This chapter discusses the role of the National Reserve System in sustaining Australia's biodiversity. More work needs to be done to make our protected area network effective into the future, such as the inclusion of more privately-managed land.

[Music plays and text appears: Australia’s biodiversity – Managing our protected areas]

[Image changes to show Dr. Andy Sheppard – Ecologist]

Dr. Andy Sheppard: The Australian Protected Area Network is the full collection of land that’s been set aside to some degree for biodiversity protection.

[Image changes to map of Australia and text appears: Australia’s National Reserve System]

The backbone of it is the National Reserve System, which are the national parks, the state run parks, the marine reserves and the marine parks, that are both federally and state managed, and they form a complex network of coverage across Australia.

[Image changes to satellite picture of a marine reserve]

[Image changes to various pictures of outback landscape]

But on top of that there are lots of land that’s privately managed as part of the Protected Area Network, and that includes the Indigenous protected areas, some areas of land that have been bought by NGOs specifically to protect biodiversity.

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

But there are also areas of land that are privately owned by private land owners, farmers and so on, that they’ve decided amongst themselves to commit to protect that area for biodiversity.

[Image changes to a rainforest creek and text appears: The protected area network]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

[Image changes to various pictures of countryside]

So for a piece of land to be part of the protected area system, the owners of that land, be they public or private, have to have decided that they’re prepared to protect that land pretty much in perpetuity for the benefits of biodiversity. The land obviously has to be in pretty good condition.

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

So for a block of land to be part of the natural reserve system it has to meet three criteria of biodiversity relevance, called the CAR system, comprehensiveness, adequacy, and representativeness.

[Image changes to a picture of Kakadu National Park and text appears: Kakadu]

They’re quite complex ideas, but if we talk about it in the context of say a large national park like Kakadu, well comprehensiveness means that the park maintains a full range of different ecosystems and habitats that occurs in that area.

[Image changes to water lilies and text appears: Comprehensiveness]

[Image changes to a bird sitting on a flower]

So Kakadu includes coastal areas, it includes the important wetlands that the wildlife and the bird communities use.

[Image changes to a waterfall]

But it also includes the dry sclerophyll inland areas with the escarpments and the communities that feed on them. So that’s how Kakadu meets comprehensiveness.

[Image changes to a bee flying towards a flower and text appears: Adequacy]

Adequacy is that the park’s big enough for all of those species and communities to live, and interact, and breed, and persist, so that’s fairly obvious with Kakadu.

[Image changes to a waterfall and text appears: Representativeness]

[Image changes to a flower]

Whereas representativeness reflects the fact that for each of those separate communities within the park there is enough representation of those communities for those communities themselves to be able to be sustainable and persist, so to the finer scale.

[Image changes to wetlands]

But within Kakadu, that’s a classic example of a national park that meets all the criteria.

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

So we talked about those criteria in terms of Kakadu, but the reserve system is set up with a context of the whole of the Australian continent, and so we’re trying to achieve comprehensiveness, adequacy, and representativeness across all of the different ecological regions of Australia.

[Image changes to various pictures of Australian landscapes]

So from the coats to the inland deserts, to the rainforests, to the temperate forests of southern Australia.

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

And obviously some of those regions are still pretty pristine, but others, such as the temperate woodlands on highly productive lands are being highly degraded because of the use of that land for agriculture.

[Image changes to woodlands]

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

[Image changes to farmland]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

And so the priorities as to where we set those reserves, as part of the reserve system, is also dependent on the degree to which those different regions are under threat.

[Image changes to a country landscape and text appears: Off-reserve conservation on private land]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

A very important part of the National Reserve System going forward is going to be the off-reserve conservation of land. The reserve system itself has been really built around public investment, but there’s a full recognition we’re not going to meet our targets if we depend entirely on public funding and public land.

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

Off-reserve system, there has to be a motivation for why a private land owner would add their land to the National Reserve System, and there are increasing number of government mechanisms that allow them to do so.

[Image changes to farmland and sheep grazing]

[Image changes to cows in an open field]

There’s the land stewardship process, where farmers can... and landowners can set aside land and manage it for biodiversity, and attract funding from government or offsets from government.

