Five years ago, Bush Heritage Australia launched its 2017-2022 Strategic Plan. At the time, we recognised that the plight of many native species had worsened and that our most urgent challenge was to respond before it was too late.
The United Nations General Assembly had declared it the Decade of Biodiversity and there remained an estimated shortfall of 70 million hectares of habitat across Australia to secure a comprehensive, adequate, and representative reserve system.
Threats to biodiversity were increasing, with habitat loss, climate change, invasive species, altered fire regimes and river flows, pollution and land use changes all imperilling many of the extraordinary animal and plant species unique to this country.
More than ever, we needed a whole-of-community approach to protecting nature. It needed to be integrated, targeted, well-resourced and effective at landscape-scale.
Bush Heritage plays a key role in this approach, creating a future in which nature and people can thrive.
While many of these large-scale threats remain today (and have even intensified with the impacts of climate change), this was a moment in time that Bush Heritage stepped up and developed a strategic path forward.
Under the 2017-2022 Strategic Plan, Bush Heritage identified four pillars to guide its work:
- Landscape-scale conservation management;
- science and knowledge;
- engage and inspire; and
- resilience and capability.
The goal was to increase the scope of our conservation work. This included excelling at managing our reserves and partnerships, deepening our relationship with Traditional Owners both on reserves and in partnerships, improving our ability to measure and report impact, building our capacity to apply science and knowledge, strengthening Bush Heritage’s profile and building greater resilience in our annual income.
At the completion of this Strategic Plan, I am both humbled and bolstered by what we achieved under its direction.
We grew the area of land that we work across from 4.98 million hectares to 11.3 million hectares, driven in large part by an increasing number of Aboriginal groups who chose to work with us.
The number of species recorded on our reserves has grown to 7,716, this includes 243 that are threatened or at risk. By providing healthy habitat for these species and implementing science-led conservation management plans, we are doing everything in our power to safeguard them from extinction.
We set a goal to improve or maintain our ecological (vegetation communities, species and terrain elements), social (access to country, wellbeing) and cultural (artifacts, sites, stories, species, ecosystems) Targets by 2022.
At the end of this period, 45% of our Targets have improved, 44% are holding strong at a stable state, even in the face of threats. Some targets (11%) have declined in condition, this is in part due to extreme weather events and flow on impacts. We are working hard to understand and mitigate the threats to these Targets to reverse this trend.
Overall, our reserves are in better condition and have greater opportunities to protect the native species and habitats for which we acquired the properties.
Our people are stronger than ever, with 54,936 active supporters, 1,250 active volunteers, and over 150 staff.
And despite the COVID-19 pandemic, we continued to engage and inspire: our brand awareness has increased, our annual revenue has increased and of our supporters 91% have suggested they would recommend Bush Heritage to others.
These are just a few of the highlights from these pivotal five years and they equate to real on-the-ground impact.
One example I will share with you is from Eurardy Reserve on Nanda Country in Western Australia, where during this time we were able to begin our most ambitious revegetation project to-date: planting one million trees and shrubs.
The project kicked off in 2019 to restore 1350 hectares of land that was previously cleared for cropping and grazing across the 30,050-hectare reserve. 36,000 tiny seedlings were planted in row upon row in red soils.
Today, when you drive through Eurardy, these seedlings are no longer seedlings. They have transformed the landscape, with trees already towering over our reserve manager, Sam, and the area is brimming with life. It’s an incredible sight that brings so much hope.
While we face complex times ahead, with the compounding threats of climate change forcing us to dig deeper and more innovatively to mitigate unfolding disasters and reverse the damage done to the bush, these trees demonstrate what we have and can achieve with clear strategic direction and foresight.
It’s estimated that this project will capture more than 90,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide (the equivalent of removing 20,7000 passenger vehicles from the road for a year).
When these trees reach maturity, they will provide hollows for birds such as the Red-tailed Black-cockatoos, and their fallen limbs will offer shelter to ground-dwelling species such as the endangered Western Spiny-tailed Skink. They are more than trees; they are part of an ecosystem working in harmony.
Just like these seedlings, Bush Heritage has been growing too, since our founder Bob Brown and his peers planted the seed for our organisation over 30 years ago in 1991. Two forest blocks grew into work across more than 11.3 million hectares and now we are extending our limbs once again.
Building on everything we learnt during 2017-2022, we recently launched our new 2030 Strategy that will see us deepen and double our impact by the end of the decade and ultimately protect, restore and regenerate in excess of 30 million hectares of land.
We are committed to giving back to the land that gives to us, to protecting the smallest ant and the tallest tree and to keeping Healthy Country, Protected Forever. Thankfully, we are a healthy ecosystem ready to nurture all land, for all life.