Land clearing

Australia still clears too much vegetation

The ongoing loss and decline of forests, scrublands, grasslands and wetlands continues to threaten Australia’s environment.

  • About 90% of native vegetation in the eastern temperate and south-western temperate zones has been removed for agriculture, industry, transport and human habitation.[1]
  • About 50% of Australia's rainforests have been cleared and the proportion of Australia covered by forest or woodland has been reduced by more than a third [1]

Volunteers plant thousands of trees each year at our Scottsdale Reserve to revegetate a section that was cleared before we purchased it. Photo Peter Saunders.
Volunteers plant thousands of trees each year at our Scottsdale Reserve to revegetate a section that was cleared before we purchased it. Photo Peter Saunders.
Extreme rates of land clearing placed Australia in the top 10 land clearing nations in the world in 2017.

We're still clearing much more native vegetation than is being replanted or regenerating naturally. Irreplaceable, high-quality habitat is being cleared, and any natural regrowth, over the short term will be of much lower diversity and lack important structural elements such as hollow trees and ground timber.

Recent reviews of natural resource management programs have highlighted the expense and difficulty of restoring habitat to a complexity and structure that resembles intact native vegetation.

Impacts on rivers and the coast

An area being revegetated along the Murrumbidgee River. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
An area being revegetated along the Murrumbidgee River. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Land clearance greatly impacts on the health of rivers and coastal ecosystems. It increases erosion and the runoff of sediment, nutrients and other pollutants into coastal waters, causing damage to coral reefs and other marine ecosystems such as seagrass beds. Increased nutrients in rivers and streams can cause outbreaks of toxic algae.

Animal extinction

Ecologist Angela Sanders and Healthy Landscape Manager Simon Smale survey fauna in south-west WA. Photo William Marwick.
Ecologist Angela Sanders and Healthy Landscape Manager Simon Smale survey fauna in south-west WA. Photo William Marwick.
Clearing removes habitats, leading to the direct loss of millions of native animals and plants every year. Australia’s mammal species have suffered an extraordinary rate of extinction over the last 200 years. [2]

This has been caused by many interacting threats, including land clearance and ecosystem degradation. As habitats become increasingly fragmented, populations become more vulnerable to the other threats, such as predation by feral species and destructive fires, and lose the ability to recolonise suitable habitat from which they're lost.

Land clearing kills animals directly. Millions dies each year during land clearing operations. Ten million are being lost each year in NSW alone. This occurs when they're harmed during land clearance operations, lose their shelter and are exposed to the elements and feral predators, and because they lose their food sources.

Mallefowl tracks. Photo Leanne Hales.
Mallefowl tracks. Photo Leanne Hales.
Native birds are declining precipitously. [3] Populations of Australian terrestrial birds have declined by 50% since 1990. [4] Even once-common birds are now in trouble in many areas. [5] Many threats are responsible, but habitat loss through land clearance and subsequent decline in the condition of isolated remnant habitat is high among them.

The loss of plant species

People tend to be most aware of and concerned about animal species. But our flora is equally unique and threatened. There are over 23,800 plant species in Australia, of which 86% are endemic (found nowhere else). In 2018 it was found that 296 species were at risk of extinction and 55 at high risk.

Salinisation

Tammar Wallaby footprints in a salt pan. Photo Angela Sanders.
Tammar Wallaby footprints in a salt pan. Photo Angela Sanders.
In drier regions, when rain falls on bush much of it is captured by the roots of plants and expired back to the atmosphere. After the bush is cleared the water continues down through earth and adds to ground water. The water table can then rise bringing salt to the surface, causing salinisation, which renders land useless for farming and destroys habitat for species. This process is causing a salinity crisis across vast areas of farmland, bushland and waterways.

Making climate change worse

Greg Sousaari reflects on a dry landscape. Photo Ben Parkhurst.
Greg Sousaari reflects on a dry landscape. Photo Ben Parkhurst.
It's been estimated that in parts of eastern Australia, loss of vegetation has increased summer surface temperatures by up to 2℃. This has caused rainfall to decrease and is exacerbating droughts. In southwest Western Australia it's estimated to have caused temperatures to increase by 0.4–0.8℃.

Between 2012 and 2015 Australia’s carbon dioxide emissions from land use, land use change and forestry increased by 79% – ten times faster than any other sector. It's been estimated that by 2020 it will reach 55 million tons a year – 10% of Australia’s entire annual emissions.

What's Bush Heritage doing?

Bob Brown on the Liffey blocks he saved from clearing. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Bob Brown on the Liffey blocks he saved from clearing. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Bush Heritage originally came into being as a practical vehicle to prevent land clearing. Two forest blocks near Bob Brown's house in Liffey Valley, Tasmania, were to be sold for woodchipping. He simply bought the blocks himself and created Bush Heritage as a practical way for everyday Australians to contribute.

Today tens of thousands of Australians support us to buy and manages land of high conservation value, and also partners with Aboriginal people, to conserve our magnificent landscapes and our irreplaceable native species forever.

We rely on the generosity of everyday Australians. Donations over $2 are tax-deductible and we can't thank our supporters enough.


Sources
  1. Australian Productivity Commission: Creating Markets for Biodiversity
  2. Ongoing unraveling of a continental fauna: Decline and extinction of Australian mammals since European settlement
  3. Ecological Society of Australia: Australian threatened bird populations drop by half in 30 years on average
  4. Threatened Species Recovery Hub: Australia's New Threatened Bird Index
  5. Birds in Backyards: State of Australia's Birds report released: common birds facing declines
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