Management approaches

Protected areas

Protected areas are widely considered the most effective way to protect biodiversity. They generally support higher species richness and abundance than comparable areas that are not protected (Gray et al. 2016).

However, protected areas are not immune to the ubiquitous nature of global climate change, and other pressures such as invasive species and fire cannot be excluded from most protected areas. Ten of the 19 Australia ecosystems currently experiencing collapse fall under national or international protected area management, and 7 are World Heritage properties (Bergstrom et al. 2021).

Australia’s commitments to the protected area estate

Under the Convention on Biological Diversity, Australia committed in 1992 to:

Establish a system of protected areas or areas where special measures need to be taken to conserve biological diversity (article 8A).

Australia in 2010 also committed to Aichi target 11:

By 2020, at least 17 per cent of terrestrial and inland water areas and 10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures, and integrated into the wider landscape and seascape.

Here, ecologically representative means:

protected area systems should contain adequate samples of the full range of existing ecosystems and ecological processes, including at least 10% of each ecoregion within the country

and this is reflected in Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009–2030, which states:

Priority (for expansion) will be given to under-represented IBRA bioregions with less than 10 per cent protected in the National Reserve System.

Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2019–2030 also has at least 11 progress measures related to the protected area estate, although measurable and specific targets are absent from the strategy:

2C – Number and extent of lands managed for conservation under other effective conservation measures (privately managed protected areas, covenants or stewardship agreements)

4D – Number and extent of terrestrial and marine areas managed by Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs) or other co-management arrangements

5A – Extent and representativeness of government-managed reserve estate and, where available, their condition

5B – extent and representativeness of marine protected areas, including marine Indigenous Protected Areas

5C – Number and extent of significant ecosystems protected by private landowners through stewardship or other arrangements

5D – Explicit consideration of future climate scenarios in the planning and management of protected area networks

5E – Retention, protection and/or restoration of wetland systems to maintain or improve ecological integrity and ecosystem function

6B – Number of populations of threatened or near-threatened species protected in government-managed reserves

6C – Number of populations of threatened or near-threatened species protected by private landowners through stewardship or other arrangements

7E – Retention, protection and/or restoration of landscape-scale, native vegetation corridors

7F – Retention, protection and/or restoration of native vegetation in urban, peri-urban and agricultural contexts.

Australia’s National Reserve System includes national parks, IPAs and privately protected areas. There was a large increase in the proportion of land protected between 2010 and 2016, with a relatively small increase between 2016 and 2020 driven by increases in the IPA estate. The fraction of Australia’s land area protected in the National Reserve System is nearly 20% (CAPAD 2021). The marine protected area estate is now at 36.1% of all Australian waters, growing from 9.4% in 2010 (Figures 40 and 41) (Taylor 2020). The Marine chapter includes more detailed assessment of the extent and effectiveness of marine protected areas (see the Marine chapter).

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) protected area management categories classify protected areas according to their management objectives. Categories I and II are classified as national parks in Australia and are managed to protect natural and cultural values (see the Protected areas section in the Heritage chapter). Categories III–VI are multi-use reserves. Low-level, non-industrial natural resource uses may be permissible in some categories of protected areas, where they are compatible with the primary purpose of nature conservation. Growth in the National Reserve System since 2010 has been almost exclusively in multi-use protected areas (IUCN categories III–VI). Terrestrial national park area actually decreased by about 1 million hectares (from 8% down to 7.5% of Australia’s land area) after 2016 because management categories were re-evaluated by some jurisdictions.

Figure 40 Terrestrial and marine protected areas in 2020
Figure 41 Changes in protected areas on land and sea by IUCN management category, and on land by governance category

The overall land and marine area protected in Australia exceeds area targets (i.e. at least 17% of terrestrial and inland water areas, and 10% of coastal and marine areas) but does not meet the Aichi target 11 ‘ecologically representative’ criterion of ‘including at least 10% of each ecoregion within the country’. In Australia, ecoregions are mapped as bioregions (Figures 42 and 43). Of 88 land bioregions (excludes the Coral Sea bioregion), 27 (31%) are still below 10% protected, mostly in inland areas, particularly in eastern Australia (Taylor 2020). Of 43 marine bioregions, 6 (14%) are still below 10%, mostly in south-eastern waters (see the Marine chapter).

Figure 42 Proportions of 88 bioregions on land and 43 on sea meeting Aichi target 11 of 10% protection in 2010, 2016 and 2020
Figure 43 Terrestrial and marine bioregions reaching Aichi target 11 of 10% ecological representation, in IUCN categories I and II, and III–VI, 2020

Of 191 catchments, 44 (23%) are below 10% protection (Figure 44). The level of protection given to inland waters and wetlands varies greatly, with nonperennial watercourses least protected while nonperennial inland lakes have had the highest levels and greatest advances in protection over the past 10 years, largely due to the extensive IPAs added in the arid and semi-arid zones. Protection of inland waters in national parks decreased between 2010 and 2020, largely due to revocation of 2 large nature reserves on Cape York (Taylor 2020).

Figure 44 Catchments meeting Aichi target 11 of 10% protection for inland waters, 2010, 2016, 2020

Ecological representation below the bioregional scale is a commitment of Australian, state and territory governments under Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009–2030, with a target to ‘Include examples of at least 80% of the number of regional ecosystems in each IBRA region’ by 2030. A minimally adequate ‘example’ was set at 15% of the original extent of each ecosystem (ANZECC/MCFFA National Forest Policy Statement Implementation Sub-Committee 1997, Taylor 2020) (see also Figure 45).