[Image changes to a rainforest creek]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

There are also covenants where people can decide that they’re going to allocate land for biodiversity conservation for perpetuity, and various other mechanisms that allow private land to join the National Reserve System.

[Image changes to people recording data in the bush and text appears: What is the role for science?]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

There are three main ways in which science can really help the decision making around the National Reserve System (indistinct word – 3:59). The first is around deciding where and how you’re going to set the reserve system up.

[Text appears: Systematic conservation planning]

[Image changes to a satellite picture of Australia]

A classic example of that is the reserve system around The Great Barrier Reef.

[Image changes to view from a plane flying above the ground]

The Great Barrier Reef is used by many different communities and peoples for different purposes, based on different values.

[Image changes to people swimming in the ocean]

[Image changes to fish swimming in the ocean]

And you need to incorporate those values, as well as the biological information, to define which areas you’re going to set aside.

[Image changes to a map of Australia]

And systematic conservation planning allows you to integrate the biological data with the social decision making to come up with the most acceptable reserve design for all people and all useage(?).

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

That’s the first.

[Image changes to the ocean and rocks and text appears: Biodiversity Data Mapping]

[Image changes to various landscapes and people recording data]

The second is called Biodiversity Data Mapping, and it uses all the detailed biodiversity data we have across Australia of individual records of individual species to map Australia based on those species’ records, to understand where the most diverse and unique parts of Australia are, that we know about, whereabouts are the ones likely to be that we don’t know about, and we can use that information, too, to decide between different pieces of land where we might put our reserve, or our national park, or our extra piece of the protected area system.

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

[Image changes to webpage views of the Atlas of Living Australia]

And the third tool we have now is the Atlas of Living Australia, which is a repository of all of the biodiversity data in Australia, but it has all of the information, too, of course about the threatened and endangered species, and their precise locations, so we can use that detailed information to design the reserve system around protecting the threat in an endangered species.

[Image changes to group of people looking at a tree and gathering data]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

So we’ve talked a bit in detail about how detailed areas of biological sciences are starting to help reserve design.

[Text appears: A broader role]

But science will have a much broader role to play in the future design of international, and planning of the National Reserve System.

[Image changes to people looking through binoculars at treetops]

Social sciences can help in understanding the values, the different values in different communities, and helping them work together to effectively manage the land in the reserve system.

[Image changes to camels on the ground and a helicopter hovering above them]

[Image changes to people working in groups]

[Image changes to people planting a tree]

[Image has changed back to Dr. Andy Sheppard]

But also science can help in the design of policy, effective policy for not only setting up good areas for biodiversity protection, but also in providing these incentives for bringing other players into the reserve system, such as land owners, such as mining companies, such as NGOs that are interested in biodiversity conservation.

[Image changes to water lilies and text appears: MUSIC – Premiumbeat.com; ADDITIONAL IMAGES – Emma Withers, Keith McGuinness, Tourism NT, Bush Heritage Australia, Marie Davies, Bruce Webber, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, NASA, Hans Boessem, Landcare Australia]

[Music plays and CSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

Australia's biodiversity: managing our protected areas :  Watch an interview with author Dr Andy Sheppard (06:25)

Sustaining Australia’s biodiversity across a network of protected areas, complemented by whole of landscape conservation management, is one of our greatest environmental challenges.

Chapter overview

Australia’s National Reserve System provides a 430 million hectare foundation for biodiversity conservation. It aims to ‘secure long-term protection for samples of all our diverse ecosystems and the plants and animals they support’.

Off-reserve management on private lands is complementing the National Reserve System. Approaches include creating habitat corridors, enhancing remnant bush and coordinating management of larger tracts of private and public land.

Work remains before our National Reserve System and complementary measures will fully connect habitats across landscapes and seascapes. Such ‘connectivity conservation’ will allow species to move through a region regardless of whether or not the area is part of a formal reserve system and will support ecosystems to survive and flourish in the long-term.

Download the chapter or the whole book [PDF and EPUB versions available]

Chapter authors

Andy Sheppard, Simon Ferrier and Josie Carwardine

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