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National Strategy for the Conservation of Australia's Biological Diversity

Department of the Environment, Sport and Territories, 1996
ISBN 0 6422 4427 8

1 - Conservation of biological diversity across Australia

In the face of significant and continuing reductions to our biological diversity, there is a pressing need to strengthen conservation activities across Australia. About 70 per cent of Australia's land area is under the control of private landholders and resource managers, including indigenous peoples; their cooperation is essential for the success of conservation activities. High priority must be placed on developing and implementing integrated approaches to conservation that both conserve biological diversity and meet other community objectives.

The conservation-oriented objectives dealt with in this chapter include identification of ecosystems, species and subspecific variation; bioregional planning and management; management for conservation; establishing and managing a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of protected areas; improving biological diversity conservation outside reserves; and recognising the contribution of ethnobiological knowledge of indigenous peoples to the conservation of biological diversity.

These objectives are to be integrated with the objectives for achieving ecologically sustainable use of natural resources (see Chapter 2).

1.1 Identification

Objective 1.1

Identify important biological diversity components and threatening processes.


1.1.1 Components of biological diversity

Identify the terrestrial, marine and other aquatic components of biological diversity that are important for its conservation and ecologically sustainable use, including:

  1. ecosystems and habitats that contain high diversity, large numbers of endemic or threatened species, or wilderness, that are required by migratory species, that are of social, economic, cultural or scientific importance, or that are representative, unique or associated with key evolutionary or other biological processes;
  2. species and communities that are rare or threatened, that are wild relatives of domesticated or cultivated species, that are of medicinal, agricultural or other economic value, that are of social, scientific of cultural importance, or that are of importance for research into the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity (such as indicator species);
  3. described genomes and genes of social, scientific or economic importance.

In particular, identify those components requiring urgent protective measures.

1.1.2 Threatening processes

Identify processes and categories of activities that have or are likely to have significant adverse impacts on the conservation and ecologically sustainable use of biological diversity. Monitor the effects of these processes and activities in conjunction with the actions set out in Chapter 4.

1.2 Bioregional planning and management

Objective 1.2

Manage biological diversity on a regional basis, using natural boundaries to facilitate the integration of conservation and production-oriented management.

Bioregional planning

Regional planning in which environmental characteristics are a principal determinant of boundaries is considered to be of major importance if biological diversity conservation is to succeed. The Murray-Darling Basin Commission, for example, plans on an environmental basis, using catchment boundaries as well as existing local, State and Commonwealth structures. Several State and Territory governments are also beginning to plan and manage on a bioregional basis as part of their land management responsibilities. Actions such as this are needed elsewhere in Australia; they must be based on ecological parameters, vegetation types, catchment areas and climatic factors, combined with the interests of those living and working in the area.

One of the major determinants of the success of bioregional planning will be the extent to which all levels of government cooperate and coordinate their activities. For this to occur, a concerted nationwide effort is necessary to establish better lines of communication and coordination mechanisms that can be activated as soon as appropriate bioregional boundaries have been determined and accepted.


1.2.1 Planning units

Determine principles for establishing bioregional planning units that emphasise regional environmental characteristics, are based on environmental parameters, and take account of productive uses and the identity and needs of human communities as appropriate. This will include:

  1. identifying the biological diversity elements of national, regional and local significance, the extent to which they need to be protected, and the extent to which they already occur in protected areas;
  2. identifying the major activities taking place within the region and in adjoining regions and analysing how these may adversely affect the region's biological diversity, to ensure its use is ecologically sustainable;
  3. identifying any areas that are important for biological diversity conservation and require repair or rehabilitation;
  4. identifying priority areas for biological diversity conservation and for ecologically sustainable use, and their relationship to essential community requirements such as infrastructure and urban and industrial development;
  5. providing mechanisms for genuine, continuing community participation and proper assessment and monitoring processes;
  6. coordinating mechanisms to ensure ecologically sustainable use of biological diversity, with particular reference to agricultural lands, rangelands, water catchments and fisheries;
  7. incorporating flexibility, to allow for changes in land use allocation, including multiple and sequential uses of particular locations, and to accommodate improvements in knowledge and management techniques and changes in institutional arrangements.
1.2.2 Bioregional plans

Undertake bioregional planning for the conservation of biological diversity. This will involve:

  1. identifying appropriate intergovernmental and intragovernmental mechanisms to ensure cooperation and coordination in bioregional planning;
  2. promoting the inclusion of biological diversity goals and principles in local government planning schemes and strategy plans.
  3. promoting sympathetic and coordinated management of biological diversity for land and sea areas adjoining protected areas;
  4. improving protection of and management for biological diversity in closely settled environments and the coastal zone, with particular attention being paid to corridors and remnant areas;
  5. increasing the number and involvement of those in the community who have special knowledge of biological diversity and skills in regional management, making use of existing community networks;
  6. providing suitably trained facilitators to help with community participation, facilitate cooperation, and encourage resource managers to pursue ecological sustainability.