In 2020, 37% (2,218) of ecosystems were protected to a minimum standard (i.e. minimum standard met in protection under any IUCN category; Figure 45). Although this is an increase since 2010, 1,542 Australian ecosystems (26%) have no protection in the National Reserve System.

Queensland has the lowest attainment of the minimum protection of ecosystems standard. Ecosystems of small size and woodland ecosystems have high rates of no protection. The minimum target for protection of ecosystems can also be expressed in terms of area. Of a total of 115 million hectares across all ecosystems required to reach the minimum standard, 49% of the target protection has been achieved. This represents a gap in protection of about 42.8 million hectares; 15 million hectares of this gap are in Queensland.

Figure 45 Number of 6,001 terrestrial proxy ecosystems sampled in protected areas to a minimum 15% standard, by IUCN category, state, type, ecosystem size and year

ACT = Australian Capital Territory; ha = hectare; IUCN = International Union for Conservation of Nature; NSW = New South Wales; NT = Northern Territory; Qld = Queensland; SA = South Australia; Tas = Tasmania; Vic = Victoria; WA = Western Australia

Note: A minimum adequate ‘example’ was set at 15% of the original extent of each ecosystem, with higher proportions for small ecosystems (100% if total area is less than 1,000 ha, and 1,000 ha minimum if 15% of total area is less than 1,000 ha). The 15% minimally adequate sample is based on the nationally agreed JANIS criteria; see ANZECC/MCFFA National Forest Policy Statement Implementation Sub-Committee (1997).

Source: Taylor (2020)

Indigenous Protected Areas

Aichi target 11 stipulated that the protected area system be ‘equitable’ as well as ecologically representative – that is, ‘with the full participation of Indigenous and local communities, and such that costs and benefits of the areas are fairly shared’.

In 2020, there were 78 IPAs, which make up more than 46% of the National Reserve System (see the Land chapter). Most IPAs are dedicated under IUCN categories V and VI, which promote a balance between conservation and other sustainable uses to deliver social, cultural and economic benefits for local Indigenous communities.

The rapid growth of Indigenous sole and jointly managed protected areas from 2010 to 2020 suggests that equitability of management has increased, but several issues remain. While IPAs are recognised as part of the National Reserve System, the Australian Government offers only short-term grants to establish and manage IPAs, and invests in them at a much lower level per hectare than other protected areas (Taylor 2020). IPA ‘projects’ are funded through multiyear funding agreements to fulfil their management plan commitments. Government-protected areas, on the other hand, have permanent staff with ongoing salaries and operational budgets.

About 52% of the Australian continent is covered by some form of Indigenous tenure. Much of the land that is owned and managed by Indigenous people in Australia is in places that are rich in species and ecologically intact, compared with more developed, modified and heavily populated areas (Archibald et al. 2020). The retention of biodiversity on this valuable estate is highly dependent on Indigenous peoples’ knowledge, practices and cultural connections to land (Renwick et al. 2017) (see Indigenous knowledge and land and sea management).

The increasing reliance on Indigenous communities to shoulder the burden of building the National Reserve System requires an increasing and appropriate investment in management and security. Short-term contracts, financial insecurity and tenure insecurity impose a high administrative burden and constrain the aspirations of Traditional Owners to care for their land over the long term.

World Heritage properties and Natural Heritage places

Australia’s unique ecosystems and heritage are recognised in 20 World Heritage properties listed for their outstanding universal values: 12 are listed for their outstanding natural values, 4 for outstanding cultural values, and 4 for both cultural and natural values (see the World Heritage section in the Heritage chapter).

Since 2016, the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape has been added to the World Heritage List (see case study: Budj Bim Cultural Landscape inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2019, in the Indigenous heritage lists and registers section in the Heritage chapter), and 2 properties have been added to the Tentative List: the Murujuga Cultural Landscape and the Flinders Ranges. Murujuga, the Indigenous traditional name for the Dampier Archipelago and surrounds, including the Burrup Peninsula, is in the Pilbara region of Western Australia.

Private conservation and ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’

Individuals, nongovernment organisations and businesses are increasingly purchasing and managing significant tracts of land for conservation. Australia now has one of the most expansive and long-running private protected area (PPA) programs in the world. To contribute to the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi target 11, areas on private land must be either PPAs or ‘other effective area-based conservation measures’ (OECMs) on private land. ‘Other effective area-based conservation measures’ is a conservation designation for areas that are achieving effective in situ conservation of biodiversity outside protected areas (see the Management approaches section in the Land chapter) (IUCN-WCPA Task Force on OECMs 2019).

Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2019–2030 recognises the importance of OECMs to contribute to biodiversity conservation with an explicit measure to assess progress against the ‘Number and extent of lands managed for conservation under other effective conservation measures (privately managed protected areas, covenants or stewardship agreements)’. Although OECMs have been implemented in Australia for a long time, they have not traditionally been formally recognised for their conservation values. As such, there is currently no clear definition of the scope of actions and activities that constitute OECMs in Australia or a consolidated database to draw on.

All Australian states and territories have private conservation covenant programs that have contributed significantly to biodiversity conservation and increased focus on it at the national and international level in the past 5 years (Mitchell et al. 2018). A range of approaches and arrangements protect private land in Australia, including voluntary schemes, land purchase, conservation covenants and stewardship agreements.

A few nongovernment organisations own and manage a large number of properties managed for conservation. For example, the Australian Wildlife Conservancy owns, manages or works in partnership on 31 locations covering more than 6.5 million hectares. Bush Heritage owns 36 reserves covering 1.2 million hectares of land. In addition, Bush Heritage works in partnership with several Traditional Owner groups to deliver conservation and socio-economic outcomes across more than 10 million hectares.

