximise the long term survival in the wild of a threatened species or ecological community.

On advice from the Department, the Minister brought into force 23 recovery plans (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment) covering 27 terrestrial species listed under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. The species covered included the Norfolk Island Green Parrot, Coxen's Fig Parrot, the Southern Corroboree Frog, the Tallong Midge Orchid, Woolcock's Spider Orchid, and the Black-eared Miner bird.

In 2003-04, the Department also submitted 35 recovery plans covering 47 species to the Threatened Species Scientific Committee (one of the expert advisory committees established by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999), which advised the Minister about making and adopting these plans.

The Minister added land critical to the survival of Black-eared Miner birds to the Register of Critical Habitat under section 207A of the Act. Over 95 per cent of known colonies of black-eared miners occur on this land, at Gluepot Reserve, Taylorville Station and Calperum Station in South Australia.

Integrated natural resource management

The Department explored ways to integrate various approaches to threatened species recovery and threat abatement at a regional level. The South Coast of Western Australia regional body and the Western Australian Department of Conservation and Land Management were contracted to trial a plan for the South Coast Natural Resource Management Region. The plan will combine threat reduction with species conservation activities and account for climate change (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment).

Results

Wildlife smuggling cases referred by the Department to the Director of Public Prosecutions resulted in the prosecution of people who had attempted to export stag beetles, native birds and reptiles, and to import exotic bird eggs.

As at 30 June 2004, over 700 nationally threatened species and ecological communities had recovery plans in place or in preparation under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

Community involvement and information

Objective

To encourage Australian communities to protect and conserve biodiversity.

Activities
Community involvement

During 2003-04 the Department continued to develop and implement incentives to accelerate behavioural changes that will protect biodiversity.

In a Natural Heritage Trust national investment project, the Department funded three workshops run by the Bureau of Rural Sciences and the CSIRO in the Ballina and central coast regions in New South Wales and the Macedon Shire in Victoria. Workshop participants included 'lifestyle' landholders, recent retirees and landholders involved in new rural industries. The workshops explored the factors that motivate people to buy properties and their attitudes towards environmental philanthropy. The aim was to identify what kinds of incentives would encourage landholders to manage their land for conservation. A report on the workshops is due for release in the first half of 2004-05.

Also under the Natural Heritage Trust, the Department has provided seed funding for 'revolving funds' in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales, and continued to manage contracts for these funds during 2003-04. The funds are managed by specialist non-government organisations in each jurisdiction. The organisations purchase high conservation value land, place a conservation covenant over the land, and resell it to people who are committed to managing the land for conservation.

The Department took a lead role in negotiating new tax arrangements to allow landowners to claim income tax deductions if their land significantly drops in value after signing a 'conservation covenant' with state, territory and local governments, unless the landowner was paid to sign the covenant.

To provide land managers with information on market-based incentives for conserving biodiversity, the Department also developed and distributed a brochure on covenants and tax incentives (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment).

A survey of BUSH magazine readers was conducted in April 2004. The magazine (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment) helps Australians make better decisions about biodiversity conservation and encourages sustainable farm management practices. The survey found the magazine has contributed to positive changes in the way readers manage their land, increased understanding of government programmes and policies, and increased participation in Natural Heritage Trust activities.

The Department continued to co-sponsor the Threatened Species Network with WWF Australia, and the Threatened Bird Network with Birds Australia (Natural Heritage Trust national investments). These networks harness community power to carry out wildlife conservation projects and give the community access to skills, advice and support.
Development of web-based information resources continued, in particular the National Vegetation Information System available at www.deh.gov.au/erin/nvis (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment).

Australian Biological Resources Study

In 2003-04, the Australian Biological Resources Study (whose grants component is an administered item managed by the Department) published seven books - including a new volume of the Flora of Australia series. A strong emphasis was given to providing online information, including further development of electronic databases, which can be accessed at www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/abrs.

Compiled as part of the study, the Australian Biodiversity Information Facility is a web-based source of taxonomic and biological information for all known Australian fauna, flora and other organisms. The fauna database (the Australian Faunal Directory) now delivers information on 56 303 species. In March 2004, Flora of Australia Online was launched - the world's first, national, online, interactive taxonomic data resource for flora that allows flexible user-defined searching.

The Australian Biodiversity Information Facility also provides links to other databases that have been developed and updated in collaboration with the Australian Biological Resources Study, such as the Australian Marine Algal Name Index, the Interactive Catalogue of Australian Fungi, and the Australian Plant Name Index.

During the year, the study continued to be involved in the development of Australia's Virtual Herbarium (a Natural Heritage Trust national investment) and the Online Zoological Collections of Australian Museums web portal. The study also contributed to the Australian Plant Pests Database for the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry.

