Category Archives: Living with Nature

Threatened species don’t just live in national parks

ploughed-canefield_© Glenn Jenkinson_dreamstime_CROPPED2

Private landholders hold the key to retaining biodiversity

Environmental research across Australia underlies this commentary and analysis by  Stephen Kearney, The University of Queensland; April Reside, The University of Queensland; James Watson, The University of Queensland; Rebecca Louise Nelson, The University of Melbourne; Rebecca Spindler, UNSW Sydney, and Vanessa Adams, University of Tasmania

OVER THE LAST decade, the area protected for nature in Australia has shot up by almost half. Our national reserve system now covers 20% of the country.

That’s a positive step for the thousands of species teetering on the edge of extinction. But it’s only a step.

What we desperately need to help these species fully recover is to protect them across their range. And that means we have to get better at protecting them on private land.

Our recent research shows this clearly. We found almost half (48%) of all of our threatened species’ distributions occur on private freehold land, even though only 29% of Australia is owned in this way.

ABOVE: Glenn Jenkinson, Dreamstime.

By contrast, leasehold land — largely inland cattle grazing properties — covers a whopping 38% of the continent but overlaps with only 6% of threatened species’ distributions. And in our protected reserves? An average of 35% of species’ distribution.

Land tenure categories across Australia. Circle size represents the percentage covered by each land tenure. The figure inside or next to each circle is the number of threatened species with over 5% of their distribution overlapping with that land tenure.

Why do we need more? Aren’t our protected areas enough?

When most of us think of saving species, we think of national parks and other safe refuges.

This is the best known strategy, and efforts to expand our network are laudable. New additions include the Narriearra Caryapundy Swamp National Park in northwest New South Wales, Dryandra Woodland National Park in Western Australia, and several Indigenous Protected Areas around Australia, which will ensure greater protection for some species.

But relying on reserves is simply not enough. From the air, Australia is a patchwork quilt of farms, suburbs and fragmented forests. For many species, it has become difficult to find food sources and mates.

Since European colonisation began, we have lost at least 100 species, including three species since 2009.

Almost 2,000 plant and animal species are threatened with extinction, with dozens of reptile, frog, butterfly, fish and bird and mammal species set to be lost forever without a step change in resourcing and conservation effort.

What we do on our properties matters to nature

Freehold land is home to almost half our threatened species. Species like the pygmy blue-tongue lizard (Tiliqua adelaidensis) and giant Gippsland earthworm (Megascolides australis) occur almost entirely on privately owned lands.

The pygmy blue-tongue lizard.  Nick Volpe.
The giant Gippsland earthworm.  Beverley Van Praagh.

By contrast, leasehold land overlaps with only 6% of species’ distributions. Though that might sound low, species like the highly photogenic Carpentarian rock-rat (Zyzomys palatalis) rely entirely on leased land.

The Carpentarian rock-rat.  Michael J Barritt.

What about the 1.4% of Australia set aside for logging in state forests? These, too, provide the main habitat for threatened species such as Simson’s stag beetle (Hoplogonus simsoni), which has over two-thirds of its distribution in state forests in Tasmania’s northwest. Similarly, the Colquhoun Grevillea (Grevillea celata) is known only from a state forest in Victoria’s Gippsland region.

Simson’s stag beetle.  Simon Grove.
Colquhoun Grevillea.  Wikicommons/Melburnian, CC BY

Even defence lands — covering less than 1% of Australia — are the only home some species have. Take the Cape Range remipede (Kumonga exleyi), known only from an air force bombing range near Exmouth, Western Australia, or the Byfield Matchstick shrub (Comesperma oblongatum), which survives in Queensland’s highly biodiverse Shoalwater Bay Military Training Area.

The Indigenous estate across Australia intersects with almost all of these tenure types, and also has critical importance for half of Australian threatened species distributions as shown by previous research.

We need all hands on deck to keep our threatened species persisting

It is late in the day to save Australia’s threatened species, as climate change multiplies the challenges they face. If we are to have any real chance at turning the tide, we must do much more.

To staunch the heartbreaking flow of species into extinction means we have to actively manage multiple threats to their existence across many different types of land tenure.