Not all conservation covenanting programs qualify for inclusion in the National Reserve System. The determination of protected area status for private land conservation mechanisms largely involves an assessment of the strength of the legislation or legal agreements that protect that land (security), the length of time those agreements are in place (permanence), and management intent and obligations to manage the land (Mitchell et al. 2018). When not qualifying as PPAs, conservation covenanting programs may be considered OECMs.

Threatened species and ecological communities

Securing the long-term recovery of threatened species and ecological communities is a challenging task, involving many individuals, organisations and agencies. A complex framework of agreements, legislation, policy and planning regimes across Australia provides for the protection of threatened species and ecological communities. Primary among these, at the national level, are the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) and the Threatened Species Strategy.

Species and ecological communities are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act using a rigorous scientific assessment based on internationally recognised criteria (IUCN Red List). This process is overseen by the independent Threatened Species Scientific Committee; however, the minister makes the final decision on listing. A conservation advice is prepared at the time of assessment, which includes a description of the biology, ecology and threats to the species or ecological community, and outlines priority actions for conservation, research and recovery. If listed, the minister may decide to enact a recovery plan if there are significant complexities in management needs due to the species or community ecology, threats, or the number of stakeholders involved in implementing recovery actions. Otherwise, a conservation advice is considered a more streamlined, nimble and resource-effective way to identify conservation needs and priority recovery actions.

As of June 2020, 719 recovery plans were in place for species (for 1,891 listed species), and 27 were in place for ecological communities (for 87 listed ecological communities). An approved conservation advice was in place for 1,431 species, and 71 ecological communities (DAWE 2020a). Many of these plans are out of date, have expired or will sunset in the near future. A further 142 species and 30 ecological communities were listed as requiring a recovery plan.

Conservation advices and recovery plans are critical national planning processes to facilitate national action on threatened species and ecological communities, to engage communities, to monitor progress, and to report on outcomes and conservation success. There have been many reported conservation success stories in Australia where appropriately resourced and implemented recovery programs, supported by dedicated people, have led to improved conservation outcomes (Latch 2018b).

However, there is no requirement for the Australian Government to implement or fund recovery actions for threatened species or communities, or report on progress and the outcomes achieved. This lack is repeatedly identified as a major impediment to understanding the effectiveness of conservation planning (see Information and monitoring).

Resources currently allocated to threatened species conservation by the Australian Government are considerably less than the estimates of the funding needed to avoid extinction and recover threatened species (Wintle et al. 2019) (see Management investment). The recent review of the EPBC Act noted that considerable effort given to the assessment and listing process is not matched by attention and resources dedicated to effective recovery (Samuel 2020). Experts have forecast that another 7 Australian mammals and 10 Australian birds will be extinct within 20 years unless management is greatly improved (Geyle et al. 2018).

Threatened Species Strategy

In response to ongoing concerns about the state of threatened species, and acknowledging that a more strategic response was needed, the Australian Government appointed a Threatened Species Commissioner in 2014 and implemented a Threatened Species Strategy in 2015 with a 5-year action plan. The strategy concluded in June 2020, and the results against targets were reviewed (Table 5).

Overall, 5 of the 13 targets in the strategy were met. Good progress was made against a further 3 targets (i.e. ‘partially met’). Targets that reflected recovery action being undertaken were generally met; however, those that reflected actual changes in threatened species trajectories were largely not met. For some species, population trajectories will respond to on-ground actions over longer timeframes and ongoing robust monitoring will be required to assess the effectiveness of the strategy.

There was no target reflecting improved trajectories for threatened ecological communities, and it is difficult to understand whether the actions taken for those communities have been effective in improving condition or extent. Targets to reduce the impact of feral cats were largely achieved, or good progress was made.

Where targets have been achieved, some additional conservation programs are already being implemented and conservation benefits realised. For example, a program to reintroduce threatened fauna has commenced on Dirk Hartog Island following successful cat eradication. Rufous (Lagorchestes hirsutus) and banded hare-wallabies (Lagostrophus fasciatus) were released in 2017, followed by dibblers (Parantechinus apicalis) and Shark Bay bandicoots (Perameles bougainville) in 2019.

Traditional knowledge is informing management of priority species in the Threatened Species Strategy across Australia. For example, Indigenous rangers and Traditional Owners are working with Territory Natural Resource Management to improve knowledge on the condition of the central Australian cabbage palm (Livistona mariae), one of the strategy’s priority threatened plant species and a culturally significant species to central Australian Indigenous groups. Indigenous rangers are undertaking on-ground management, and traditional knowledge is informing the development of management plans to ensure the long-term viability of the species and implement strategic actions to prevent further population decline.

Table 5 Summary of results against targets of the Threatened Species Strategy 2015–20

Type of target

5-year target

Overall result


Species trajectory targets

20 priority birds have improved trajectories

Not met

21 bird species were listed as priority species. Over the strategy period:

  • 6 species improved
  • 6 species deteriorated
  • 4 were reasonably stable
  • 5 had trajectories that may have changed but not significantly so.

Following the 2019–20 bushfires, 3 of the 21 priority bird species – the regent honeyeater (Anthochaera phrygia), the eastern bristlebird (Dasyornis brachypterus) and the western ground parrot (Pezoporus flaviventris) – were identified as priorities for urgent management intervention by the Wildlife and Threatened Species Bushfire Recovery Expert Panel. These species are now receiving targeted support for recovery.

20 priority mammals have improved trajectories

Not met

20 mammal species were listed as priority species. Over the strategy period:

  • 8 species improved
  • 5 species deteriorated
  • 1 was reasonably stable
  • 6 had trajectories that may have changed but not significantly so.