1.3 Management for conservation

Objective 1.3

Improve the standards of management and protection of Australia's biological diversity by encouraging the implementation of integrated management techniques.


1.3.1 Integrated techniques

Develop and improve integrated land management techniques, extending across protected and other areas. Emphasis should be given to research into practical, cost-effective methods for the conservation of natural habitat, including remnants and corridors, and techniques for management at catchment and regional levels.

1.3.2 Consistent management approaches

Ensure consistency between Commonwealth, State and Territory and local governments' management approaches affecting the conservation of biological diversity; for example, fire management and weed and pest management.

1.3.3 Marine conservation strategy

Ensure development and implementation of a marine conservation and management strategy for Australian coastal waters, including estuaries and the Australian Fishing Zone. This should include mechanisms (zoning, for instance) for minimising the adverse impacts of such activities as coastal development, land-based discharge of pollutants, shipping, and the harvesting of marine resources.

1.3.4 Option analysis

Develop effective methods for the economic analysis of management and protection options, with particular reference to the allocation of external costs and benefits.

1.4 Protected areas

Objective 1.4

Establish and manage a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of protected areas covering Australia's biological diversity.

The protected area system

A 'protected area' is defined in the Convention on Biological Diversity as 'a geographically defined area which is designated or regulated and managed to achieve specific conservation objectives'. The terminology that applies to protected areas varies from country to country; in Australia alone there are some 40 different categories of reserves, from specific-purpose areas such as scientific reserves to very large areas such as the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which has zones ranging from multiple use to restricted access.

The World Conservation Union (formerly the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources – IUCN) is continuing to refine a protected area classification system for global use. All categories of protected area, including multiple use categories, are significant for biological diversity conservation. Those that have nature conservation as their primary goal are particularly important.

Australia's current protected area system includes a significant proportion of our biological diversity. The terrestrial reserve system covers 6.4 per cent of the land area2 Of the total area of protected marine and estuarine environments, most is managed on a multiple use zoning basis – less than 0.5 per cent being set aside purely for nature conservation3 There are, however, many gaps, including ecosystems in arid and semi-arid environments, and native grassland, wetland and marine ecosystems. State and Commonwealth agencies have been endeavouring to increase the representativeness of terrestrial reserves and have recently committed themselves to expanding the currently inadequate marine protected area system. The expansion of these protected area systems in the last few decades has not, however, been accompanied by a concomitant increase in the resources needed for orderly planning and management.

At present a number of initiatives are being pursued at the national level to improve Australia's reserve system. The Commonwealth Government is committed to the progressive establishment, in cooperation with the States and Territories, of a comprehensive, adequate and representative system of reserves by the year 2000. Through the National Forest Policy Statement, governments have agreed to set aside parts of the public and private native forest estate in dedicated nature reserve systems in order to protect native forest communities. Arrangements under the National Forest Policy Statement will be based on the principles of comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness, as defined in the Statement.

Through the Ocean Rescue 2000 program, the Commonwealth Government is working with State and Territory governments to expand the existing system of marine parks and reserves. This will enable representative examples of the full range of Australia's marine environments to be managed and protected while allowing a range of appropriate uses.

Establishment and management of the terrestrial reserve system is best undertaken in a bioregional or catchment context that takes into account the contribution environmentally sympathetic management of non-reserve areas can make in meeting biological diversity conservation objectives. Achieving ecological viability of protected areas can often be accompanied by complementary management of surrounding areas. Further, voluntary wildlife refuges and land subject to conservation covenants and heritage agreements are important components; their expansion can be encouraged by appropriate incentives (see Action 1.5.1).

