Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Prepared by: Dr Jann Williams, RMIT University, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06749 3
Roles and Responsibilities (continued)
Community involvement in biodiversity conservation [BD Indicators 13.3 and 25.2]
In recent years, there has been a strong trend towards community-based or participatory approaches to biodiversity policy and planning. As attention shifted from reservation and the management of the reserve estate to off-reserve areas and management of biodiversity across tenures and landscapes, the broader involvement of groups and individuals is necessary. Broadly, the justifications for increased community participation are: a democratic ideal that people should be involved in policy and management that affects them, the greater likelihood of lasting and more effective management strategies when these are subject to wider support in the community, and that managing biodiversity involves public and private sector and community decisions.
Against this, there is a tension perceived by some commentators that community-based programs may replace, rather than build on or complement, government's own efforts, with the latter declining through cost shifting or reduction in traditional public sector activities at state and territory level.
Community-based Citizens Wildlife Corridor project, Northern Tablelands of New South Wales.
The series of 1:100 000 map sheets show native vegetation in the Armidale region and the properties that are part of the wildlife corridor scheme.
By far the greatest emphasis has been on community-based groups such as Landcare and Waterwatch, and these are discussed below. However, organised community groups and individuals may participate in biodiversity policy, management and practice in a much wider variety of ways, including:
- as voters at three levels of government
- as members of, for example, interest or advocacy groups and industry associations
- through legal standing and access to information in planning law
- through representatives on statutory boards or advisory committees, informal advisory bodies, reserve management boards and similar organisations
- through involvement in particular policy processes
- as members of or through representatives on regional or catchments organisations
- as members of community-based management or monitoring groups
- as consumers making choices based on biodiversity considerations
- in workplaces subject to environmental codes of practice
- as individuals engaging in biodiversity-related activities on private land.
Since the mid-1990s, representatives of major interest groups have been closely involved in development of major policies, such as the NSCABD, Oceans Policy and National Principles and Guidelines for Rangelands Management. Public participation in the RFA process varied widely across jurisdictions. In some jurisdictions, standing and rights to object to development proposals have been curtailed. Development of a clearer mutual understanding of expectations of and roles in policy development processes between interest groups and governments may be desirable as part of the ongoing evolution of partnership arrangements.
Most jurisdictions have created arrangements whereby interest groups have ongoing input into biodiversity policy, whether this is ad hoc or through statutory arrangements. The EPBC Act enables broader input through continuation of BDAC and through a Threatened Species Scientific Committee and Indigenous Advisory Committee. This participation is, however, largely expertise based rather than representative.
The Commonwealth undertakes community education programs through Environment Australia, and supports the community biodiversity network (CBN) (see Community Biodiversity Network).
Around Australia, thousands of community groups and organisations are working to increase community understanding of biodiversity and involvement in its conservation. The NSCABD (ANZECC 1996) recognises that these initiatives can be catalysed by integrated measures that increase awareness and involvement. In line with this, in 1995 the Humane Society International, with the support of the Commonwealth government environment department, established the CBN.
The CBN is a national network of hundreds of organisations, which aims to increase community understanding, support for, and involvement in biodiversity conservation, and to provide easier access to biodiversity conservation information.
Each year the CBN works with over 100 organisations to stage 'Earth Alive! Biodiversity Month' in September. Biodiversity month provides a national community and mass media focus to highlight the value of Australia's rich biodiversity, relate biodiversity to lifestyle and welfare, and encourage people to become more involved in conserving the habitat of local native species and ecosystems (see photo).
This includes relating biodiversity to simple household actions, such as creating a habitat garden and keeping pets indoors to keep them and native wildlife safe, as well as the major biodiversity conservation issues, such as ongoing habitat loss. Local community events include bush regeneration days, nature walks, seminars and school working bees to create habitat gardens. To highlight the positive efforts of thousands of Australians in conserving wildlife habitat, the CBN also awards EcoHero Awards during Biodiversity Month.
Biodiversity Month Patron, Sir William Deane, (former) Governor-General of Australia, plants a local native plant in his backyard with help from children.