On-ground recovery actions to protect Australia’s mammals include monitoring, habitat restoration, and reducing the impact of predators such as feral cats and red foxes. Where threats in the wild are too great for threatened mammals to persist, establishing ex situ populations in predator-free safe havens has been supported through funding for captive breeding and translocation programs.

30 priority plant species have improved trajectories

Not met

30 plant species were listed as priority species. Over the strategy period:

  • 10 species improved
  • 4 species deteriorated
  • 16 species were reasonably stable or had a nonsignificant change in trajectory.

Increasing monitoring efforts over 2015–20 led to discoveries of new populations of some plants, revealing them to be more common than originally assessed (e.g. Fitzgerald’s mulla-mulla – Ptilotus fasciculatus, which has since been de-listed under the EPBC Act, and the purple-flowered wattle – Acacia purpureopetala).

For 4 of the 30 priority plant species, considerable doubts were raised about their taxonomic validity: Banksia vincentia, blue-top sun-orchid (Thelymitra cyanapicata), silver daisy bush (Olearia pannosa subsp. pannosa) and scaly-leaved featherflower (Verticordia spicata subsp. squamosa).

100% of Australia’s known threatened plant species are stored in 1 or more of Australia’s conservation seed banks

Not met

Approximately 67% of Australia’s listed threatened species (930 of 1,373 species) are now stored in conservation seed banks. Recent research suggests that some of the remaining species may not be amenable to traditional seed-banking methods.

Although some threatened species are represented by multiple collections of suitable size, many species are represented by collections of fewer than 500 seeds.

Recovery actions underway for at least 50 plants


Recovery actions are underway for all 30 plant species targeted by the strategy. The 5-year report notes that hundreds of other listed plant species also have recovery actions underway through a range of government and nongovernment programs and initiatives.

Recovery actions underway for at least 60 threatened ecological communities


Recovery actions are underway for more than 60 threatened ecological communities through programs such as 20 Million Trees (at least 54 sites), Regional Land Partnerships (32 different communities) and bushfire recovery programs (16 priority threatened ecological communities).

Feral cat targets

Feral cats eradicated from 5 islands

Not met

Eradication was achieved on Dirk Hartog Island in Western Australia only. Progress has been made towards eradication on Bruny Island, French Island, Kangaroo Island and Christmas Island. Funding to support eradication efforts continues through the Regional Land Partnerships and Environment Restoration Fund programs through to June 2023.

10 feral-free mainland exclosures established


Between July 2015 and July 2020, 10 feral cat-free mainland exclosures were completed or were in the final stages of completion.

In 2019, the Australian Government boosted efforts to establish a national network of safe havens through a $10 million commitment under the Environment Restoration Fund. The commitment includes a focus on increasing the number of species not currently represented in the safe havens network, drawing on research from the National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub.

10 million hectares of best-practice feral cat management


Feral cat control has been undertaken (at least once) across more than 18 million hectares. Feral cat management has focused on delivering humane and best-practice control across high conservation value areas. This includes the repetitive deployment of feral cat control tools so that feral cat densities are maintained at low levels, reducing predation pressure on recovering native wildlife.

Best-practice feral cat action implemented across 2 million hectares of Commonwealth land

Partially met

Best-practice feral cat control has been implemented across more than 1.9 million hectares of Commonwealth land, including Department of Defence and Parks Australia estates.

2 million feral cats culled

Partially met

The estimated number of cats culled over the 5-year strategy is nearly 1.6 million. When the target to cull 2 million feral cats was set in 2015, the national feral cat population was estimated to be 15–20 million cats. Research under the National Environmental Science Program Threatened Species Recovery Hub has since revised down the estimate of feral cats to 2.1 million when environmental conditions limit available resources, and up to 6.3 million in times of plenty. This has increased the level of difficulty in meeting this target.

Shooters, hunters and farmers are estimated to be the most significant cohort of feral cat cullers, removing more than 85% of the cats culled over the 5-year period.

Improved recovery practices targets

All states and territories operate under the common assessment methodology for species listing


All jurisdictions are actively involved in implementing the Common Assessment Method.

Based on updated work plans, effective and up-to-date recovery plans, conservation advices and threat abatement plans are in place for all priority species and threats

Not met

All listed priority threatened species had a recovery plan and/or conservation advice in force but not all were up to date as of 30 June 2020.

Up-to-date plans (that were approved or updated within the 5-year period) were in place for 9 mammals, 13 birds and 10 plants as of 30 June 2020.

A new Threatened Species Strategy 2021–2031 was released in May 2021. It builds on the model of the previous strategy and continues to focus on some of the established priorities, but also addresses new and emerging challenges. The 2 high-level objectives guiding the strategy are to improve the trajectories of priority threatened species by 2031, and to improve the conditions of priority places by 2031.

The strategy will be underpinned by consecutive 5-year action plans. These plans will be published as addendums to the strategy, with the first to be released in the second half of 2021. Projects delivering outcomes for threatened species are continuing under the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program: Regional Land Partnerships, Environment Restoration Fund, the Wildlife and Habitat Bushfire Recovery Program, and the second phase of the National Environmental Science Program.

The new strategy has introduced new elements:

  • Broadening the priority species to include reptiles, frogs, insects and fish to add to the priority birds, mammals and plants identified in the first strategy – including marine and freshwater species, as well as those from the land. Prioritisation of species and places will be based on 6 principles
    • species and places under severe and imminent threat
    • where recovery action will benefit other species
    • where action can make a difference and is cost-effective
    • culturally significant species and places
    • unique species and places
    • achieving balance in selected species and places.
  • A new focus on ‘priority places’ to expand the strategy’s influence across landscapes and seascapes. The new priority places will include sites where threat mitigation and habitat protection efforts will benefit multiple threatened species and ecological communities.
  • Expanding the number of key action areas to focus efforts on landscape-scale actions that are fundamental to the recovery of threatened species. These include tackling more of the major threats such as weeds and diseases, and developing and using new tools and technologies to improve the effectiveness of managing feral pests and weeds.