Within the protected area system, land designated as wilderness may be of particular importance for biological diversity conservation. Areas designated as wilderness must be large and relatively undisturbed, with core areas remote from mechanical access and edge effects. The absence of artificial barriers to the movement of native species and of artificial channels such as roads and power line easements, which aid the movement of exotic species, is directly beneficial to biological diversity conservation. Under the National Forest Policy Statement, a Working Group is developing criteria for forest reserves, including wilderness reserves.

The establishment and management of protected areas is not free of cost. Not only are there costs in acquiring and managing land, there may also be opportunity costs where multiple use is restricted and resources are no longer available for development.


1.4.1 Protected area establishment

Undertake a l0-year Commonwealth, State and Territory cooperative program, which includes the provision of adequate resources, to ensure that the terrestrial and marine protected area systems are comprehensive, adequate and representative. Particular attention should be paid to those components of biological diversity identified by action taken in accordance with Objective l.l as requiring special conservation measures.

In developing the program, immediate action should be taken to identify those components of biological diversity that are known to be threatened and inadequately protected in reserves. These components should be incorporated in the protected area system if this is the best approach to their conservation. Determination of the ecological viability of protected areas should take into account the impacts of activities in non-reserve areas.

Ensure that all jurisdictions have the capacity to establish multiple land use reserves to permit conservation of biological diversity in concert with resource identification, harvest or extraction.

The processes used to determine the location and size of new protected areas should also involve transparent assessment of the environmental, social and economic costs and benefits.

1.4.2 Protected area management

Undertake a 10-year Commonwealth, State and Territory cooperative program to:

  1. develop management plans for all protected areas. These plans should ensure that genotypes, species or communities that depend on a particular protected area for their security are given high priority in management. They should also recognise interactions with surrounding areas and include provisions for monitoring and review of management objectives;
  2. evaluate boundaries of and management arrangements for protected areas as part of the management planning process, to identify whether alterations will better meet biological diversity conservation and other objectives of the National Strategy for Ecologically Sustainable Development;
  3. ensure public participation in the development and implementation of management plans, using, where appropriate, the traditional knowledge and skills of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and local peoples;
  4. provide and maintain sufficient resources, including trained staff, to implement management plans;
  5. ensure that the range of protected area types has consistent nomenclature and associated management requirements, in keeping with the World Conservation Union's classification of protected areas.

1.5 Conservation outside protected areas

Objective 1.5

Strengthen off-reserve conservation of biological diversity.

The need for conservation outside protected areas

Australia's biological diversity and the threats to it extend across tenure and administrative boundaries. At present more than two-thirds of Australia (some 500 million hectares) are managed by private landholders, while about 40 million hectares are within the terrestrial reserve system. The conservation of biological diversity is best achieved in-situ and requires integrated and consistent approaches across freehold and leasehold and other Crown lands.

The majority of these lands are subject to a multiplicity of uses, providing for varying levels of biological diversity conservation. Although many programs exist to encourage better management of biological diversity on such lands, greater effort is required to raise both the standards of management and protection and the levels of financial and technical assistance.


1.5.1 Incentives for conservation

Ensure that adequate, efficient and cost effective incentives exist to conserve biological diversity. These would include the use of appropriate market instruments and appropriate economic adjustments for owners and managers, such as fair adjustment measures for those whose property rights are affected when areas of significance to biological diversity are protected. Priority should be given to:

  1. areas important for migratory species, threatened indigenous species, remnant vegetation, wetlands and corridors between protected areas;
  2. maintaining environmental conditions, including associated flora and fauna, for the conservation of microbial diversity;
  3. establishing voluntary wildlife refuges and negotiating conservation covenants and heritage agreements between owners and managers and governments, and providing sufficient resources, including trained facilitators, on an area or regional basis to assist in the implementation phase.
1.5.2 Urban conservation

Promote the conservation of biological diversity in urban areas by:

  1. encouraging retention of habitat;
  2. improving strategic planning and infrastructure coordination so as to enhance the biological diversity of urban areas;
  3. seeking ways of reducing fringe development and focusing future development on existing built-up areas in Australian cities;
  4. encouraging action by local governments to retain and improve natural ecosystems and to use locally indigenous species for plantings in urban areas;
  5. integrating biological diversity conservation considerations into relevant policies and programs such as the Building Better Cities program.

1.6 Wildlife conservation

Objective 1.6

Ensure the maintenance of, and where necessary strengthen, existing arrangements to conserve Australia's native wildlife.


