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Sandstone escarpment at Carnarvon Reserve. By Terry Cooke
Sandstone escarpment at Carnarvon Reserve. By Terry Cooke

A case for nature

Words by: Eliza Herbert
Location: Bidjara Country, Queensland
Published 27 Oct 2023

At Carnarvon, Bidjara Country, viny worlds of endemicity and slimy species are smoothing the path to Special Wildlife Reserve status.

In 2020, Queensland’s first Special Wildlife Reserve was declared at our Pullen Pullen Reserve on Maiawali Country to recognise the significance of the reserve’s Night Parrot population. Now, we're on a mission to achieve the status for five of our other Queensland reserves, granting the highest level of protection for privately owned property in Australia.

Special Wildlife Reserves are a relatively new conservation status in Queensland that see private land granted the same level of statutory protection as national parks, when they protect areas of exceptional natural and cultural value.

Vista across Carnarvon Station Reserve, Bidjara Country, Queensland.

“Queensland has a long history of mining and timber harvesting, and currently has the lowest level of protected areas (approximately 8.2 percent) in the country,” says Felicity Shapland, Bush Heritage Special Wildlife Reserve Project Officer.

“Special Wildlife Reserves are an amazing opportunity, providing a far greater level of protection than conservation covenants such as Nature Refuges.”

The applications involve a complex process of comparing historical data with Queensland’s public records, on-ground surveys and orthomosiac maps with the goal of demonstrating the exceptional natural and cultural values of the landscape. This can include a species, group of species, regional ecosystem, vegetation community, as well as cultural significance.

At Carnarvon Station Reserve, Bidjara Country, Felicity’s ecosystem of interest is semi-evergreen vine thickets. “They're found on steep, generally south-facing slopes and are an impenetrable maze of vines, thorns and spikiness. Specific to these little patches, they're islands of biodiversity and endemicity.”

The standstone cliffs of Carnarvon Station Reserve, Bidjara Country, Queensland. By Terry Cooke

Carnarvon is a 59,000-hectare reserve within the Brigalow Belt of Queensland that's full of fertile Bluegrass grasslands and Brigalow scrub, Bluegum forests, Poplar Box and Mountain Coolibah woodlands. It's an oasis that provides vital habitat for a number of species, including the endangered Northern Quoll.

The vine thickets are home to a multitude of species including bugs, millipedes, flies and thrips. They also act as refuges for mammals when the temperature rises.

“Carnarvon is significant in its resilience to climate change. It has a higher altitude and particularly high rainfall and is likely to be able to better cope with the impacts of a changing climate. In the scheme of things, this could mean the survival of many native animals.”

Another unlikely hero at Carnarvon is the humble snail. Four species of snails only occur within these special patches of vine thicket: a large species of land snail, the Pallidelix simonhudsonii, and three species of pinwheel snail, two unnamed species and the iddy, biddy Eddiea carnarvon.

“Snails are fantastic biodiversity indicators. If you’ve got lots of species of snails you’ve got a pretty healthy ecosystem. And if you lose those, it means that your ecosystem is declining in health.”

“So, it's not just: why is one species important? It’s: why is the whole ecosystem important? They're a great indicator of whether we’re doing a good job, or if we’re managing to survive the impacts of climate change.”

With each Special Wildlife Reserve application we seek to work with Traditional Owners and establish how involved they'd like to be in the process. 

“Environmental values and cultural heritage values are inextricably linked,” says Felicity. “This provides another opportunity to talk with Traditional Owners to find out their aspirations for these reserves, and to provide more opportunities for access to Country.”

The outcome of these applications will be determined in the coming months, potentially saving us from future legal fees to fight mining or timber lease applications, and signify a step change in the approach to private protected areas in Queensland – enshrining them as truly special. 

Bush Heritage gratefully acknowledges Friends of the Australian Bush Heritage Fund and the Wyss Foundation for their support of Felicity Shapland’s work to enhance the protection of Bush Heritage-managed Queensland reserves.

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