Other focus areas include improving habitat to support species recovery, planning and coordinating action at the right scale, and forging stronger partnerships to use resources to their best effect.

Protection of threatened species in the National Reserve System

The Australian Government produces maps of known or likely-to-occur distributions for threatened species and ecological communities listed under the EPBC Act. These maps reflect the current much-reduced distribution of species and communities that are now threatened with extinction. The extent to which the habitat of threatened species and communities overlaps with the National Reserve System was tested using a minimum protection standard of 30% (Taylor 2020). This standard is higher than that for ecoregions (10%) in recognition that these current mapped distributions are likely to be much more restricted than the original distributions (before species and communities were threatened).

The protection of threatened species within the National Reserve System has improved over the past decade: 92 EPBC Act–listed species attained minimum protection standards between 2010 and 2020, and 27 species went from being totally unprotected to having some level of protection (Figure 46). However, 129 species still lack any protection and a further 541 are below halfway to meeting the standard.

Critically Endangered species have the lowest levels of attainment of the minimum standard in the National Reserve System; 42 Critically Endangered species have no protection. This also correlates with the fact that species with the smallest ranges are least well protected and are the most likely to have no protection. Mammals and birds are relatively well protected in the National Reserve System, and invertebrates and plants are the least well protected. Marine, migratory and coastal species are better protected in the National Reserve System than terrestrial or freshwater species.

Figure 46 Numbers of species of national significance sampled in protected areas to a minimum 30% standard, by taxon, habitat and EPBC Act status

ACT = Australian Capital Territory; EPBC Act = Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999; ha = hectare; IUCN = International Union for Conservation of Nature; NSW = New South Wales; NT = Northern Territory; Qld = Queensland; SA = South Australia; Tas = Tasmania; Vic = Victoria; WA = Western Australia

Note: ‘Other’ includes migratory or marine-listed species. May-occur habitat is much more extensive than known or likely habitat, and represents mostly the outer envelope of the species or threatened ecological community range. For this reason, may-occur habitat was excluded from the minimum standard.

Source: Taylor (2020)

These analyses of representativeness of threatened species within the National Reserve System are based on the extent to which the National Reserve System overlaps with areas of known or likely occurrence for those species. However, because most species require the protection of sufficiently large and connected areas of suitable habitat to maintain viable population sizes, representation-based assessments are likely to overestimate the long-term success of the protected area estate in conserving species (Clements et al. 2018).

When more refined measures of representativeness were assessed for 90 Australian mammal species, the conservation capacity of the protected area estate declines. Although all 90 mammal ranges were represented within the National Reserve System, protection was insufficient for up to one-third of species based on a ‘persistence target’ of 10 viable, protected populations as adequate insurance against threats (Clements et al. 2018). For threatened species, 25 of 37 species assessed did not meet this ‘persistence’ target.

Systematic conservation planning has led to improvements in the placement of protected areas in Australia. In 2000, the Australian Government adopted a series of systematic conservation planning principles based on comprehensiveness and representation of ecosystems and threatened species, to guide further expansion of its National Reserve System. Before 2000, protected areas were more likely to be placed in areas with steep slopes and low human population density. Since 2000, protected areas are being increasingly placed in human-dominated landscapes with high numbers of threatened species and high human population density (Barr et al. 2016).

Threatened ecological communities protection in the National Reserve System

Only 16% (13 of 84) of threatened ecological communities meet a 30% minimum protection standard in the National Reserve System (Figure 47) (Taylor 2020). Attainment of the minimum protection standard is quite low and has not really improved since 2010. No protection of habitat is in place for 2 Critically Endangered communities with small areas of known or likely-to-occur habitat: Hunter Valley Weeping Myall (Acacia pendula) Woodland with only 21 ha of known or likely habitat, and Elderslie Banksia Scrub Forest in the Sydney Basin Bioregion with only 621 ha. A third community has only may-occur habitat mapped and is therefore not included in this analysis (the Critically Endangered Warkworth Sands Woodland of the Hunter Valley).

Figure 47 Numbers of threatened ecological communities meeting 30% minimum protection standards

IUCN = International Union for Conservation of Nature

Note: May-occur habitat is much more extensive than known or likely habitat, and represents mostly the outer envelope of the species or threatened ecological communities range. For this reason, may-occur habitat was excluded from the minimum standard.

Source: Taylor (2020)

Indigenous land management and threatened species protection

Indigenous lands in Australia support a high proportion of threatened species. Approximately three-quarters of Australia’s terrestrial or freshwater vertebrate species that are listed as threatened under the EPBC Act have ranges that overlap Indigenous lands. Twenty-two threatened species have more than 75% of their range on Indigenous land, including 5 species with more than 99% of their range on Indigenous land: Gawler Ranges short-tailed grasswren (Amytornis merrotsyi pedleri), northern hairy-nosed wombat (Lasiorhinus krefftii), Flinders Ranges mogurnda (fish; Mogurnda clivicola), Arnhem Land rock-rat (Zyzomys maini) and Carpentarian rock-rat (Zyzomys palatalis). Hotspots of threatened species overlapping with the Indigenous estate occur in coastal areas and in northern Australia (Renwick et al. 2017).