The Australian Biological Resources Study has developed an Australian participant 'node' for the Global Biodiversity Information Facility. In 2003-04, it continued to contribute actively to this international organisation. Together with international colleagues from the Asia-Oceania region, progress was also made towards organising the 2nd Regional Workshop for the Global Taxonomic Initiative, a programme established under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Result

Work continued on the development and implementation of market-based incentives for biodiversity conservation. In particular, the Department continued covenanting land using revolving funds (funds used to buy land of conservation or cultural significance and resell it after placing a conservation covenant on it). As at 30 June 2004, 41 properties had been purchased and 29 of these resold with conservation agreements in place.

Individuals and community groups continued to play an important role in conserving biological diversity through direct involvement in activities such as tree planting, weed eradication, surveying and monitoring. Some 1600 Landcare and similar community-based groups now exist in Australia, proving extremely effective in disseminating information and in the adoption of ecologically sustainable natural resource management in the rural sector. To promote community awareness, the Department continued to support information networks and to produce and disseminate relevant information.

The Australian Biological Resources Study continued to expand the biodiversity information available to natural resource managers and to the community. Since its inception, the study's grants and scholarships have resulted in more than 2000 research papers and 132 volumes on Australia's biodiversity.

Report on performance information

Tables 5, 6 and 7 report performance results against the indicators in the 2003-04 portfolio budget statements.

Table 5: Biodiversity (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of advice provided to the Minister on biodiversity matters.' Timeframes were met and policy advice met the Minister's requirements.
'Extent to which new information and studies oriented to biodiversity content are instigated, commissioned and communicated.' The Department commissioned a number of studies through Natural Heritage Trust national investment projects that provide new information on biodiversity conservation. The Department communicates the outcomes of this research through its web site at www.deh.gov.au.
'Extent that biodiversity conservation objectives and requirements are included in the Natural Heritage Trust projects, Commonwealth Natural Resource Management (NRM) policies and Commonwealth/State Agreements/Arrangements.' Most regional public investment is made within the context of accredited regional plans that must include biodiversity conservation (see also the information about the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality below). The Trust's regional competitive component provides for specific investment in conservation actions in biodiversity hotspots.
'Extent to which international agreements and national strategies are implemented through domestic programmes.' Australia met and exceeded its obligations to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification through implementation of key national legislation and policies, including:
  • the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999;
  • the Natural Heritage Trust; and
  • regional forest agreements.
The Department, in collaboration with other agencies and organisations, reports every two years on Australia's progress in meeting the requirements of these conventions. The next reports for the Convention on Biological Diversity and the Convention to Combat Desertification are due in 2004-05.
'Extent to which conservation and recovery activities funded, contribute to the recovery of listed threatened species and communities.' Twenty-three recovery plans, covering 27 listed terrestrial species, were brought into force in 2003-04. The on-ground impacts of these plans on species recovery will be monitored as part of the National Natural Resource Management Monitoring and Evaluation Strategy.
'Extent to which Australia's strategic objectives are achieved at international fora.' With the exception of invasive alien species, Australia met all its strategic objectives at the 7th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity and the 6th Conference of the Parties to the Convention to Combat Desertification, particularly by strengthening the international marine conservation agenda, promoting adoption of the Bonn Guidelines on genetic resources, and clarifying the linkages between the Convention to Combat Desertification and other conventions.
'Information about biodiversity strategies and conventions is readily accessible to the Australian community.' The Department's web site and hard copy publications provided up-to-date information on domestic and international activities (see also information on the range and scope of education and information products below).
'Extent to which bilateral and regional agreements for the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality include targets and standards for biodiversity and natural resource management.' All agreements include or require the development of biodiversity standards and targets. Agreed accreditation criteria for regional plans include requirements for biodiversity standards and targets.
'Behavioural change in communities and uptake of native vegetation management best practice.' The Department promoted behavioural change by:
  • supporting 'revolving funds' in Victoria, Western Australia, South Australia and New South Wales;
  • supplying 4500 brochures on covenants and related tax incentives to over 50 organisations and individuals; and
  • holding three major workshops in New South Wales and Victoria that successfully identified possible incentives for conservation.
A survey of BUSH magazine readers concluded that the magazine contributed to positive changes in land management.
'Number of covenants and management agreements in place protecting remnant vegetation as a result of Natural Heritage Division(a) programmes.' In 2003-04, 210 perpetual covenants came into operation, protecting 101 538 hectares (the number of covenants for 2002-03 was estimated at 427 covering 54 567 hectares). As at 30 June 2004 there were 2492 covenants protecting 786 880 hectares, with a further 2427 statutory property agreements protecting 170 900 hectares over periods typically from 15 to 30 years. Figures for 2004-05 are expected to be similar to those for 2003-04. These figures do not include various types of agreement used to secure Natural Heritage Trust funding or made under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. Many covenants are supported by Natural Heritage Trust funding or Australian Government tax incentives.
'Range and scope of education and information products relating to biodiversity.' The Department delivered a wide range of information on education products through the Natural Heritage Trust national investment stream, including:
  • Internet (National Land and Water Resource Atlas, Environment Reporting Tool) access to national and regional assessments, and map data relevant to biodiversity, such as native vegetation, landscape health, terrestrial biodiversity, and important wetlands;
  • an Internet-based Biodiversity Toolbox for local governments;
  • weed management guides and a manual for landholders, conservation groups, catchment management groups, industry, and on-ground government land managers;
  • around 4500 brochures on covenants and related tax incentives supplied to over 50 organisations and individuals, and a more detailed booklet on financial implications for landholders;
  • the biannual BUSH insert in Australian Farm Journal and six Bushcare pages in Australian Landcare to encourage ecologically sustainable land management practices; and
  • the fifth annual Hands on for Habitat Awards to engage 6 to 12 year-olds (the Department distributed 1208 teachers' resource kits to schools in all states and territories and processed 214 entries from 3960 students at 187 schools).
The Department also:
  • published supplements in the Canberra Times and regional newspapers to raise awareness of threatened species; and
  • supplied 5000 school information kits to coincide with Threatened Species Day (7 September 2003).
'Native vegetation management and restoration training activities undertaken under Natural Heritage Division(a) programmes:
  • number held
  • number of participants.'
Note that all these activities are funded by the regional stream of the Natural Heritage Trust, with the exception of a contract with Greening Australia. For information, see the Natural Heritage Trust's 200304 annual reports at www.nht.gov.au/publications.