1.6.1 Lesser known groups

Increase the level of knowledge about and undertake appropriate conservation action for less well known groups such as invertebrates, bryophytes, fungi and microorganisms.

1.6.2 Shared ranges

Ensure the development of appropriate measures for the maintenance and management of wildlife whose ranges are shared with neighbouring countries, priority being given to threatened species and species used by one or more of the countries concerned.

1.6.3 Migratory species

Ensure the development of national management plans for the protection of migratory species and their critical habitats.

1.6.4 Protection and interstate trade

In accordance with the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment, develop and apply Commonwealth, State and Territory legislation for the protection of indigenous species and develop cooperative arrangements for management and enforcement of permit provisions for possession of and interstate trade in protected species.

1.6.5 Export control

Maintain and periodically review Commonwealth and Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council policies relating to the export of indigenous species, and monitor and improve the conservation effectiveness and enforcement of the Wildlife Protection (Regulation of Exports and Imports) Act 1982.

1.7 Threatened biological diversity

Objective 1.7

Enable Australia's species and ecological communities threatened with extinction to survive and thrive in their natural habitats and to retain their genetic diversity and potential for evolutionary development, and prevent additional species and ecological communities from becoming threatened.

This objective is the aim of the draft strategy entitled Conservation of Australian Species and Ecological Communities Threatened with Extinction – A National Strategy.

Conservation of threatened biological diversity

Threatened species and subspecies, their natural habitats, and threatened ecological communities require special measures if they are to survive. Although mechanisms exist for conserving threatened species and endangered ecological communities, a national strategy is needed urgently to provide the additional focus and coordination for funding and resources and to identify new mechanisms and actions that are needed and how the success of these can be measured.

As a result of the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment, the Commonwealth, State and Territory governments are developing, through the Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council, the draft strategy, Conservation of Australian Species and Ecological Communities Threatened with Extinction – A National Strategy. The process has involved other relevant ministerial councils and consultation with industry, business and conservation organisations. It will provide the framework for a major improvement in endangered species conservation in the next decade.

The Commonwealth, States and Territories are also actively involved in endangered species recovery work and a number of jurisdictions have enacted or are preparing threatened species legislation.

Despite these efforts, we have inadequate knowledge of the extent of endangerment and there are some deficiencies in legislative coverage and resourcing. More also needs to be done to develop cooperative, non-legislative arrangements to assist in redressing the problem.

Nearly all species currently known to be threatened are either vertebrates or flowering plants. As our knowledge of conservation requirements improves, the list of threatened species will probably expand to include species from other groups such as non-vascular plants, invertebrates and microorganisms. Improved knowledge of ecological processes will also enhance our understanding of the importance of these groups and emphasise the importance of conserving and managing ecological communities.


1.7.1 Threatened species strategy

Ensure the completion, adoption and implementation of Conservation of Australian Species and Communities Threatened with Extinction – A National Strategy, in accordance with the InterGovernmental Agreement on the Environment.

Ensure that adequately funded threatened species programs operate at the Commonwealth and State and Territory levels in order to implement this National Strategy, including the development and implementation of:

  1. mechanisms to enable the identification of endangered and vulnerable species and communities and to identify threatening processes;
  2. recovery plans for endangered and vulnerable species and communities, covering the full geographic range of species and ecological communities and deal with cross-jurisdictional problems;
  3. plans for mitigating or eliminating the effects of threatening processes.
1.7.2 Threatened species legislation

Develop and implement complementary and cooperative threatened species legislation at the Commonwealth and State and Territory levels and review the operation and impact of the legislation.

1.8 Biological diversity and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples

Objective 1.8

Recognise and ensure the continuity of the contribution of the ethnobiological knowledge of Australia's indigenous peoples to the conservation of Australia's biological diversity.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander interests

As a consequence of their long history in Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have developed a special knowledge of biological diversity and have a particular interest in the conservation status of indigenous species and environments.

Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander law and cosmology establishes intimate connections between people, land and other species, with ritual, custodial and management responsibilities for the land and other species being passed down through generations.

These traditional approaches and outlooks persist in many parts of Australia; in other areas, despite the historical undermining of indigenous structures, contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures maintain a lively interest in, practical knowledge of, and concern for the wellbeing of the land and natural systems.

Although Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples may be willing to share some of their cultural knowledge, aspects of that knowledge may be privileged and may not be available to the public domain.

