The recent State of the Environment Report 2021 is a call to action to the Australian public to protect our natural places. The report outlines the increased pressures of known threats such as climate change, habitat destruction and invasive species that are driving species decline and ecosystems collapse. While the research is confronting, the information is not surprising and highlights the dire environmental challenges that conservationists are already working to address.
Bush Heritage’s Executive Manager for Science and Conservation, Dr. Rebecca Spindler, considers the report a significant step-change in the way these environmental issues are dealt with, which include key areas that Bush Heritage has identified in its 2030 Strategy
“The report reinforces the importance of Private Protected Areas, of upscaling and bringing innovation to our national conservation efforts, and working beside Traditional Owners, ensuring Traditional Knowledge is recognised, respected and protected,” she said.
Bush Heritage sees robust and transparent data as a fundamental step towards building resilience in our natural landscapes. A key example is the Conservation Futures project (In collaboration with University of Melbourne and others) that will bring together First Nations people, natural resource managers, private landholders, industry, government, research and conservation groups to develop culturally sensitive, integrated planning and knowledge-gathering systems.
The State of the Environment 2021 report acknowledges that “Indigenous ways of knowing and seeing are essential for meeting the environmental challenges of today and the future”, but financial and other critical support is needed for Traditional Owners to manage their country.
The report also comes with a government commitment to protect 30% of land and sea country by 2030, a positive step towards mobilising support across public and private sectors. There are now over 1900 species and communities listed as threatened – a figure which was exacerbated by the 2019-20 Black Summer fires that killed or displaced between one and three billion animals.
According to Dr. Spindler, “While this is confronting, it's not surprising... We know that Australia has the highest rate of mammal extinction in the world, that our species are in rapid decline, and the consequences of this on life, as we know it, will be severe.”
Climate change projections indicate that the geographic range of some invasive species and disease-carrying vectors will increase, fire impacts will be more intense and less predictable, surface temperatures will increase, and water patterns will change significantly across much of Australia. Bush Heritage scientists prioritise long-term planning and work closely with scientists from the CSIRO to gather the most up to date climate data and projections.
Our Priority Landscapes Framework accrues research, climate modelling and analysis to identify the landscapes where we can make the biggest difference. It’s based on strengthening, reconnecting, and fostering resilient landscapes, and underscores Bush Heritage’s strategy to curb the tide of environmental degradation. For example, Bush Heritage is establishing ecological “steppingstones” to protect and restore critical habitats to maintain species viability and habitat connectivity, through the recently purchased Ediegarrup Reserve in the Fitz-Stirling Region of southwest Western Australia. As a highly fragmented landscape, reconnecting patches of remnant bushland in this international biodiversity hotspot is key to species health moving forward.
As part of its 2030 Strategy, Bush Heritage is aiming to double its network of reserves from 1.2 million to 2.4 million hectares, strengthen its Aboriginal partnerships program, and grow its emerging focus on agricultural partnerships, all with a view of working across 30 million hectares of land to improve conservation values.
With more than 50% of Australia made up of agricultural land, Bush Heritage is working with research partners to support farmers to boost biodiversity on their properties through natural capital accounts. The Smartfarms project, led by La Trobe University, is just one of a number of programs demonstrating this emerging focus. The project aims to work across 10 million hectares of agricultural land by 2030.
The bredth of the report, and the public sentiment surrounding it, is a positive step towards large-scale mobilisation. According to Australia's Minister for the Environment and Water, Tanya Plibersek, “The scale of this challenge means that governments can’t do the job alone. We need to work with industry and philanthropic partners – many of whom are already doing great work.”
Bush Heritage and partners have the tools, strategy and knowledge to tackle these challenges and work proactively against the growing threats outlined in the report. The next steps will be in continuously strengthening the response and maintaining every-day work on the ground.
According to Dr. Spindler, “We have seen the impact we can make when we show up for the environment and get our boots dirty and our hands in the ground. But we have to do it strategically, from a foundation of good data and we have to do it together. We can boost biodiversity through land-based biodiversity focused carbon projects, agricultural partnerships and ecological restoration to benefit the whole of the landscape and reverse the damage done.”