State: TAS | Hectares: 4,300 | IUCN Category: IV | Partners: Department of Primary Industries and Water, Tasmanian Land Conservancy Inc., Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association
In November 2006, Hobart farmers from Barilla Bay became the 100th Tasmanians to sign a voluntary covenant to conserve plants and animals on their land for future generations.
At a joint ceremony hosted by the Australian and Tasmanian Governments, local farmers Tony and Bronwen Byrne agreed to protect 36 hectares of coastal grassland and saltmarsh which provide important habitat for local and migratory shorebirds. This important parcel of land was added to the National Reserve System, Australia's network of protected areas.
Tony and Bronwen run sheep and plant crops on their 250 hectare property and farm oysters along the shore. Tony says they work hard to manage the farm sustainably, so the covenant was really just a progression of their ideology.
"As I learned more about the biology and ecology of the wetland, it was becoming more evident that we should do something to protect it, and putting it into a covenant seemed to be a good long-term thing to do," Tony says.
The Byrnes are part of Tasmania's Protected Areas on Private Land Program, a unique partnership between the Australian and Tasmanian governments, the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy. Since 1997, the Australian Government has provided over $1.8 million to its Tasmanian partners, to help them establish and administer conservation covenants. The partners have invested significant time and resources into the program to secure partnerships with valuable properties and property owners such as the Byrne's.
Tony and Bronwen negotiated their perpetual covenant through the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, agreeing not to build anything on the covenanted area except for birdwatching hides and tracks. In return, they got help to fence the saltmarsh off from their oyster processing facility and control the invasive African boxthorn which chokes the saltmarsh boundary.
Tony says the covenant really hasn't affected how they manage or what they do on their farm, which is one of the advantages.
"Protecting habitat doesn't need to affect landowners' ability to earn an income from their properties," Tony Byrne says.
"The covenant fits very easily into our current style of farm management, both oyster farm and land farm, and that's one of the things that made it quite a simple choice for us to enter into."
The Byrne's covenant is perpetual, which means it is registered on the land title and will carry on to the new owners if Tony and Bronwen ever decide to sell the land.
Covenants like the Byrne's are already paying dividends in conserving Tasmania's unique environment. Many of the state's rare plants and animals are found only on private land - especially in coastal areas, the Midlands and Eastern Tasmania.
Under these voluntary agreements, saltmarsh, grasslands, wetlands, sand dune vegetation, heathlands and forest have been protected across Tasmania, including habitat for the swift parrot, giant freshwater crayfish and new holland mouse.
In July 2007, more than 4,300 hectares of private land was protected under voluntary conservation agreements. In return for safeguarding important areas of their properties, landowners are supported in managing weeds, grazing, fire, water quality and threatened species.
The Protected areas on Private Land (PAPL) Program is helping to create larger more viable protected areas that are linked and networked across the landscape, offering greater protection for plants and animals. Private reserves are linking with existing reserves on public land.
Scientists have identified priority Tasmanian habitats that are under-represented in the National Reserve System. They include wetlands, native grasslands, riparian vegetation, karsts, sphagnum peatlands, threatened species and their habitats, and coastal complexes that are under increasing threat of development. PAPL is targeting these priorities.
Tony says knowing the land will be protected long after he's gone makes him feel like he's giving something back.
"When all's said and done, just because we've got ownership of the land, really we're just custodians of it, which is why I wanted to protect it for future generations," he says.