Traditional Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander management practices have proved important for the maintenance of biological diversity and their integration into current management programs should be pursued where appropriate.

The maintenance of biological diversity on lands and waters over which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have title or in which they have an interest is a cornerstone of the wellbeing, identity, cultural heritage and economy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.


1.8.1 Access to information

Provide resources for the conservation of traditional biological knowledge through cooperative ethnobiological programs.

Provide access to accurate information about biological diversity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and involve them in research programs relevant to the biological diversity and management of lands and waters in which they have an interest.

1.8.2 Use and benefits of traditional biological knowledge

Ensure that the use of traditional biological knowledge in the scientific, commercial and public domains proceeds only with the cooperation and control of the traditional owners of that knowledge and ensure that the use and collection of such knowledge results in social and economic benefits to the traditional owners. This will include:

  1. encouraging and supporting the development and use of collaborative agreements safeguarding the use of traditional knowledge of biological diversity, taking into account existing intellectual property rights;
  2. establishing a royalty payments system from commercial development of products resulting, at least in part, from the use of traditional knowledge.

Such arrangements should take into account relevant work in international forums such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights; they should also take into account Australian obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity.

1.8.3 Species recovery plans

Provide resources for the establishment of cooperative species recovery plans for endangered and vulnerable species of particular significance to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

1.8.4 Cooperative arrangements

Recognising that a representative reserve and off-reserve system to conserve biological diversity will extend across the boundaries of Aboriginal and other tenure systems, negotiate cooperative arrangements for conservation management that recognise traditional land tenure and land management regimes.

1.8.5 Sustainable harvesting of wildlife

Recognising the importance of harvesting of indigenous plant and animal species, both on land and in water, to the wellbeing, identity, cultural heritage and economy of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, provide assistance for the establishment of management programs for ecologically sustainable harvesting of wildlife by individual communities.

1.8.6 Ethnobiological education

Ensure that curricula at all levels in Australia promote an understanding of the importance of traditional knowledge and the social and economic benefits of ethnobiology. This will include:

  1. an understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander practices that have been instrumental in shaping the biological resources of Australia;
  2. an appreciation of the cultural heritage of biological knowledge in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

1.9 Ex-situ conservation

Objective 1.9

To complement in-situ measures, establish and maintain facilities for ex-situ research into and conservation of plants, animals and microorganisms, particularly those identified by action taken in accordance with Objective 1.1.

Complementary ex-situ measures

Although in-situ conservation is the most effective means of conserving biological diversity, there are several situations in which ex-situ conservation may be of great importance.

Unpredictable events may threaten rare genotypes or species. Ex-situ conservation provides insurance in these circumstances. Some threatened species require cultivation or breeding in captivity to build up their numbers for reintroduction to the wild. Other genotypes and species can survive only ex-situ because of total loss or alteration of their habitat.

Some significant steps have been taken to achieve ex-situ conservation of threatened species, among them the establishment of the Australian Network for Plant Conservation and the Australasian Species Management Program, the captive breeding and propagation activities of the State and Territory conservation agencies, and the establishment and maintenance of seed and germplasm banks and microbial collections in a range of institutions.


1.9.1 Strengthening ex-situ conservation

Strengthen ex-situ conservation, including the provision of adequate resources to relevant institutions and organisations, by:

  1. enhancing the Australian Network for Plant Conservation and the Australasian Species Management Program to ensure that those species identified in accordance with Objective 1.1. and that require ex-situ measures are being managed effectively;
  2. establishing or strengthening networks of culture collections of microbial species, including those of medicinal, agricultural and industrial importance;
  3. encouraging germplasm banks to identify and develop commercial and other applications of germplasm relevant to the conservation of biological diversity, especially those involving the use of plants for rehabilitation.
1.9.2 Reintroduction

At a national level, integrate ex-situ and other measures for the conservation of threatened species, particularly through research and the development of a strategy for the recovery, rehabilitation and reintroduction of each such species to its natural habitat.

1.9.3 Non-threatening collection

Regulate and manage the collection of biological resources from natural habitats for ex-situ conservation purposes to ensure that it does not threaten ecosystems and in-situ populations of species. The taking of threatened species from the wild for ex-situ conservation purposes should occur only when it offers the best chance for, and is directed towards, the long-term survival of the species in the wild.

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