Purnululu National Park in the Kimberley, WA, is an especially spectacular part of the NRS. (Credit: Getty)

Big success: Australia’s protected areas

  • BY Victoria Laurie |
  • July 15, 2011

The National Reserve System has been a big conservation success story and great value for money says WWF.

A NEW BILLION-DOLLAR Biodiversity Fund should be spent securing 'safety net' land for conservation, according to WWF-Australia, adding to the network of Australia-wide national parks and reserves that have proved to be a major conservation success story.

The Biodiversity Fund was announced this week as part of the Gillard Government's carbon tax announcement, and is aimed "to protect Australia's unique species from climate change impacts."

According to Environment Minister Tony Burke, the fund will "initially provide $946 million over six years for a range of projects to foster and preserve biodiversity around Australia." It would include helping farmers, community groups and landcare managers to restore plant biodiversity in denuded landscapes and 'capture' carbon.

National Reserve System

But WWF-Australia spokesman Dr Martin Taylor says he would prefer the money went into securing - either by sale or covenant - more tracts of 'safety net' land for threatened communities. "If that billion dollars could be invested in the National Reserve System (NRS), that would be really good. There are still large gaps in our protection of ecosystems around Australia."

The Twelve Apostles off the coast of Port Campbell National Park, part of the NRS in Victoria. (Credit: Getty)

The National Reserve System is Australia's network of 9,300 national parks and other protected areas covering nearly 13 per cent of the country and aimed at conserving fauna and flora. WWF-Australia has strongly praised the Federal government for its support of the NRS, "one of the biggest conservation success stories of the Rudd and Gillard governments."

A new report from WWF, 'Building Nature's Safety Net', found that by investing $180 million in the reserve system in 2008, the Federal government had helped leverage nearly five times that amount from other sources including state governments and private land holders.

Maximum bang for buck

"This is a great example of government getting maximum bang for its conservation buck, costing the Commonwealth a remarkably low $47 per hectare to actually buy wildlife habitats and save them forever," says Martin, WWF-Australia's Policy Manager for Protected Areas.

"The five-fold increase in funding has been one of the most cost-effective conservation programs we've seen, and is one that should leave a truly enduring legacy of recovery and protection for Australian species."

Global biodiversity hotspots like southwest Australia have directly benefitted from the NRS, says Martin. "The bridled nailtail wallaby, the northern wombat and Gilbert's potoroo are just some of the unique native animals we may have lost if their last refuges had not been saved in new national parks and reserves."

He says spending the Biodiversity Fund on revegetating land was  commendable, but it would do little to arrest declines of threatened wildlife toward extinction or buffer nature against climate change.

WWF estimates that $240 million a year, or $2.5 billion over ten years, is needed to secure another 63 million hectares of critical habitats on land.  "Filling these gaps will help Australia meet its international obligations to protect the environment and is essential if we want to save some of our most endangered species," says Martin.

Ever growing network

Co-author Professor Hugh Possingham, from the University of Queensland, says 'Building Nature's Safety Net' shows that national parks really deliver outcomes. "Not only are they saving species, but national parks and other strictly protected areas seem to be the only effective strategy to do so", he adds.

The researchers analysed data which mapped the population trends of 841 threatened terrestrial species in Australia: 698 plants and 143 animals. Overall, 641 species were found to be dwindling, but the populations of those living in national parks were significantly more likely to be recovering.

The Federal Government has promised to add 25 million hectares by 2013 to the 71.9 million hectares already protected in the National Reserve System.


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