Incorporation of Practical Measures to Assist Conservation of Biodiversity Within Sustainable Beef Production in Northern Australia

Edited by Sue McIntyre, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
Jointly funded by MLA, CSIRO and Environment Australia, October 2001
ISBN 1 74036 189 X


This project was conducted within a team environment and combined the disciplines of agronomy, ecology and economics.

  1. What are the limits to the use of grassy woodlands for grazing that will enable ecological sustainability, including the maintenance of biodiversity to be maintained?
  2. What management changes might be required on properties to achieve ecological sustainability?
  3. What are the economic implications of moving from current practice to ecologically sustainable management?
  4. What are the barriers and opportunities for producers to move towards ecological sustainability?

To address question 1, we used a technical reference panel, combining expertise from a range of areas to complement the research team. Although we initially considered sustainable configurations for the four properties studied, to be able to generalize and communicate results to industry it was more appropriate to identify generic principles and land-use thresholds. The process of consultation, the principles and thresholds, and their scientific rationale are described in McIntyre, McIvor & MacLeod (2000).

We used four properties as case studies to address questions 2 - 4. Two properties were located in the Burnett region and two were located in the Crows Nest district. We surveyed the current natural resource condition of the four properties and assessed the extent and location of changes to grazing and tree cover that would be required to meet the minimum requirements for ecological sustainability. The assessments are documented in Martin et al.(2000).

We then explored the impact on the four properties of moving towards more sustainable management in terms of lost access to forage resulting from the minimum requirements for tree cover and protection of watercourses under the sustainability scenarios. The GRASP pasture simulation model (Littleboy & McKeon 1997; McKeon et al. 1998) was used to estimate the pasture production. An economic model was developed for each property to estimate the impact of production changes on property financial performance. These methods are described in Chapter 8, Appendix 4 and McIvor & MacLeod (1998).

Three Management Panels comprising the case property owners and a group of their selected peers were established at the beginning of the project (Auburn, Mundubbera and Crows Nest). These groups met with the research team periodically throughout the life of the project and discussions were held that provided information on what the project was about and how the case enterprises were managed. The key feature of this activity was that it was a two-way dialogue; the producers, and researchers' concepts of sustainability were discussed, as were the practical implications of implementing the principles. Semi-structured interviews further exploring these issues were conducted with participants towards the end of the project and these are summarized in Chapter 9, Appendix 4.

Although we used existing ecological information to develop the principles, we also generated new information on the grassland biodiversity and the roles of grazing and other management factors on patterns of diversity. The choice of the grassy layer over studies of wildlife, soil fauna or trees reflected the expertise available to the group, but is also justified in that the grassy layer represents the source of income for producers and the majority of the plant diversity resides there as well. Methods are summarized in McIntyre & Martin (2001), McIntyre & Lavorel (2001) and Appendix 8.


Communication activities were an integral part of the research activities e.g. through producer participation in the case-study research, on-property experiments and the local network of extension officers. We also conducted many explicit communication activities throughout the life of the project. A communications officer was appointed during the project and a communication plan was developed in September 1999 (Appendix 1). During the course of the project, we shifted our communication priorities from direct contact with a small number of beef producers and their networks, towards wider extension networks. We targeted seven areas of communication activity:

  1. A learning module designed for extension officers and the northern beef industry, introduced to stakeholders in a workshop environment;
  2. A technical information manual to provide the technical background for the module;
  3. Field days and meetings with the case study producers and the Management Panels to review and assess the scenarios;
  4. Open field meetings for producers, landcare groups and extension officers in the regions;
  5. Presentations to landholder meetings on an opportunistic basis;
  6. Project newsletters produced on a six-monthly basis;
  7. Media releases and popular articles.

The relationship between the various communication and research activities, and their logical flow, is summarized in Figure 1.


An evaluation of the project was conducted as a telephone survey in early 2001. The methods used are described in Appendix 7.

[1] Sue McIntyre, Neil MacLeod, John McIvor, John Hodgkinson, Katina Best, Tara Martin, John Ogden, Vaughan Frank, Vicki Noy and Jan Green. The latter four contributed for part of the project life.
[2] Benita Darrow was an extension officer for the Department of Natural Resources in the Burnett region at the time of commencement of the project.