Local community management of the Blyth/Liverpool wetlands, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Supervising Scientist Report 137
Finlayson CM, Yibarbuk D, Thurtell L, Storrs MJ & Cooke P
Supervising Scientist, 1999
ISBN 0 642 24340 9
- SSR137 - Local community management of the Blyth/Liverpool wetlands, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia (PDF - 369 KB)
- The wetlands of the Blyth/Liverpool Rivers in northern Australia include a variety of habitats - intertidal marshes and saltflats, mangrove swamps, lakes and freshwater marshes and flooded forests. These wetlands are a major conservation resource and provide a subsistence living to the local indigenous people who have a profound knowledge of the habitats and their biota and a cultural connection to them.
- The indigenous people own the land under inalienable freehold title and are keen to maintain aspects of their traditional lifestyle. Land ownership is vested in the local people through patrilineal linkages which are augmented by custodial responsibilities emanating from matrilineal linkages. These links are based on traditional rights and are not underwritten by formal documentation, although contracts for specific projects, such as crocodile harvests, are being agreed with individuals and small groups.
- In order to deal with encroaching threats (such as weeds and feral animals) and management issues (such as applications by external interests to develop commercial enterprises) the local communities have participated in a consultative process to develop management prescriptions that emphasise their aspirations and connections with the land. They do not on the whole favour the development of intrusive industry (eg mining, grazing, tourism), preferring to maintain a resource base that can support many aspects of a traditional lifestyle.
- Management planning for the wetlands has been facilitated by a statutory authority, the Northern Land Council, with specific funding from the Australian federal government and support from technical land management and research agencies. The process adopted has concentrated on consultation with the local community and has been mediated by a local association, the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, which comprises elected representatives from traditional people resident in the area. The local people have control of the planning process through this corporation which facilitates visits by scientists and management advisers.
- Key management issues and concerns for the local community have been identified and steps taken to assist the community to obtain the training and resources to initiate appropriate management actions. Many of the management actions (eg weed control) have been undertaken by or in conjunction with a group of community rangers who were specifically trained and engaged to provide a focal point for land management activities. Ecological surveys and preliminary sustainable harvesting programs (eg crocodile egg collection and hatching) have been undertaken on a joint basis.
- Joint surveys and analyses are being used to compile an information base that will be used for management planning purposes. Following agreement from local people, outside experts have conducted formal and informal surveys that feature an exchange of scientific and traditional knowledge. Local people accompany the outside experts and share knowledge and expertise. The material collected from these surveys and exchanges is lodged in a library resource associated with a newly constructed field laboratory. This laboratory was specifically constructed to attract further external survey etc. The library resource is currently aimed at supporting this effort, but it is recognised that much of this material may not be directly useful for many people in the local community.
- As the land is owned by the local community it is envisaged that the management planning information base will be used to encourage the development of a formal management plan for the wetlands. Extensive consultation will be undertaken within the local community before any agreement on management prescriptions is reached. This consultation is essential to complete the cycle of ensuring that the process is driven by and owned by the community.
- The interests of the local community are addressed through cooperative processes and an exchange of traditional and non-traditional knowledge occurs. This interactive process encourages further consultation and the establishment of trust between the local community and research and management personnel from various agencies. Based on the existing local administrative structure and augmented by external assistance, the local community has been able to successfully obtain some training and experience in formal resource management and sustainable harvesting that reflects their aspirations.
- Further steps are planned and are required if the impetus generated by this program is to be maintained and return tangible benefits to the local community. Development of this program will maintain the focus on consultation, training and self-management.
- Areas of future concern centre on resource management and training within the communities. Further, once a management prescription is agreed there is uncertainty over how this can be enforced. The local community are empowered to make decisions about their wetlands but they do not possess the judicial power to enforce decisions on access or to prevent poaching by people from outside the region.
- Funding for the consultation and management planning exercise is not secure and there is concern that the development of stronger commercial projects could erode the traditional resource base. Thus, wetland management can not be divorced from other issues that affect the lifestyle of the local community, all of which need a secure funding base.