Source: Grant Ellmers, CBN
To help groups avoid 'reinventing the wheel' when developing community education products, and to provide 'one stop shop' information resources, the CBN has developed a range of tools including the:
- Earth Alive Directory of Biodiversity Resources, Programs and Organisations
- On-line Biodiversity Education Centre, for teachers and students
- Earth Alive Biodiversity Communicators Kit.
The CBN also produces a range of reference, news and community education products, such as its Earth Alive Home Guide, LifeLines bulletin, television and radio community service announcements, and various booklets and fact sheets. Many of these are available on the CBN website http://www.cbn.org.au .
Source: Andreas Glanznig, CBN.
Community-based programs [BD Indicator 25.2]
In Australia, involvement in the protection of biodiversity by individuals and community groups is encouraged by both federal and state governments. The number and size of these programs, and even more so of the activities and groups funded through them, render consistent reporting of activities impossible in the absence of large-scale surveys of all groups across all jurisdictions. Very often, particular groups or landholders will access support from more than one program over time to achieve different goals (see On-farm biodiversity conservation). Table 63 identifies a selection of recent state and territory government activities and programs encouraging or funding community participation.
On 31 August 2000, the Director-General of the NSW NPWS, Brian Gilligan, launched the State's new Community Assistance Program (CAP) at 'Millpost', a 1100 ha fine wool sheep property run by David Watson and Judith Turley on the southern tablelands of New South Wales. Acknowledging the results of 20 years of planning and management to combine production and conservation, Mr Gilligan said:
the property contains a wide variety of highly significant wildlife habitats, which have been maintained and enhanced while retaining a successful and viable agricultural enterprise. 'Millpost' is a significant wildlife haven hosting native animals including a truly remarkable bird life, many of which are declining elsewhere. The property is a testament to the land management abilities of the Watsons and a fine demonstration that agricultural production can and does coexist with the conservation of biodiversity.
The philosophy behind the management of 'Millpost' combines rotational grazing practices, permaculture design principles and a belief that economic viability requires maintenance of the integrity of the biological resource base.
Since 1979, tens of thousands of trees have been planted, from direct seeding and raised tube stock. The plantings have been for wildlife habitat, catchment protection and windbreaks, with most being local species such as Eucalyptus viminalis, E. mannifera, E. pauciflora and E. stellulata, and Acacia rubida and A. dealbata. Tree plantings are complemented by understorey plantings for habitat, including Bursaria, Grevillea, Callistemon and Melaleuca. Extensive areas, including a sizeable wetland area, are excluded from grazing pressure.
'Millpost' has seen production as well as conservation benefits from planned revegetation. An increase in bird life has been the most noticeable change, especially of smaller species not previously common in the area (i.e. honeyeaters, pardalotes and whistlers). Increased shelter for stock, and a prolonged growing season from greater retention of soil moisture in spring and early summer, have benefited the grazing enterprise.
While the great bulk of the investment and work over the last 20 years has been by the owners, they acknowledge various forms of assistance, such as from Greening Australia, the National Tree Program and the National Afforestation Program. The latest assistance, in August 2000, came when workers from the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers, under the CAP and funded through the NSW government's Environment Trust, helped with new planting and maintenance work on existing plantings. Such partnerships between private landholders, community groups and government are seen as crucial to on-farm biodiversity enhancement.
As for the future, Mr Watson and Ms Turley acknowledge that, even after 20 years of progress, achieving a balance between production and conservation is a long-term task. Further challenges include dryland salinity, weeds such as Serrated Tussock and St John's Wort, the breakup of surrounding farmland under non-productive uses and, above all, the overall viability and decline of rural communities and economies.
At the Commonwealth level, the NHT is the mechanism for funding different community involvement programs that involved over 305 000 individuals in 1999 (Figure 58; see Government spending on biodiversity). The NHT is not in itself a community-based program, but rather a public finance mechanism through which a variety of programs are funded. The largest number of participants are involved in Landcare (33%), followed by Waterwatch (23%), Bushcare (18%) and the Murray-Darling 2001 Program (13%). These four programs account for 87% of the total community participation under NHT funds. There are around 1500 Waterwatch groups monitoring water quality and aquatic biodiversity, and over 4000 Landcare groups.
