Australia State of the Environment Report 2001 (Theme Report)
Lead Author: Jane Lennon, Jane Lennon and Associates Pty Ltd, Authors
Published by CSIRO on behalf of the Department of the Environment and Heritage, 2001
ISBN 0 643 06752 3
State of knowledge about Australia's heritage (continued)
Although the rocks are firm, here nothing lasts
Because a text-book tells me that the hills
Were monoliths like a faith, then rain
And servitude, the days of finer wills
Attacked all strength and left pebbles and weeds
To waste. But if a landscape had a voice
And nihilistic words, it might explain
How much is accident and how much is choice.
Knowledge of natural heritage places lagged behind other heritage fields during the reporting period. The reasons for this are discussed below. Sources of information for this section were Commonwealth, State and Territory agencies.
At the end of June 2000, the Register of the National Estate included 2313 natural heritage places.
Although by 1991 both the ACT and Northern Territory had legislation that enabled registration of natural heritage places, only the Commonwealth government included natural places in any heritage register. By 1995 ACT had added only one (a geological site), but by 2000 several States and Territories were beginning to list natural places, albeit in small numbers: six in the Northern Territory and 20 in the ACT. National Trust registers in five States and Territories had listings of trees, landscapes and natural places of scientific interest.
The rate of registration of natural heritage places in the Register of the National Estate increased between the 1990-1995 and 1995-2000 periods. This increased rate would appear to reflect the listing and interim listing of natural places identified during the Regional Forest Agreement (RFA) processes in Western Australia, Tasmania, New South Wales and Victoria. This recent increase in natural places is shown by the relatively high number of places in the Interim List at June 2000, amounting to 82% of the entire increase noted between 1995 and 2000.
However, the rate of identification and listing of natural heritage places in the last decade is considerably lower than it was in the first decade of the Register of the National Estate (from 1975). More than half of the number of natural places in the current Register were listed by 1980 (representing 41% of the total area of currently listed natural places). The rate of listing since 1991 has been dramatically slowed by the legal requirements of notification and consultation with owners. In the same period the standards of documentation of heritage values have become much more rigorous and time-consuming to compile, and as the obvious and 'easy' nominations were dealt with, the more recent nominations have tended to be more sensitive or controversial. Table 1 also shows the relative under-representation, by number of places, of natural heritage areas in the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Queensland, given their large areas and range of ecosystems. This is especially dramatic in the Northern Territory.
In the five-year period 1995-2000 (20% of the life of the Register of the National Estate), only 12% of natural registered places have been added to the Register of the National Estate. By way of contrast, the number of registered historic places increased by 15% over the same period. The areas listed have also become smaller over the last five years, 69% being under 1000 ha, while only 59% of the places registered up to 1995 were under 1000 ha. While 5% of the registered areas were over 100 000 ha in 1995, only 2% of those added in the last five years are this size. The decrease in size of areas being registered reflects the addition of small areas within forest lands, and the outcomes of ad hoc field surveys undertaken by community groups, field naturalists and research officers. This is also reflected in the range of types of natural places now being listed - from remnant flora in former cemetery or stock watering reserves, to geodiversity sites such as fossils in coastal exposures, to urban bushland. Significant trees and cultural landscapes are considered to be cultural places for Register of the National Estate listing purposes.
Table 2 illustrates how the Register encompasses natural heritage places which reflect the criteria in the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975, in that size or diversity is not as important as the heritage importance to the community in which the place is located. It probably also reflects the fact that the Register was the first of its kind and included many locally and regionally significant natural heritage places which these days would go on a local, State or Territory register. One reason for the slowdown in natural heritage nominations and a decreasing size of such nominations may be a change in attitude by environmental non-government organisations and conservationists. It may be that at present these groups feel that there are better and more effective ways to direct resources for positive conservation outcomes, rather than to prepare nominations for a Register that has ceased to be a valuable tool for the protection of places.
|1 000-99 999||686||
|100 000-999 999||86||
|> 1 000 000||14||
A 22 places in the database had no area calculations.
