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Senator Robert Hill
Leader of the Government in the Senate
Minister for the Environment
1 August 1996
Grasslands are the Cinderella of environmental protection; they are often overshadowed by more favoured environmental causes such as the protection of rainforests and coral reefs.
At the launch today of a World Wide Fund for Nature report on the native grasslands of South Australia, Senator Hill said "I think it would surprise most Australians to know that the ecosystems that contain the most plant species threatened with extinction are native grasslands - not our tropical forests or our eucalypt forests.
The report, funded by the Commonwealth Government, found that before European settlement, there were extensive areas of native grassland and grassy woodland in Australia. Lowland native grasslands of southern and southeastern Australia covered an area of some 3.5 million hectares. Now substantially less than 1% of this remains in good condition.
In South Australia, of 1.5 million hectares originally present only 5,000 hectares - or 0.33% - remain. The report has also found that 17 of the grassland areas of South Australia are potentially worthy of listing in the Register of the National Estate.
"The Government is very supportive of the conservation of native grasslands" said Senator Hill.
"Native grasslands, with their many species, contribute significantly to Australia's biodiversity. For example, 711 indigenous plant species have been recorded in the lowland grassland communities in south eastern Australia alone. Grasslands provide habitat for native species that depend on them for protection, food and nesting areas. They form the vital understorey of many woodland ecosystems. They provide resistance against fire and drought as native species are better adapted to Australian conditions than introduced grasses. They stabilise soil on river banks and steep slopes.
"The Government's commitment to the Natural Heritage Trust and in particular the $318 million National Vegetation Initiative will significantly increase the work that can be undertaken to protect and restore native grasslands.
"The National Vegetation Initiative will ameliorate the loss of biodiversity associated with the reduction in native vegetation cover since European settlement. The Initiative will support a range of revegetation activities and develop incentives for the protection and sustainable management of remnant native vegetation, including grasslands.
"I would expect that the protection of significant grassland areas will be a priority of the National Vegetation Initiative.
Contact: Peter Cosier 08 237 7920