Natural and Cultural Heritage Theme Report
Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Jane Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates Pty Ltd, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06752 3
I often used to walk along
the rabbit tracks and check my snares
at places around the billabong.
But now they keep the rabbits down
with bait. It's good to come this far
and find a lot of things have gone,
that all the snares have been undone
and what I wanted isn't here.
These places around the billabong
are like a lot of things, they're gone.
Environmental indicators reported on in this section.
|NCH G.3||Number of places destroyed or whose values have been severely diminished|
The number of heritage places assessed (by sampling) as being in
(b) average and
(c) poor condition
|NCH O.2 | a | b |||The proportion of collections surveyed for preservation treatment by a trained curator/conservator|
|NCH O.3||The proportion of collections requiring preservation subsequently treated|
|NCH O.4 | a | b | c |||The proportion of collections stored in appropriate environmental conditions|
The previous section dealt with the state of knowledge about the existence of heritage places and objects. This section describes our knowledge of the actual condition of heritage places and objects and the health of the values which make them important. It also focuses on the current or developing pressures that may influence the health of heritage places and objects.
There is as yet no consistent approach across jurisdictions to recording the actual condition of natural heritage places. The assessment of the condition of natural heritage assumes an ability to assess ecological health through transparent and regular monitoring in accordance with approved management plans. Often, the State or Territory reporting on condition (as in their own state of the environment reports) consists of the use of quantitative information about dollars spent, plans produced or actions taken, rather than information about the physical good health of natural areas. For future state of the environment reporting, the actual sampling of natural areas and information held by management agencies, paralleling the approach used for assessing the condition of historic heritage places in the Indicator H1 survey, may be a more reliable approach to monitoring condition and trends.
Although the only sizeable data source which identifies natural heritage places as such is the Register of the National Estate, the information held in the Register is generally not sufficient to determine current condition or changes in condition, as it is not being systematically updated to provide this information. Some State and Territory heritage registers identify natural condition, but only relatively recently, and as yet include a very limited numbers of places, often listed in response to conservation threats outside the reserve system.
Measuring losses of natural heritage places through heritage register information was found to be not a meaningful approach. The absolute loss of whole areas with natural heritage values is an unlikely scenario in most circumstances, and most heritage registers do not have mechanisms to record more subtle damage to values, even if such damage is reported. Also, if the Register of the National Estate ceases to operate, then the primary potential database for this information is lost. This being the case, it is necessary to find an alternative approach to monitoring loss and damage of natural heritage places.
The States and Territories address the conservation of places of natural heritage values by either absorbing them into the natural area reserve system (even though reserves can be gazetted for a variety of reasons other than heritage value), or by developing conservation agreements for vegetation/endangered species/habitat on private land. Most of the protection for a range of identified National Estate values in the Regional Forest Agreement process in Tasmania relies on conservation agreements on private land, because these values do not exist in the reserve system. While the reserve systems in the States and Territories do include places that are of heritage value and, by association, are expected to be in good condition, they are not a full representation of natural heritage values across Australia as many areas of natural heritage value are on private land or are on land with other important land uses, and will probably never be reserved. The conservation agreement approach is one way of dealing with one aspect of this gap.
As outlined in the next section, the Natural Heritage Trust is the major initiative in the natural environmental field during the review period. The Natural Heritage Trust program addresses a range of agricultural and natural resource management issues through 20 individual funding programs, and (despite its title) is not necessarily targeted at 'heritage' in the sense used in State of the Environment reporting. The extent to which the Landcare, Bushcare, weed and feral animal control, and land and water quality audit programs, for example, are conserving or enhancing heritage values as opposed to facilitating general environmental improvement, is often difficult to discern. A proportion of the funding is being expended on natural heritage places that are in the Register of the National Estate, but this information is not maintained in a way that allows ready analysis of the positive impact on the condition of identified heritage places. However, it can be inferred that applications for weed control, replanting, fencing, etc. imply that the natural place is not in good condition. In addition the rate of clearing of native vegetation (520 000 hectares in 1999), especially in Queensland, reflects the poor state of conservation of some ecosystems which are unlikely to be represented in reserves.
The National Reserve System Program initiated under the Natural Heritage Trust has facilitated a major review of the representation and adequacy of Australia's natural reserve system, and is extending the protection of natural areas poorly represented by reserved samples in IBRA regions. The National Reserve System Program and State/Territory governments have contributed $24.36 million to the purchase of reserves over the three years 1997-2000, and up to June 1999 1.3 million hectares had been acquired under this program, and 1.9 million hectares in total under this and an earlier related program since 1993. A proportion of these areas can be assumed to have heritage values, especially those in IUCN categories I and III for example. (See 'Condition of Indigenous heritage places').
However, to give some idea of condition it can be assumed that the area and type of natural heritage place may give some indication of its condition, or at least of its viability. Natural places with an assessed condition can be accounted for by analysing the status of protected areas in Australia, as it can be assumed that most places are assessed for condition as part of the process of assigning a statutory status to a protected area. Of the 2313 places on the Register of the National Estate classified as natural, 1357 or 59% are in national parks or nature reserves. However, not all protected area category places are of natural heritage value.
The mid-term review of the National Reserve System Program (O'May, 1999a) identified the continuing problem in achieving the aim of increasing the representation of natural reserved land in the most-threatened IBRA regions; that is, in regions where intensive agricultural development (or any other land use for that matter) is the main threat, land values are high, and the Government faces severe disadvantages in the open market place. As a result, the limited government funding can generally purchase only small parcels of land in the highest risk regions.
- There is no current effective tool, including the Register of the National Estate, for determining the condition of natural heritage places, and under the proposed Commonwealth heritage regime, the Register of the National Estate ceases to be an actively updated register within the next five years. A new approach has to be found to monitor the condition of natural heritage for state of environment reporting purposes.
- Government managers of reserved lands, with a few exceptions, do not report on condition as such. Therefore assessing the condition of Australia's reserved lands using current reporting mechanisms is not a viable indicator of overall condition of natural heritage.
- The sample surveying of actual condition is one possible approach. The coordinated monitoring of condition of reserved lands with heritage values, and the use of biodiversity, land, and coast and the marine data gathered by other State of the Environment themes, to identify pressures likely to impact on heritage places, are other approaches worth investigating.