Logging of native forest and some methods of intensive farming continue to endanger many threatened species, particularly those which rely on these land types for their survival.

Over 380 threatened species have part of their range in land set aside for logging. It should be no surprise that logging is a key threat for 64 of these endangered species.

How can we achieve better conservation outside protected areas?

Many landholders are acutely aware of the species they share the land with, and are already taking action to protect them. One key method is the use of land partnerships, in which landowners and custodians work with conservationists.

Take Sue and Tom Shephard, who run a large cattle property on Cape York. Their station is home to some of the last remaining golden-shouldered parrots (Psephotus chrysopterygius). The Shephards are working to bring the species back from the brink through careful management of grazing, fire and feral animals.

Similarly, the work of hundreds of rice growers is helping save the endangered Australian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus). Every year, up to a third of the remaining population descends on New South Wales rice fields to breed. Rice farmers are accommodating these birds by ensuring there is early permanent water, reducing predator numbers and boosting their habitat.

We’re seeing successes even on defence force land. The Yampi Sound Training Area in the Kimberley is a biodiversity hotspot. A partnership between the Department of Defence and the Australian Wildlife Conservancy is helping protect these species alongside defence force use. This model could be rolled out across other areas of defence land.

What’s stopping more people taking action?

While many landowners may want to help, financial constraints, a lack of knowledge or concerns over implications for resale of the land can be barriers.

If we want to encourage more landowners to directly conserve species on their land, we must begin by understanding what they want. Only then can we design initiatives to help these species, as well as benefit and engage landowners.

What does this look like? Picture financial incentives to join conservation programs. Or workshops where landowners can see the very real benefit to their own land by reducing erosion, keeping rabbit numbers under control, protecting waterways from silt or water-sucking introduced trees, or reducing wind and dust through setting aside land for trees.

If a farmer or landowner can clearly see the benefit for wildlife and for their own use, they are much more likely to take part.

Incentives don’t have to be financially based, either. If landowners understand what works and feel capable of action after training, and have technical support and assistance to draw on, they’re more likely to start down the path of making their land more friendly to threatened species.

If we really want to protect our species, we must do more to bring in Australia’s farmers, landowners and other custodians of land. We cannot rely on protected areas alone. We need to make the land safer for our species most at risk, wherever they occur.

CSIRO’s Josie Carwardine and Anthea Coggan contributed to this research.

Stephen Kearney, PhD student, The University of Queensland; April Reside, Lecturer, The University of Queensland; James Watson, Professor, The University of Queensland; Rebecca Louise Nelson, Associate Professor in Law, The University of Melbourne; Rebecca Spindler, Adjunct Professor, UNSW Sydney, and Vanessa Adams, Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Geography and Spatial Sciences, University of Tasmania

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

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Living with the nature of Australia


AWPC is starting a ‘Living with the nature of Australia’ campaign this year. To kick it off we are gathering inspiring stories from all sectors of Australian society where people are living peacefully and to mutual benefit — whether economic, creative or positive emotional — with the native wildlife and habitats around them. We’ll employ the social media platforms at our disposal, web, YouTube, Facebook to showcase these.

Stay tuned!

Here’s a feature story from Injustice  by author Maria Taylor that explores how Australians are already living harmoniously with their native wildlife and how all sides win.

> Sharing the land with Australian wildlife: a winning experience


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Magpies face bleak future as heat rises with climate change


The sound of magpies warbling in the morning is synonymous with life in Australia, but Perth researchers are predicting a bleak future for the beloved species.

Research conducted by associate professor Amanda Ridley and her team at the University of Western Australia has found that very hot weather is affecting the birds” ability to survive, reproduce and raise their chicks.

Dr Ridley, who has been collecting data on magpies since 2013, said heatwaves had devastated the birds and their babies over the past three summers.

“During that very bad heatwave (in 2019–2020), which caused terrible bushfires all across Australia, we had zero reproductive success,” Dr Ridley said.

ABOVE: Two magpies from Amanda Ridley’s research group warbling at the University of Western Australia recently. (ABC Radio Perth: Alicia Bridges)

“All the babies that were alive during that heatwave died before it ended.

“That’s a one-off event but if this happens more frequently, which is predicted to happen under climate change, and we’re already seeing it happen in Perth … this could cause a catastrophic decline.”