Source: Environment Australia, Register of the National Estate Data Base.
Figure 4 shows the distribution of natural heritage places as of 2000. Figure 5 shows the percentage increase in the number of natural places listed in the Register of the National Estate since December 1994, and illustrates the impact of identification and assessment surveys in the Victorian forests, especially the Otways, East Gippsland and the Grampians, and in the Tweed Shield area, the western slopes of New South Wales, and the Kimberleys.
Figure 4: Distribution of all natural heritage places listed in the Register of the National Estate at the end of 2000 (by Australian Government Regions).
Source: Environment Australia, Register of the National Estate Data Base
Figure 5: Percentage increase in natural places listed in the Register of the National Estate since December 1995 (by Australian Government Regions).
Source: Environment Australia, Register of the National Estate Data Base
The Regional Forest Agreement process has already identified a large number of places with national estate values, which under the agreement are to be listed in the Register of the National Estate. The total number of places identified is around 3000 (See Table 3). While a number of these places correspond to or are within existing registered areas, and the number of new places gazetted is likely to be somewhat smaller, all of the identified places will require documentation.
|RFA region||RFA signed||Expected listingsA|
|East Gippsland, Victoria||February 1997||
143 natural places
39 geoheritage places
370 natural places
120 cultural placesA
80 upgrades of data only
|Central Highlands, Victoria||March 1998||153 places|
|North-East Victoria||August 1999||
195 geoheritage and non-Indigenous places
150 natural places
|Gippsland, Victoria||December 1999||
120 cultural places
150 natural places
|Western Victoria||December 1999||
118 cultural places
150 natural places
|Eden, NSW||August 1999||100 places|
|Upper North-East NSW||December 1999||
at least 330 natural places
60 cultural places
|Lower North-East NSW||December 1999||
at least 330 natural places at least
45 cultural places
|Southern NSW||December 1999||
70 cultural places at least
250 natural places
|Western Australia||May 1999||
160 cultural places
natural places not yet quantified
|South-East Queensland||December 1999||
150 cultural places
natural places not yet quantified
A Cultural places include places of historic, Indigenous, aesthetic and social value.
Source: EA Forests Taskforce (January 2000).
Listing forest heritage places in the Register of the National Estate is the culmination of what could be described as the greatest environmental assessment ever done in Australia, and is an important Commonwealth government commitment. However, to date only the listings for East Gippsland have been through the statutory processes and entered in the Register of the National Estate. Outcomes of the Regional Forest Agreement process are summarised in Table 4.
|Total area of reserves||8.99 million ha|
|Area added to reserves by RFAs||2.51 million ha|
|% increase in reserved public land||39%|
|Total area of old growth forest (public and private lands)||4.22 million ha|
|Total area of reserved old growth forest||2.83 million ha|
|% increase in old growth forest reserved||42%|
Source: Commonwealth Forests Taskforce (August 2000).
The Madrid Protocol on environment protection in Antarctica came into force in January 1998. The Protocol designates Antarctica as a natural reserve, devoted to peace and science. The Protocol recognises the intrinsic values of Antarctica, establishes environmental principles for the conduct of all human activities in Antarctica, prohibits mining for fifty years, regulates waste disposal and provides for the conservation of Antarctic fauna and flora.
Australia has 14 properties inscribed on the World Heritage List. All of these are inscribed for their outstanding universal natural heritage values, and four (marked with an asterisk below) also for their Indigenous cultural values. By 1995 there were 11 places:
- Great Barrier Reef
- Kakadu National Park*
- Tasmanian Wilderness*
- Willandra Lakes Region*
- Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park*
- Lord Howe Island Group
- Central Eastern Rainforest Reserves of Australia
- Wet Tropics of Queensland
- Shark Bay
- Fraser Island
- Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh in Queensland, Naracoorte in South Australia)
Springtime view of Big Ben, Heard Island.