Figure 58: The percentage of participants in Natural Heritage Trust programs, 1996 to 2000.
Source: Environment Australia
It is difficult to ascertain precisely the relevance of thousands of different activities to biodiversity, but broad programs can be classified as more directly or indirectly targeted. Of the four largest programs, Bushcare and Waterwatch are the most clearly relevant, although the other major participatory programs may produce biodiversity benefits. Bushcare facilitators operate at state, territory and regional level to liaise with landholders and community groups. However, as Curtis (1998) suggests, the ability of some programs targeted at other issues such as Landcare and land degradation to deliver biodiversity benefits on private land should not be overestimated. The most biodiversity-specific of the NHT programs, the NRSP and ESP, involve far fewer people as they are not as clearly community based.
Commonwealth government funding for mostly community-based NHT projects is administered through the Environment and Agriculture, Fisheries, Forestry portfolios. In 1999-2000, $299.4 million was provided (Table 63). In contrast to the number of participants involved, the largest amount of funding was provided to Bushcare ($81.6 million), followed by Landcare ($49.2 million), Murray-Darling Basin 2001 ($43 million) and then the Coasts and Clean Seas Initiative ($28.1 million).
These programs essentially involve voluntary contributions by individuals who have an interest in environmental issues usually local to their areas. Programs also exist where private landholders can be encouraged to enter into voluntary agreements with governments to put aside land specifically for the purposes of wildlife conservation (Williams & Sutherland 2000). Such programs include Voluntary Conservation Agreements, wildlife refuges and Land for Wildlife (see Selected government programs encouraging private landholder and community programs).
The Genaren Hill Sanctuary near Peak Hill, central-western New South Wales, is a 400 ha remnant on private land.
The Genaren Hill Landcare Group installed 86 km of predator-proof fencing and have reintroduced the Brush-tailed Bettong (Bettongia penicillata ogilbyi) and Bridled Nailtail Wallaby (Onychogale fraenata), which were both regionally extinct.
Source: JE Williams
- nine Voluntary Conservation Agreements signed in 1998-99 bringing the total to 49 (5340 ha) with a further 90 under negotiation
- Landcare groups include the Ginninderra Catchment Group, Canberra Ornithologists Group, O'Connor Ridge ParkCare Group, Sullivans Creek Catchment Group
- funding for community groups to attend International Landcare Conference, March 2000
- National Heritage Trust (NHT) funding of $941 326 for environment projects
- support for the Murrumbidgee Catchment Coordinating Committee.
- under the Wildlife Refuge program, 600 refuges have been declared since 1950
- Land for Wildlife program and Farming for the Future, which includes a module on biodiversity issues
- NPWS Discovery program, Save Our Species Program and Community Biodiversity Survey Manual
- Community Assistance Program (CAP).
- Indigenous involvement in protected area management
- 'Friends' groups for individual parks (e.g. Friends of Alice Springs Desert Park launched in 1998-99 with over 900 members)
- Volunteers on Parks Program and a Junior Ranger Program.
- Environment Protection Agency (EPA) grants totalling $988 917 to coastal community organisations for 60 projects under the Coastcare Grants Program
- EPA approved 53 out of 227 applications for funding projects under the Queensland Community Heritage Grants Program (local government, Indigenous and heritage groups) totalling $507 000
- QPWS funded 59 projects totalling $234 300 for non-profit, non-government, community-based organisations
- QPWS re-established the NatureSearch Program with part-time coordinators and volunteers to gather records about Queensland's native species
- funding of $7 million from the NHT for Bushcare programs for 95 projects
- Queensland extended the Land for Wildlife Program to assist landholders to integrate wildlife habitat protection principles into management of their properties
- Community Nature Conservation extension network was established to deploy extension officers to assist landholders and community groups to pursue conservation objectives
- under the Nature Conservation Act 1992, the government can enter into Nature Conservation Agreements with private landholders to create protected areas
- over 120 volunteers from community groups and industry enlisted as part of the Queensland Turtle Conservation Program
- the Gladstone-based volunteer group Friends of Capricornia established to control weeds and monitor wildlife on Capricorn and Bunker Islands
- volunteers at Airlie Beach and the Whitsunday Islands coordinated to help run the visitor information centre and undertake monitoring.