The Western Australian Climate Projections summary, a document prepared by the state government, predicts the number of very hot days over 35 degrees Celsius in WA’s South West will increase from 28 to 36 by 2030, under an “intermediate emissions scenario”.

By 2090, the number of days would increase to 63.

Dr Ridley and her team, the Western Magpie Research Project, work with multiple groups of wild but tame birds across Perth.

She said the more recent heatwave over the 2021 holiday period had also affected the birds.

The team‘s research has found that the magpies suffer cognitive decline when the temperature reaches around 32 to 33°C.

They experience heat stress which hinders their ability to forage for food and feed their babies.

ABC News, Alicia Bridges

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Co-existence with our wildlife, in any backyard


PEOPLE ARE SHARING off YouTube a series of delightful home videos featuring young magpies who have adopted families and individuals. Dogs also feature and there is a lot of fun with the playful magpies. The videos are said to have brought enjoyment worldwide to audiences anxious with human society and underscore the rewards of peaceful co-existence with our fellow animals on this planet.

Woman gives toys to a wild Magpie — and he invites his friends over to play

Danielle had just moved into her new home when all of a sudden, a wild magpie landed at her feet. He would follow her around and sit on her knee. Then, he brought his son over. Before long, 25 teenage magpies were playing in her yard!

Magpies sing along to harmonica (1977)

John Allen fed the magpies on his property every day. They repaid him by singing along with his harmonica playing.

Australian Magpie playing

Sqwark and Whiskey playing.

The unlikely friendship between a Gold Coast magpie and dog

They may not be birds of a feather, but this pair of unlikely friends have captured the hearts of thousands of people online.

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Climate change and biodiversity loss, solutions needed


THE HEATWAVES NORTH America is currently experiencing and our own “hottest on record” [1] 2019–20 summer indicates extreme heat events will become frequent. In 2019 tens of thousands of native Grey-headed flying foxes died and the Spectacled flying fox lost a third of its total population in 44C heat. [2]   

IMAGE: Grey-headed flying fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) with her pup in Brisbane’s Roma Street Parklands. By Andrew Mercer, Wikipedia. CC By-SA 4.0 

We will see 46–50C days soon, and when we do, one of the engines of our forests, the pollinating flying foxes that service over 100 species of native trees and plants, will die. Entire colonies will be wiped out. Bat conservationists are calling on the Federal Department of Environment Minister, the Hon. Sussan Ley, to aid the installation of cooling sprayers in every flying fox camp listed by her department as being of national importance [3]. In extreme heat colony cooling is the only intervention that will save sufficient numbers of flying foxes to regenerate and maintain ecosystems.  

There are at least 100 flying fox camps in eastern Australia that need sprayers and at a cost of around $250,000 or less, per camp, this would equate to about $25 million. A paltry sum to save carbon-sequestering (forest building) long distance out-cross pollinators and seed dispersers. These are the landscape-level ecosystems needed by the bees and insects that pollinate many agricultural crops. Bats mean business. It’s nearly as simple as that.   

Grey-headed and Spectacled flying fox populations [4] have already been decimated by starvation caused by land-clearing [5], bushfires and urban netting entanglements. Installing cooling systems in flying fox camps is something practical that will help Australian flying foxes survive:  

“The bat you see Melbourne today may be the same bat you see in Brisbane a month later — that’s how far they fly and they build forest all the way. But they can’t do it if they’re dead. Cooling camps makes sense — ecologically and bottom line.”  

[1]  Bureau of Meteorology, Australia Warming Graphic.png 

[2]  BBC News, How one Heatwave killed a Third of a Bat Species in Australia, Jan 15, 2019.

[3]  Nationally Important Camps of Grey-headed Flying-fox (Fed Dept of Environment). 

[4]  Both bat species are Federally Listed as Vulnerable to Extinction, Environment Protection & Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.

[5] Twenty three Queensland Spectacled flying fox camps have been destroyed since 1970s with forty still in existence (Pteropus Conspictillatus – Spectacled Flying fox – Recovery Plan, QLD Govt, Australian Govt 2010.

—  Lawrence Pope, Friends of Bats & Bushcare Inc. 


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