Nature refuge landholders representing over two million hectares of private protected land are calling on Queensland MPs to increase investment in the underfunded Nature Refuges Program by $24 million per year.
Protected land in Queensland is not always held or bought by the Government, often it remains in the hands of landholders, and is protected by them in partnership with the Government.
Through the Nature Refuges Program landholders can partner with the Queensland Government to establish a nature refuge on their property to protect biodiversity. A nature refuge is an area of land voluntarily protected for conservation, while allowing compatible and sustainable land uses to continue. These nature refuges are negotiated through legally binding, perpetual nature refuge agreements between landholders and the State.
However, Queensland landholders have recently sent a Nature Refuge Landholder Statement to all Queensland parliamentarians seeking further funding to support their work.
Andrew Pegler, who owns the “1959 Nature Refuge” with his wife Mary Killeen, 220 km south of Longreach, says that there are big challenges for landholders in the way the nature refuge program is currently funded and delivered.
“To protect nature, we need to actively work on it. Landholders need to be supported with appropriate funding to do ongoing jobs like weeding- it’s not a job you just do once. To help out the native plants and animals you’ve got to keep coming back and tackle the new pest invasions.”
“Initiatives like nature refuges should be adopted more widely. I believe it is the responsibility of all landholders to look after the land for future generations” Mr Pegler said.
Landholders claims that over the past five years, nature refuge landholders have received, on average, less than 25 cents per hectare of protected land. Expert analysis commissioned by the Our Living Outback alliance has recommended that funding for the program be increased by $24 million per year, to better support landholders to protect and actively manage conservation values on their land.
“By funding work to look after the land – like fencing, weeding and fire management – the Queensland Government can support improving habitat for wildlife while providing much needed jobs in regional areas,” Riley Rocco, spokesperson for Our Living Outback said.
Mr Rocco said the landholders believe that funding for the program hasn’t kept up with its growth and this puts the program’s aims at risk.
“It places an increasing burden on landholders and impacts the program’s ability to protect landscapes and deal with management issues.
“With more than 85 per cent of land in Queensland privately owned or managed, landholders have a vital role to play in protecting the state’s native wildlife and sustaining thriving rural landscapes. Many of these nature refuges offer key protection to species facing extinction,” Rocco said.
In response to questions put to her by The Westender, Minister for the Environment and the Great Barrier Reef, the Hon Leeanne Enoch MP, said she had recently met with several Nature Refuge owners to discuss the work of protecting Queensland’s biodiversity and the challenges they face.
“Queensland’s Nature Refuge Program is the largest private protected area program in Australia, with 534 nature refuges totalling 4.47 million hectares.”
“Since the beginning of 2019, fifteen new nature refuges covering more than 19,529 hectares have been declared.
The Minister said that the Palaszczuk Government provides ongoing funding of $3 million annually to manage the Nature Refuge Program and has previously committed $11.7 million over four years to NatureAssist.
“In a first for Australia, this Government created Special Wildlife Reserves to provide national park level protection for private land of exceptional natural and cultural value. “
“Our Government is committed to expanding the protected area system, including the Nature Refuge Program, by working with landholders to help protect and conserve our natural and cultural values.”
Riley Rocco spokesperson from Our Living Outback told The Westender:
“The figures Minister Enoch is citing are woefully inadequate. An expert assessment into strengthening conservation outcomes on Queensland private land found that direct funding for tackling threats like fire, ferals, and weeds equates to a paltry 25c per hectare to assist nature refuge landholders.”
Mr Rocco said the Palaszczuk Government’s current level of investment into the Nature Refuges Program is putting some of Queensland’s most important areas for nature at risk.
“A well funded Nature Refuge Program has great potential to deliver for people and for nature in Queensland. We want to see the Palaszczuk Government get behind funding more land management jobs, supporting existing and potential nature refuge landholders, and creating a world class system of private protected areas.”
“We will continue to push for a commitment for better funding of the Nature Refuges Program because it could and should be the vanguard of Queensland’s protected area network,” Mr Rocco said.
- The Our Living Outback Alliance commissioned Protected Area Solutions to conduct a review of the nature refuges program. Their findings formed the basis of the Investing in People and Nature: Strengthening conservation outcomes on Queensland private land report (2018). The report finds the Nature Refuges Program in Queensland needs an increase of $24 million per year, taking the overall funding commitment to $28.6 million a year.
Cover image,Wal and Heather Mayr, Blue Fig Nature Refuge, Mayr family collection.