(a) This division was restructured at the beginning of 2003-04, and its functions distributed to other divisions.

Table 6: Wildlife protection and trade(a) (departmental appropriation)
Performance information Result
'Accuracy, timeliness and comprehensiveness of advice provided to the Minister on wildlife protection and trade.' Timeframes were met and policy advice met the Minister's requirements.
'Extent to which international agreements and national strategies related to wildlife are implemented through domestic programmes.' The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 implements agreements and strategies. In 200304, 4252 seizure notices were issued. A number of prosecutions were launched leading to successful convictions.
'Extent to which Australia's strategic wildlife objectives are achieved at international Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES) meetings.' No Conference of the Parties was held in 2003-04, but Australia pursued South Pacific regional capacity building activities and nominated the Great White Shark for listing at the October 2004 Conference of the Parties.
'The information about species and wildlife legislation, strategies and conventions, that is readily accessible to the Australian community.' The Department's web site continued to provide guidance and hard copy publications were also available.
'Number of species and ecological communities considered for listing or change of status by the Threatened Species Scientific Committee.' The Threatened Species Scientific Committee provided advice to the Minister on 56 species.
'Number and types of education and information products relating to wildlife protection and conservation.' The Department maintained a web site about wildlife trade laws (www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity/trade-use), supplied printed guides and presented around 40 training sessions to importers of live animals, the domestic pet industry and to approximately 600 staff of the Australian Customs Service and state wildlife agencies, and also supplied an interactive CD-ROM to Customs officers.
'Level of usage by clients and stakeholders of information provided on the Wildlife website.' There were approximately 16 500 visits to the wildlife trade pages over May, June and July 2004 or (extrapolating from these figures) around 66 000 visits per year.
'Number of wildlife trade permits granted and refused under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act.' During 2003-04, 4000 wildlife trade permits and 55 108 personal accompanied baggage permits were issued and 13 were refused.

(a) See also the report on the operation of the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 in this annual report.

Table 7: Australian Biological Resources Study participatory grants programme (administered appropriation)
Performance information Result
'The Australian Biological Resource Study administered and managed according to best practice, and supporting taxonomic investigations into species/ecosystems of national priority.' Research assisted the national taxonomic effort in support of the Australian Government's national research priorities, with a particular focus on lesser-known groups.
'Number and value of grants and contracts offered, funded and financially audited by 30 June 2004.' Sixty-six taxonomic research projects for $1.554 million. Other grants included one new and three ongoing postgraduate scholarships in taxonomy and 14 travel bursaries for postgraduate taxonomy students.
Table 8: Pricing information for Tables 5 to 7(a)
Appropriation Estimated price Revised price Actual expenses
Biodiversity - Output 1.2 (departmental) $28523 million $32.266 million $33.112 million
Australian Biological Resources Study participatory grants programme (administered) $1.825 million $1.839 million $1.842 million

(a) See also the summary resource tables at the end of this 'Review of performance'. Information about protecting biodiversity hotspots is shown in those tables.

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