A protected area is a clearly defined geographical space, recognised, dedicated and managed through legal or other effective means to achieve the long-term conservation of nature with associated ecosystem services and cultural values.
All Australian governments have agreed to minimum standards that protected areas must meet to be included in and managed the National Reserve System.
- The land must be designated a 'protected area' to be conserved forever, with effective legal means guaranteeing its perpetual conservation.
- The land must contribute to the comprehensiveness, adequacy and representativeness (CAR), of the National Reserve System - in other words it must meet certain scientific criteria and strategically enhance the protected area network. See the National Reserve System scientific framework for more information.
- The land must be managed to protect and maintain biological diversity according to one of six international classes developed by the World Conservation Union (IUCN). The six-level system classifies protected areas according to their management objectives, which range from strict nature conservation to multi-use reserves (objectives must not be inconsistent with the primary purpose which is biodiversity conservation).
- For those who have been successful in obtaining Australian Government funding to establish and manage a property in the National Reserve System, there are additional guidelines and processes, related to management that must be followed. See the Guidelines for preparing a Plan of Management.
The Convention on Biological Diversity sets a target of 17 per cent of each of the world’s eight ecoregions to be managed as protected areas by 2020. Australia is working towards this target and aims to protect 17 per cent of our bio-regions in the National Reserve System.
Based on CAPAD 2010, 13.4 per cent of Australia’s land mass is currently protected in the National Reserve System. All 89 Australian bioregions have some representation, with 54 regions exceeding the target and 35 regions currently at less than 10 per cent protected.
Of the 419 subregions, 183 have more than 10 per cent representation in the National Reserve System and 44 have no representation at all.
National targets for building the National Reserve System are set collaboratively by the Australian Government with the states and territories. The targets are part of the strategic national approach to make measurable progress towards the establishment of a comprehensive, adequate and representative (CAR) protected area system.
In 2009 the National Reserve System Task Group convened under the Natural Resource Policies and Program Committee prepared an updated policy framework National Reserve System Strategy 2009-2030. The Strategy identifies priority actions to provide a nationally coordinated approach, including the following national targets for a National Reserve System:
- examples of at least 80 per cent of all regional ecosystems in each bioregion by 2015.
- examples of at least 80 per cent of all regional ecosystems in each subregion by 2025.
- core areas established for the long-term survival of threatened ecosystems and threatened species habitats in each of Australia’s bioregions by 2030.
- critical areas for climate change resilience, such as refugia, to act as core lands of broader whole of landscape scale approaches to biodiversity conservation by 2030.
Actions to meet the national targets identified in the National Reserve System Strategy 2009-2030 will also be supported by:
- clear identification and adequate protection of the biodiversity assets of each bioregion through collaborative and integrated management with other landowners and managers using a whole of landscape approach to address conservation priorities.
- rigorous science and robust monitoring.
- effective and adaptive management regimes.
- consistent approaches informed by the development of national frameworks for management effectiveness and protected areas on private lands.
- strong partnerships between governments, private landholders and traditional owners, industry, local communities and non-government organisations.
- routine reporting to a well-informed and supportive Australian community.
The national targets and guiding principles contained in this Strategy will provide direction to individual jurisdictions to set interim milestones and short-term targets to achieve a well-managed, comprehensive, adequate and representative National Reserve System.
The Strategy aims to complement and reinforce existing jurisdictional strategies and actions to be carried out under current resources. Accordingly, the Strategy will be implemented through five year implementation plans to be developed by jurisdictions with respect to their priorities, opportunities and capacity to achieve outcomes.
These plans will be reviewed every two years, using as a basis national, state and territory reports on progress towards targets and how the priority actions identified in this Strategy have been achieved.
A number of other activities are underway to continue to monitor the progress of the National Reserve System:
- Information from climate change studies is being reviewed and incorporated into our protected area planning and management processes.
- IBRA bioregions and subregions are continuing to be refined in response to better information becoming available.
- The special needs of aquatic ecosystems being included in the National Reserve System are being defined.
- The states and territories are continuing to improve vegetation mapping to assist development of the National Reserve System and describe in a standardised notation for inclusion in the National Vegetation Information System.
- A monitoring and evaluation program is being developed to assess progress towards a CAR National Reserve System.
- A work program to identify, acquire and manage core data required for the National Reserve System is being developed.