The newly released Australian National Wildlife Corridors Plan provides a national framework for conservation at a landscape scale. It is built upon an understanding that in Australia, as elsewhere, the decline of biodiversity can only be halted by the protection of intact landscape, or by the restoration of habitat and connectivity to restore health to fragmented landscapes.
The Australian reserve system of National Parks and Indigenous Protected Areas is a vital anchor for any connectivity program. It includes our most iconic landscapes. However, it makes up only 13% of land area. Therefore, sustained conservation activity at scale must inevitably incorporate land of all tenures, and that is not possible unless private owners volunteer their participation. The suite of possible arrangements includes voluntary conservation agreements, stewardship payments and carbon farming initiatives.
Government funded community conservation initiatives over the last thirty years have not been uniformly successful but they have taught us some critical lessons, which are now embedded in the Plan. Techniques for the restoration and protection of habitat, for the enhancement of ecological connectivity, and for the improvement of agricultural productivity in healthy landscapes, are now widely understood. The formation of enduring partnerships at a regional level between all stakeholders – landholders, communities, industry, local and national government – is necessary if management on the ground is to be sustained, as it must be, over many years.
The Plan acknowledges that indigenous pathways, songlines and traditional stories often directly reflect the migratory routes of animals and the passage of water across the land, indicating some of our most important connectivity links.
Connectivity projects may take place at any scale. Partly influenced by the discussion around the preparation of the Plan, they have already begun to do so. However, the Plan particularly recognises six already established major corridor projects of national importance, including the State-initiated Great Eastern Ranges project and the pioneering NGO-initiated Gondwanalink in the ecological hot spot of Southwest Western Australia. Each has an established model of governance and each brings multiple partnerships to work around a shared vision.
The Plan establishes a National Council with the capacity to assess and recommend the recognition and funding of future national corridor initiatives proposed by the community. It is suggested that we may be witnessing the evolution of a new form of governance: a government /community coproduction.