- Protected area Consultative Committees and Friends Groups have been established
- establishment of a network of NHT facilitators, Bush Management Advisers and regional state government ecologists to provide assistance to landholders
- provision of funding including: service programs for Indigenous people ($3.4 million); Coastcare grants ($377 000); National Estate program grants ($209 000); NHT grants ($1.1 million) including Heritage Agreements for private landholders; Waterwatch program ($259 000)
- Land for Wildlife Program being developed to encompass a range of private landholder nature conservation initiatives.
- programs include Wildcare, Bushcare, Rivercare
- Weedplan established to educate the farming community in identifying new weed threats
- establishment of a $30 million reserve project for private land under the RFA process: 150 properties have been assessed, with two purchased so far and another 45 possible.
- Parks Victoria granted $5.3 million to community groups and local government to improve Victoria's extensive network of parklands. This included projects under start-up grants, 'Friends' programs, National Estate Grant Program, Coast Action/Coastcare projects and Coasts and Clean Seas projects.
- Minister for the Environment's Community Conservation Grants
- Land for Wildlife Scheme
- Remnant Vegetation Protection Scheme
- Gordon Reid Foundation for Conservation Grants Scheme.
Governments also have legislative means by which landholders can contribute to biodiversity conservation, in the form of property and conservation agreements and covenants. These allow agencies of the State to make legal agreements with private landholders or with other public sector agencies for resource management. The agreements may provide financial incentives for meeting the objective of conservation on private land (e.g. assistance for fencing) and involve a contractual arrangement and may in some cases attach to the title of the land so as to bind future owners. Some earlier legislation includes agreements more targeted at land degradation but which may also yield biodiversity benefits. Acts under which voluntary conservation or resource protection agreements and covenants can be made include:
- Nature Conservation Act 1992 (Qld)
- Conservation and Land Management Act 1984 (WA)
- Conservation, Forests and Lands Act 1987 (Vic.)
- Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988 (Vic.)
- Native Vegetation Act 1991 (SA)
- Soil Conservation and Land Care Act 1989 (SA)
- National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974 (1995) (Cwlth)
- Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995 (NSW)
- EPBC Act 1999 (Cwlth).
In New South Wales, some 600 wildlife refuges have been declared, and over 80 Voluntary Conservation Agreements made over individual properties. In a move that links landholder and community efforts, the NSW NPWS in 2000 launched the CAP. The CAP is funded from the NSW Environment Trust, run by the NPWS and the Australian Trust for Conservation Volunteers and involves volunteers assisting with biodiversity conservation projects on properties subject to a Voluntary Conservation Agreement.
Interest group involvement is usually voluntary, may contribute to protected area planning in a consultative capacity and some may even be involved in preparation of management plans.
The basis and intent of interest group involvement in protected area planning and management varies. Interest groups identified as being 'explicitly involved' in protected area management and planning by the Victorian government illustrate this, including environmental groups (e.g. ACF and Birds Australia), recreational user groups (e.g. Australian Anglers' Association, Victorian Association of 4WD Clubs, Sporting Shooters Association of Australia) and industry associations (e.g. Tourism Council, Victorian Apiarists Association, Victorian Fishing Industry Association). This illustrates the range of interests increasingly involved in negotiating multiple values and uses of protected areas.
Community participation has become more central to the strategic planning and operations of nature conservation agencies. For example, in Queensland, the EPA (including the QPWS) describes detailed plans for consultation in its 'Agency Consultation Plan 1999-2000'. This sets out, for example, across a wide range of programs and reserves, the kind of consultation planned, time period, groups to be consulted and budget requirements. Groups identified include local residents, environmental groups, Indigenous organisations, industry interests, local government and other state agencies.