Australia’s environmental health has been on a downward trend for decades, with levels of extinction, ocean acidification and habitat destruction among the worst in the world.
In 2022, the federal government committed to reversing this trend, vowing it would strive to protect 30 per cent of its land and seas by 2030.
The ‘30 by 30’ target, which is shared with more than 100 countries globally, is largely being driven by Ian Darbyshire, Chief Executive of the Foundation of National Parks and Wildlife (FNPW).
So, what exactly is Mr Darbyshire’s strategy; and how is he overcoming the budgetary constraints of federal and state governments in this pursuit?
Ahead of the Sustainability in Government Conference, Mr Darbyshire shares some insights.
Converting more land into national parks through creative fundraising
“Growing Parks’ is a really important initiative that we run to help meet our 30 by 30 target,” Mr Darbyshire said. “What better way to protect Australia’s land than to convert it into a national park and make it a forever home for people, diverse plants and animal species.
“That said, agricultural land and green spaces can be very expensive to buy, as people’s livelihoods are often based on them. With government budgets limited, we have had to think of novel ways to raise the funds.”
Before a fundraising campaign sets off, FNPW engages with State Governments to establish which pieces of land they would love to own. “Often this is land at greatest risk of environmental decline, land which represents an ecosystem, or land where there is insufficient biodiversity protection,” he said.
With government buy-in, FNPW can often acquire a significant amount of state investment. It then leverages private donations and funds from its own trust to bridge the funding gap. “We pull all the levers we can – federal, state, philanthropic and, wherever possible, our own,” Mr Darbyshire said.
FNPW then entices the landowner with tax benefits to negotiate the sale.
“We encourage the landholder to get an ATO valuation. If we can get them a good valuation and if it is of use to them, they can use that valuation through our direct land status for a tax offset,” Mr Darbyshire said.
FNPW recently used this model to acquire 1600 hectares in Nilpena, South Australia. The land, which contains prehistoric water holes, is a meeting point for First Nations’ people, and home to a number of endangered species and fossils, is now in the permanent care of the South Australian government. Mr Darbyshire is hoping it soon will be accepted as a candidate for world heritage status.
“This will ensure the protection of history and biodiversity; and could even heighten the tourism potential of the local area,” he said.
Healing our scorched land through community spirit
Following the Black Summer bushfires of 2019, some people shrugged off the environmental impact of the fires, claiming the scorched land was designed to be burned. In reality, some of it wasn’t and is now a key a priority for FNPW, Mr Darbyshire said.
“Quite of bit of the land still requires intervention to save native trees. To this end, we have worked with governments and donors to develop bushfire recovery nurseries. These are run by volunteers and require a relatively small sum of money for infrastructure development. The trees are also planted thanks to volunteers from a community scheme.”
FNPW now has sixteen nurseries and the model has been so successful it plans to scale them up. Mr Darbyshire credits their success to a whole-of-community approach.
“If we all work together and make people care, then we can fill the gaps left by budgetary constraints. It’s very possible that Australia’s landscape will always need this level of intervention, so why not create a culture where people are motivated to do this long term and leave behind a legacy for future generations?”
Saving species with local pride and Indigenous wisdom
With some of the worlds’ highest extinction rates, the protection of endangered Australian species is an integral part of FNPW’s work. But the task is far from straightforward.
Saving the environmentally-important Murray River turtle has been a particular challenge, with feral foxes wreaking havoc on their nests and eradication strategies not proving effective.
“You could eradicate nine out of ten foxes and that remaining one could still destroy every turtle nest in its locality. So we needed a very different approach in how we protected the turtle,” Mr Darbyshire said.
Critical to such strategies has been the knowledge of local Indigenous people and the input of the broader community.
“We sometimes have to be creative about how we go about conservation work and seek support from the people who know best. For the turtle project, we ran a school program in which children helped build floating islands for the turtles,” Mr Darbyshire said.
More recently, FNPW worked with local Indigenous communities to develop bandicoot superhighways.
“These have helped bandicoots travel more easily through the landscape and add more diversity to their gene pool. We also encouraged the broader community to leave bandicoot hiding spaces in their gardens, in the form of blackberry bushes or overgrown vegetation.”
This approach has been hugely successful, much like the Indigenous-led conservation of Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
“Under the management of First Nations people, we have more than doubled the landscape in recent years. The intergenerational knowledge and cultural significance attached to the landscape is key to making conservation programs a success,” Mr Darbyshire said.
20 Jun 2023, by Amy Sarcevic