Big Ben is Australia's only active volcano - one of Australia's new World Heritage properties which was inscribed for its geological and biodiversity values.
Source: Ken Green/Australian Antarctic Division (2804D6)
The Three Sisters in the new Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.
This Area was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 2000 because it is an outstanding example of on-going ecological and biological processes significant in the evolution of Australia's highly diverse ecosystems, particularly eucalypt-dominated ecosystems.
Source: Mark Mohell/Australian Heritage Commission (2000)
Added during the period 1995-2000 were:
- Heard and McDonald Islands
- Macquarie Island
- The Greater Blue Mountains Area, New South Wales
Heard Island and McDonald Islands were placed on the Register of the National Estate in 1983 for their natural and cultural heritage values and they were included in the World Heritage List along with Macquarie Island in 1997. The locations of Australia's World Heritage properties are shown in Figure 6.
Figure 6: Location of Australia's World Heritage properties, December 2000.
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage (2001)
The National Reserve System Program was initiated under the Natural Heritage Trust in 1996 to improve the representation of IBRA (Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia) regions in the National Reserve System (see Thackway and Creswell 1995). The National Reserve System Program committed $85 million to a series of cooperative programs aimed at developing the National Reserve System (see 'State of government protection and funding of heritage places'), and in part the areas identified and purchased for reservation in high-priority IBRA regions can be assumed to have heritage values, especially those in IUCN categories I and III. While the percentage increase in the number of Register of the National Estate natural heritage places from 1995 to 2000 was 21%, the increase in natural places that have IUCN Category I-III protected area status was 37%.
The 85 IBRA regions in Australia shown in Figure 7 represent a landscape-based approach to classifying the land surface, including attributes of climate, geomorphology, landform, lithology, and characteristic flora and fauna. As well as land-based protected areas there are 153 marine protected areas, including 13 managed by the Commonwealth Government.
Figure 7: Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation for Australia.
Source: After Thackway and Creswell (1995)
- There has been a faster rate of identifying natural heritage places compared with Indigenous or historic places during the reporting period. There has been an increase in listing smaller natural heritage places than previously.
- The 21% increase in natural heritage place listings in the Register of the National Estate over the reporting period is due to a complex variety of factors, including finalising extensive studies conducted as part of the Regional Forest Agreements process, ad hoc surveys into discrete categories of natural heritage places such as stock routes or geoheritage sites, and the National Reserve System Program studies.
- However, only the listings for East Gippsland have been finalised through the Register of the National Estate procedures to gazettal. There is a huge backlog of approximately 2800 places identified and assessed above threshold in the Regional Forest Agreement regional studies and therefore eligible for Register of the National Estate listing, but which may not be listed in the transition to the new administrative and legal regime for heritage conservation by the Commonwealth government. It is essential that State and local government systems are in place before the status of the Register of the National Estate changes, otherwise there will be gaps in the levels of protection available for heritage places despite their level of significance.
- It is too early to be able to predict the direction of future local, State and Territory heritage registers for the natural environment, but attention will need to be paid to the scope and limitations placed on such registers before they can be used as reliable sources of information for state of the environment reporting. The present situation reinforces the value, at the continental scale, of having the Commonwealth Government's Register of the National Estate, covering all of Australia's heritage. With the proposed closure of the Register of the National Estate, there needs to be consideration of other methods of identifying natural heritage places which integrate the Register of the National Estate data (or some form of an active replacement heritage database) with the IBRA and CAPAD databases that are being developed as part of the National Reserve System program.
- There is evidence that the range of local Landcare activities, through such projects as preparing habitat plans to support funding applications, is increasing local knowledge about places of local natural heritage significance. A problem with this information is that it is not being properly collected or maintained, and so is not contributing to the broader understanding of natural heritage places. However, the content of State, Territory and local government heritage registers for natural heritage place listings would provide data that could be used for comparison in future reporting periods.