Healthy Ecosystems (Avon)

Geographical location:

Asia/Pacific > Australia/New-Zealand > Australia

Landholder discussing his covenanted Gimlet woodland (a high priority ecosystem) on his farm in the Avon Wheatbelt, Western Australia - part of the Southwest Australia global biodiversity hotspot.
© WWF Australia / Chris Curnow

Summary

All ecosystems in the Avon region are vulnerable or threatened. In the context of this challenge, the Avon Catchment Council aims to protect and maintain those of highest priority. On-the-ground action is underway with land managers of priority woodlands. Other priority ecosystems are being identified and prioritised, and strategies developed to ensure their future preservation.

Highest priority terrestrial ecosystems will include woodlands, heathlands, granite outcrops, dolerite dykes, and greenstone ranges. By engaging priority ecosystem land managers, the project aims to bring about long-term conservation through an integrated extension programme involving surveys, technical support, and allocation of ecosystem service management incentives.

Background

In July 2005, WWF and the Western Australia Department of Water (DoW) successfully bid for the Healthy Ecosystems component of the Avon Catchment Council’s Natural Diversity programme. DoW signed the contract as lead agency and WWF, through sub-contracting arrangements with DoW, took responsibility for delivery of the terrestrial biodiversity component of the Healthy Ecosystems project.

Expanding on the original aims of Woodland Watch, the primary aim of this new regionally-focused project component is the protection and management of the highest priority privately-owned priority ecosystems across the Avon River Basin.

As an interim measure, the previously established woodland priorities of WWF's Woodland Watch will be used as the immediate focus of the project, and will remain the investment focus of incentive delivery to achieve conservation outcomes. Over the course of the project, priority terrestrial ecosystems will be identified in collaboration with other Avon Catchment Council delivery projects.

Eucalypt woodlands in Southwestern Australia have been extensively cleared - primarily for agriculture in what is termed the 'Wheatbelt' region. There are now less than 3% of some of the woodland types remaining in many of Australia’s broad-acre agricultural areas.

WWF earmarked the conservation of temperate eucalypt woodlands a national priority. As a result Woodland Watch (the precursor to Healthy Ecosystems) was initiated in 2000 in the Avon Wheatbelt with initial funding from the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust and Alcoa World Aluminum Australia.

Until the new priority ecosystems are identified Healthy Ecosystems continues to focus on enhancing the conservation of priority Eucalypt woodlands in the region, particularly Red Morrel, Gimlet, Salmon Gum and York Gum, all of which are grossly under-represented in the conservation estate.

Objectives

1. Identification of priority ecosystems for conservation actions based on a comprehensive review of all the ecosystem assets, undertaking a threat/risk analysis and reviewing management feasibility and capacity.

2. Identification of the most appropriate protection mechanisms and the subsequent development of conservation management action options to conserve priority ecosystems across all land tenures.

3. Negotiation of priority management actions to maintain and improve the extent and integrity of up to 10 priority ecosystems (in the first year) within each priority ecosystem occurrence, targeting those landholders in possession of such ecosystems.

4. Implementation of identified management actions through delivery of on-the-ground incentive schemes (targeted grants with voluntary management agreement / covenant pre-requisites).

5. Establishment of a coordinated monitoring program across all priority ecosystems to evaluate changes in extent and integrity as a result of management actions implemented.

Solution

Healthy Ecosystems attempts to raise community and land manager awareness of:

1. The complexity of woodland types.
2. The values of woodlands.
3. Their current health, distribution and future viability.
4. Their conservation requirements.

Through carrying out the aforementioned activities the project recommends best practice management and practical conservation strategies that land managers can employ to enhance the integrity and viability of these valuable remnant ecological communities. The latter involves the negotiation and implementation of a range of conservation incentives and management agreements, including brokering a range of third-party agreements such as the Land for Wildlife programme (Western Australia Department of Environment and Conservation (DEC), formerly CALM) and the signing of voluntary management agreements, including DEC and National Trust of Australia (NTWA) covenants.

Through a process of community consultation and land manager involvement, priority ecosystems are identified on private land through desktop survey and community networking. A biophysical scoring and ranking process determines the highest priority remnants for the current year and ensures that field officers are focusing on the bush and not the land manager. Land managers are thereby targeted and subsequently approached to discuss their bush management needs. If appropriate, flora surveys are offered and undertaken in the following season. Negotiation of voluntary management agreements and conservation covenants (permanent legal agreements) protecting significant examples of these priority ecosystems is an important outcome. However, many land managers fail to implement threat abatement activities beyond the completion of stock-proof fencing after initial funding runs out.

WWF considers threat abatement activity after the fence has been erected as being the most critical. Apart from grazing by domestic stock, there are many threats that land managers must minimise in order to give these valuable remnants a future. Passive degradation of these remnant woodland communities will continue unless land managers continue their stewardship role, supported by whatever public and private funds are available. Healthy Ecosystems is (as was its predecessor Woodland Watch) at the forefront of this awareness raising and engaging venture.

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