Australian Actions to Combat Desertification and Land Degradation

National Report by Australia on Measures Taken to Support Implementation of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification
Commonwealth Intergovernmental Working Group for the UNCCD, April 2002

Domestic Initiatives to Combat Desertification (continued)

Research and Monitoring

The strategic policy work of the Federal and State Governments is complemented by a range of research and monitoring work examining the effects and developing innovative approaches to reducing the impacts of land degradation. Universities and a variety of Federal and State bodies are undertaking research into natural resources management. These include: the CSIRO, Land and Water Australia, the Bureau of Rural Sciences and a number of joint industry-government funded research and development corporations such as the Cooperative Research Centres (which includes a Tropical Savannas CRC). Land and Water Australia funds and manages research programs to help develop better and more sustainable use of Australia's natural resources and thus help to maintain the industries and people reliant on those resources.

Meat and Livestock Australia, an industry and government funded organisation, manages a range of research and development activities in the rangelands focussed on improving productivity and environmental management in the grazing industry. The Australian and New Zealand Land Information Council is making geographical data more accessible to the community through the coordination of policy, the development of data standards and the implementation of a national data directory system. There are many other institutions and agencies that make a substantial contribution to our understanding of status and change in the rangelands.

State and Territory governments, with an interest in the rangelands, are also undertaking research into rangeland management issues. The establishment in 1995 of the Cooperative Research Centre for the Sustainable Development of Tropical Savannas is an example of the cooperation being undertaken between organisations working in the rangelands of Australia.

The National Land and Water Resources Audit, a program of the Natural Heritage Trust, is finalising a comprehensive audit of existing information on the status and condition of Australia's land and water resources. Included in the Audit is an assessment of the condition of Australia's rangelands. The final report of this assessment is attached to this National Report. In conjunction with other national scale reporting processes, such as State of the Environment Reporting, we are quickly developing a better understanding of the extent and causes of land degradation. This will lead to improved decision making in addressing the impacts of land degradation.

Case Study - Remote sensing of grazing impact in northern South Australia & Barkly Tablelands, NT

Principal investigators: Gary Bastin & Vanessa Chewings, CSIRO Centre for Arid Zone Research, Alice Springs, NT 0871.
(Funded by: National Landcare Funding, South Australian Govt, Northern Territory Govt, and CSIRO)

1. Problem


Measuring change over vast areas of land and separating real trends caused by grazing impacts from background noise caused by climatic variability.

2. Location/landscapes/landuses

Cattle grazing on the floristically simple, extensive, black soil plains of the Barkly Tablelands in the north, and cattle grazing the more complex landscapes of northern South Australia.

3. Social information

Both regions are occupied by a small number of large pastoral holdings, under leasehold tenure with ultimate responsibility in the public interest resting with State Governments and their respective Pastoral Boards. The Pastoral Boards are concerned to have methods to determine whether there are long-term deleterious effects of grazing in different paddocks. Existing ground-based techniques are inadequate in separating grazing effects from seasonal variability across the vast areas involved. Remote sensing methods are more cost-effective for administration agencies given the relatively low income they receive from lease rentals from this land. Pastoralists are also concerned to know the effects that their grazing may be having, but have only very subjective methods to keeping track of this over such large areas.

4. What was done

Satellite-based methods originally developed and applied in central Australia were transferred and modified to suit these two new environments. This involved a deliberate policy of agency personnel initially working closely with CSIRO scientists, and then returning to their home agencies with subsequent support from CSIRO when necessary. This proved effective in transferring the technology and its use into the agencies that need to use it.

Summary of the outcomes:

  • index of vegetation cover developed for each region that allows levels of vegetation cover to be monitored through time;
  • customised analysis software adapted to the specific requirements of each client; and
  • training and documentation to provide clients with confidence in independent use of the technology (See Bastin et al. 1998 and McGregor et al. 1999)

5. Who was involved

CSIRO staff from the Alice Springs Centre for Arid Zone Research, agency staff from the former SA Department of Environment, Heritage & Aboriginal Affairs and NT Department of Infrastucture, Planning & Environment, with cooperating pastoralists from each region.

6. Value of outcomes for ecologically sustainable natural resource management

Ability to track changes in the long-term across extensive regions, using methods that are now accepted to provide a robust measure of land condition. Implementation by agencies has sought to supplement remote sensing analyses with more detailed information about vegetation and soil collected at fixed monitoring sites.