Indigenous interest lands are much more constrained in meeting minimum standards for protection for finer-scaled ecosystems, threatened ecological communities and species, mainly because they tend to be located in more remote areas of the country. IPAs and protected areas with Indigenous interests account for only 18% of ecosystems, 11% of threatened ecological communities and 22% of threatened species meeting their respective minimum protection targets. There is additional capacity for land that is Indigenous owned or has Indigenous interests, but is not currently in the National Reserve System, to contribute to meeting targets if Traditional Owners determine management for conservation is appropriate over that land (Figure 48) (Taylor 2020).

Figure 48 Numbers of terrestrial bioregions, ecosystems, TECs and species of national significance meeting respective standards within Indigenous-associated protected areas

IPA= Indigenous Protected Area; PA = protected area; SNES = species of national ecological significance; std =standard; TEC = threatened ecological community

Note: May-occur habitat is much more extensive than known or likely habitat, and represents mostly the outer envelope of the species or threatened ecological community range. For this reason, may-occur habitat was excluded from the minimum standard.

Source: Taylor (2020)

Case Study The growth of Indigenous-led survey effort for the night parrot (Pezoporus occidentalis)

Malcolm Lindsay (Environs Kimberley), Rachel Paltridge (Kiwirrkurra – Desert Support Services) and Angie Reid (Ngururrpa – Desert Support Services).

After the night parrot’s rediscovery in Queensland in 2013, a lot of effort was devoted across Australia to find more populations. Development by scientific experts Nick Leseberg, Steve Murphy and Nigel Jackett of techniques to record and analyse recorded bird calls provided the technology that could be combined with Indigenous knowledge of habitats, food and water resources to conduct targeted surveys for this extremely cryptic species.

The third night parrot population in Australia was discovered by the Paruku Rangers in 2017 in the Great Sandy Desert, with support from Environs Kimberley and WWF Australia. The Paruku Rangers had long conversations with their Tjurabalan community about whether to release the news, with fears of being swamped by birders or wildlife traffickers, but eventually decided to make the information public to celebrate their work, keeping the location vague. This fantastic news encouraged other desert ranger groups to search for their own night parrot populations by talking to their old people, learning from others about what to look for and conducting surveys on their Country.

In the Kimberley, to make sure any research activities were Indigenous-led, desert ranger groups formed the Kimberley Night Parrot Working Group, coordinated by Environs Kimberley with support from the Kimberley Land Council, WWF Australia, and the Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions. This group successfully met to learn from the Paruku Rangers and scientists, share knowledge and equipment, plan surveys and make sure proper Indigenous engagement was occurring; and organised a night parrot workshop hosted by Paruku Rangers and attended by 6 ranger groups. The Indigenous Desert Alliance became the main forum and host for increasing Indigenous-led night parrot activity across all of desert and rangeland Australia. This culminated in the large Species of the Desert Festival, also hosted by the Paruku Rangers (supported by Rangelands NRM through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program), where a real buzz and excitement was created for rangers to talk to their communities and start looking for their own ‘fat budgie’.

Since 2017, 12 Ranger groups from Western Australia, South Australia and the Northern Territory have completed standardised night parrot surveys, with 4 confirming night parrot populations on their Country (Paruku/Ngurra Kayanta, Ngururrpa, Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa and Birriliburu). Since late 2020, in partnership with Rangelands NRM’s Night Parrot project (funded through the National Landcare Program’s Regional Land Partnerships), new and existing ranger-led night parrot surveys have been supported across the southern Kimberley and western deserts; 2 hubs have been created, led by Desert Support Services (southern deserts hub) and Environs Kimberley (northern desert hub). As a result of these new resources, the Ngururrpa Rangers have recently confirmed multiple populations across their Indigenous Protected Area, making the area covering Ngururrpa, Paruku and Ngurra Kayanta Country a critically important region for the species. These results demonstrate the significant conservation gains and effort that can occur if Traditional Owner rangers are treated as experts and lead efforts, their cultural knowledge is prioritised alongside scientific knowledge, and they are given important forums to learn and be inspired from other rangers and scientists.

We believe that this model of Indigenous-led threatened species management, supported by working groups or alliances, is a new way of working that needs investing in because it not only produces major conservation benefits for minimal cost, but empowers and gives rightful respect to Indigenous land management and stewardship of Country, traditional knowledge and culture.

Other management initiatives

A variety of restoration management initiatives are used in Australia to mitigate pressures or protect species. Restoration can happen in many ways, including through actively planting (revegetation) or by removing pressures so that ecosystems can return to an improved state. For example, across all Regional Land Partnerships projects (as part of Australia’s National Landcare Program) the most common management interventions are weed control, feral animal control and habitat improvement/regeneration (Capon et al. 2020).

Restoration often involves a large number and diversity of stakeholders, since many restoration activities are delivered by locally based groups. Community and landholder engagement, communication, education and awareness raising are therefore also important aspects of restoration activities.

At times, management to restore ecosystems is not sufficient to rescue species from extinction and new developments cannot avoid significant further impacts. In these cases, biodiversity offsets, translocations and ex situ conservation may be used to arrest further losses.

Case Study The Warru Project

The Warru Project is a longstanding collaboration between the Martu rangers of Kanyirninpa Jukurrpa (KJ) and the Western Australian Department of Biodiversity, Conservation and Attractions (DBCA).

KJ is a Martu organisation that operates a suite of environmental, cultural and social programs in Martu communities and across the Martu Native Title Determination and Karlamilyi National Park, collectively known as Martu Country. Established in 2009, the ranger program employs more than 350 Martu and has built strong partnerships with the DBCA, and neighbouring Indigenous ranger groups and supporting NGOs, such as the 10 Deserts Project and the Indigenous Desert Alliance.

Warru (black-flanked rock-wallaby – Petrogale lateralis) were common across the arid zone until pressure from feral predators and changed fire regimes reduced their range to isolated refuges in rocky ranges. Several populations occur on Martu Country, and for more than 10 years Martu rangers have been managing them with support from DBCA.

The project is guided and supported by Martu Elders, ensuring it meets the priorities of Traditional Owners. Warru is a significant species to Martu, and the gorges and waterholes that sustain warru are often places of deep cultural significance. Management activities, such as prescribed burning, are implemented to protect both cultural significance sites and warru. ‘The future generations should be working to look after Country, burning the right way, looking after rock-wallabies and waterholes,’ said Muuki Taylor OAM, KJ’s Senior Cultural Advisor. The guidance of desert-born Martu Elders has proven crucial to finding warru, with their knowledge of suitable habitat and historical populations allowing Martu rangers to confirm the presence of the species at several locations on Martu Country.

DBCA provides scientific support and specialist skills to complement the rangers’ local knowledge. In 2014, a population of warru was translocated from Kaalpi / Calvert Range to Pinpi / Durba Hills to insure against local extinction. DBCA scientists oversaw the capture, transport and release of 26 animals, which quickly established a breeding population at the new site. Since then, the population has been monitored, with Martu rangers trapping animals to obtain genetic samples. In addition, predator baiting has been conducted annually and predators monitored to assess the impact of baiting.

Mitigating the impact of wildfires is also critical to managing warru. Rangers regularly undertake prescribed burning in the winter months, establishing firebreaks along the base of the ranges and conducting landscape-scale aerial burning further afield. The rangers aim to reduce fuel loads and increase pyro-diversity, mirroring a traditional Martu-driven fire regime. A preliminary evaluation of fire management around warru habitat indicates that management has reduced the extent of fires generally, as well as limiting the number of hot, summer wildfires.

Monitoring and active management of warru has seen the populations on Martu Country not only survive but expand. By using Martu rangers’ knowledge of Country and the DBCA’s scientific expertise, the Warru Project is ensuring the future of the species on Martu Country.

Biodiversity offsets

Sometimes, measures to avoid or mitigate the significant impacts of a controlled action on a ‘matter of national environmental significance’ are not able to sufficiently mitigate all impacts. Environmental offsets are increasingly used to compensate for these residual impacts and are considered as part of the decision to approve or not approve a proposed action under the EPBC Act (Figure 49) and most state legislation.

More than 70% of development proposals assessed under the EPBC Act now include offsets as a condition of approval. The Australian National Audit Office identified several concerns with increased reliance of offsets to achieve the objectives of the EPBC Act (ANAO 2020). For example, there is no departmental guidance for reviewing offsets, no quality assurance process for reviewing approved offset plans, no agreed method for estimating averted risk, and no appropriate systems to map offsets for internal or external use.

The effectiveness of offsets is often not evaluated after they are implemented, and it is becoming clear that some types of impacts can be difficult to offset and that the underlying principle of ‘no net loss’ can often not be demonstrated (Gibbons et al. 2018).

For example, the loss of 587 tree hollows as a result of a freeway upgrade in southern Australia was offset by the placement of 587 nest boxes in nearby woodland. The New South Wales policy guiding the offset stated that nest boxes must provide suitable habitat until such time that retained trees close to the highway realignment developed nest hollows and cavities to replace those lost. The offset targeted 3 threatened vertebrates: superb parrot (Polytelis swainsonii), brown treecreeper (Climacteris picumnus), and squirrel glider (Petaurus norfolcensis). However, nest boxes were shown to have both very low usage by the target species (or no usage in the case of the superb parrot) compared with use of natural hollows and cavities, and high rates of deterioration and permanent loss. The offset of hollow-bearing trees by the equivalent number of nest boxes, while compliant with the development approval, was largely considered to have failed from an ecological perspective (Lindenmayer et al. 2017).

Of 74 fully implemented offsets approved in Western Australia between 2004 and 2015, only 39% demonstrated a successful implementation outcome (May et al. 2017). Land acquisition offsets most reliably delivered offset outcomes, at least on paper, through a change of tenure. However, these offsets do not necessarily include management of threats, or ongoing management and monitoring. The offsets that did not result in an outcome arose from a combination of non-implementation and failure according to completion criteria or goals. The low rate of success is striking because the assessment focused only on implementation and did not assess the degree to which offsets were adequate or appropriate, or the ecological equivalence of impacts and the outcomes. It is likely that the effectiveness of these offsets in terms of achieving no net loss of biodiversity is considerably lower than the implementation effectiveness. However, the researchers observed significant improvements in the clarity of offset approval conditions over the time of the study.

Figure 49 Proportion of approvals with offset conditions since the commencement of the EPBC Act


Ethnographic records show that Indigenous Australians regularly and deliberately translocated plant species. Translocations spanned much of the continent and numerous lifeforms and plant uses (Figure 50). Replanting sections of tubers (including yams, lilies, sedges, legumes, ground orchids and numerous other plant groups) after harvesting is documented throughout Australia, and is by far the most well-known and widely practised example of translocation (Silcock 2018).

Figure 50 Numbers of Indigenous translocations documented, by biogeographic region

Translocations of threatened plant species are now commonly used to mitigate the impacts of development projects on rare and threatened plant species in Australia. At least 1,001 translocations of threatened plant species, involving 376 taxa, spanning all Australian states and territories except the Northern Territory, are known to have occurred since 1950 (Silcock et al. 2019), with more than 85% of these occurring since 2000. Translocations have been concentrated in regions with high numbers of threatened species, particularly south-western Australia, the south-eastern corner of Australia and the east coast (Figure 51).

For 724 Australian threatened plant translocations for which data on survival have been recorded, 135 (19%) had no plants surviving. Only 13% are considered to have sufficient plants surviving along with some recruitment of new individuals, indicating the potential to sustain a viable population (Silcock et al. 2019). These findings suggest that translocation for threatened plant species in Australia is still largely at the experimental phase, and relying on translocation to save threatened plant species in the face of development carries a high degree of risk.

Nevertheless, even when translocations are perceived to have failed in terms of plant survival and recruitment, an adaptive management approach and a commitment to ongoing monitoring mean that much can be learned to inform future activities. Some of the most successful translocations are those that have applied the lessons learned from past translocations. In 2018, the Australian Network for Plant Conservation published the third edition of Guidelines for the translocation of threatened plants in Australia, which provides a step-by-step best-practice guide for conservation translocation of Australian plants (Commander et al. 2018).

Figure 51 Translocations documented in Australia

Ex situ conservation

Until recently, much of the conservation of threatened species in Australia has focused on in situ (conservation in place) approaches such as management and protection of vegetation and habitat, and managing and mitigating threatening processes (Broadhurst & Coates 2017). These approaches are effective and considered preferable in most cases.

However, it is becoming clear that some species require ex situ (offsite) conservation to insure against extinction. As well as insuring against imminent extinction, ex situ conservation programs may serve several other purposes, including producing offspring for conservation research, restorations or reintroductions, and for education and fundraising. Common ex situ programs for biodiversity in Australia include seed banking for plants, captive breeding for animals, and establishing populations in zoos, aquariums and botanic gardens. However, for ex situ management to be an effective species recovery action, it needs to be coupled with specific in situ management to reduce threats responsible for declines.

Seed banking provides an insurance policy against the loss of plant species; once seeds are collected and stored appropriately, they can be used for restoration and translocation and for scientific research. The Australian Seed Bank Partnership (ATSP) is an alliance of 13 organisations that deliver a national program of work focused on ex situ plant conservation and research. At the end of June 2018, 20,296 collections of more than 13,300 native Australian plant species were stored in the ATSP seed banks throughout Australia. More than 13,336 of these collections are considered to be unique accessions, with the remaining 6,960 representing duplicate collections secured across the represented species range, bolstering the genetic diversity of collections held throughout Australia.

The 2015–20 Threatened Species Strategy had a target of ‘100% of Australia’s known threatened plant species stored in conservation seed bank’. A total of 930, or 67.7%, of our nationally listed threatened flora species are currently represented in Australia’s ex situ conservation seed banks, with many of these having already been accessed to support recovery and restoration programs. However, many of the threatened species held in Australian seed banks are represented by very small collections – in some cases fewer than 50 seeds. For some of Australia’s threatened species, there is simply not enough seed available in situ to make a sufficient conservation collection (Australian Seed Bank Partnership 2019).

Ex situ conservation of amphibians, such as captive breeding or establishment of populations in zoos or aquariums, has risen in urgency over the past decade with the rapid decline and disappearance of many species as a result of the chytrid fugus (see Animal diseases).

Australia has become one of the world’s leading countries in advancing the contribution of ex situ amphibian populations to species conservation. Nationwide, 14 threatened amphibian species are being held in biosecure facilities in zoological institutions; most of these directly assist conservation efforts to secure these species in the wild (McFadden et al. 2018). The greatest focus on ex situ amphibian conservation has been in south-eastern Australia, where there is a large number of threatened species and the greatest proportion of participating institutions. Successful ex situ conservation and breeding for insurance populations of the Critically Endangered southern and northern corroboree frogs (Pseudophryne corroboree and P. pengilleyi) has resulted in trial reintroduction programs in the wild (see case study: Recovering the critically endangered northern corroboree frog after the bushfires).

Safe havens and refuges

Offshore islands have been crucial for avoiding extinction for 9 Australian mammal species whose previous distributions included the mainland. For example, the greater stick-nest rat (or wopilkara – Leporillus conditor) once occurred widely in semi-arid and arid Australia but was extinct on the mainland by 1930s due to predation by feral and native predators. It survived total extinction because it persisted on the uninhabited Franklin Islands in the Nuyts Archipelago in South Australia. The species has since been translocated to 10 locations (4 islands and 6 mainland reserves), with 3 island and 1 mainland translocation successful, 5 unsuccessful and 1 as yet undetermined (Short et al. 2019).

Increasingly, ‘mainland islands’ – fenced areas from which predators are excluded – have featured prominently in threatened mammal conservation (Legge et al. 2018c). By the end of 2017, 17 fenced areas with predator-proof boundaries on the Australian mainland and 101 cat- and fox-free island havens were supporting 188 populations of 38 species of threatened mammals susceptible to predators (Legge et al. 2019) (Figure 52). However, 29 threatened species that are at a high risk of extinction from predators are not yet represented in any haven and new havens established since 2010 are mostly increasing protection for species that are already represented in existing havens (Legge et al. 2018c). Fourteen new havens are in planning or construction phases.

Threatened mammal translocations to islands have a relatively high success rate (around 86% of 35 translocations). The number of translocations to fenced areas is higher, but the success rate is lower (70% of 60 translocations).

Predator-free islands have even more potential to serve as havens for in situ conservation or translocation of threatened mammals. Researchers have estimated that there are 590 known potential island havens that have potential to support threatened mammal populations (Legge et al. 2018c).

Figure 52 (a) Increase in the number of safe havens and the species represented in them since 1990. (b) Locations of havens for threatened mammals that are susceptible to predation by cats and foxes

Note: Locations of the 101 existing island havens, future island projects, and functional, nonfunctional and future fenced havens.