The environmental impacts of industry include:

  • landscape and landform modification
  • native vegetation clearing
  • natural resource depletion
  • modification of river flows and groundwater levels
  • pollution of oceans, inland waters, the ground and the atmosphere.

Industry can also contribute to the introduction of pests and diseases (see the Biodiversity chapter).

It is difficult to quantify the current impacts of industry, or specific types of industry, on Australia’s heritage, as this is not specifically measured or monitored. The exception is rare single case studies undertaken to demonstrate adverse impacts on heritage.

Expert assessment undertaken for this report ranks industry pressures on heritage as lower overall than climate change, but similar to population pressures overall (Figure 27; see also Figure 24). Industry pressures are seen as the most significant set of pressures on both geoheritage and Indigenous heritage, mostly in relation to resource extraction and rural land clearing. Industry pressures are ranked as the least significant set of pressures overall for historic heritage. For natural heritage, the level of threat is seen as variable, with rural land clearance rated as a greater threat than resource extraction, and with the other industry pressures considered to be low to minimal threats.

Figure 27 Industry pressures considered to have the highest impact on Australian heritage, 2020
Assessment Industry pressures on heritage
2021 Assessment graphic showing that pressures are high, meaning they moderately degrade the state of the environment, over a moderate extent and/or with moderate severity. The situation is deteriorating.
Somewhat adequate confidence
Assessment graphic from 2011 or 2016 showing that pressures were high, meaning they moderately degrade the state of the environment, over a moderate extent and/or with moderate severity. The trend was unclear.

Industry-related pressures affect all types and forms of heritage, but in different ways. Broadscale industries (e.g. agriculture, mining, forestry, commercial fishing) have the greatest impact on heritage overall. Tourism, where not adequately controlled and regulated, can have a significant localised impact on heritage values, particularly cultural heritage values, and can also have impacts at the landscape scale, including on cultural landscape values and local social values. Poor industry regulation, poor protections, inadequate development assessment and approval processes, and a development consent process that frequently characterises heritage as a barrier are all ongoing issues. For Indigenous heritage, industry often overlooks Indigenous cultural values.
Related to United Nations Sustainable Development Goal targets 11.4, 12.4

Assessment Industry pressures on Indigenous heritage
2021 Assessment graphic showing that pressures are very high, meaning they strongly degrade the state of the environment, over a large extent and with a high degree of severity. The situation is deteriorating.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Mining and agriculture are key pressures on Indigenous heritage, as observed through the destruction of Juukan Gorge and damage to water systems. Pressures relating to tourism and recreational activities are also increasing.

Assessment Industry pressures on natural heritage
2021 Assessment graphic showing that pressures are high, meaning they moderately degrade the state of the environment, over a moderate extent and/or with moderate severity. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence

Rural land clearance is the most significant industrial pressure on natural heritage, resulting in ecosystem damage, and extensive loss of important communities and habitat. It is also increasing the vulnerability of rare and threatened species. Natural heritage is also being adversely impacted by resource extraction, secondary industries and tourism, but to a lesser extent.

Assessment Industry pressures on geoheritage
2021 Assessment graphic showing that pressures are high, meaning they moderately degrade the state of the environment, over a moderate extent and/or with moderate severity. The situation is stable.
Limited confidence

Ongoing extractive industries and agricultural intensification, including land clearance, are continuing to cause significant loss of, and damage to, geoheritage. Tourism and industrial pollution are causing less, but ongoing, damage to geoheritage.

Assessment Industry pressures on historic heritage
2021 Assessment graphic showing that pressures are high, meaning they moderately degrade the state of the environment, over a moderate extent and/or with moderate severity. The situation is deteriorating.
Somewhat adequate confidence

Of the industry-driven pressures, land-use intensification (and land clearance) and secondary industries are causing the most significant loss of, and damage to, historic heritage. Resource extraction and tourism are also causing damage or loss of historic heritage, but these pressures are more spatially restricted.

Assessment Industry pressures on World Heritage
2021 Assessment graphic showing that pressures are high, meaning they moderately degrade the state of the environment, over a moderate extent and/or with moderate severity. The situation is deteriorating.
Somewhat adequate confidence

An increasing focus on visitor access and amenities for World Heritage places is increasingly adversely impacting several Australian World Heritage properties. Although generally outside World Heritage properties, other forms of industry contribute to impacts, particularly where buffer zones are inadequate.

Assessment Industry pressures on National Heritage
2021 Assessment graphic showing that pressures are high, meaning they moderately degrade the state of the environment, over a moderate extent and/or with moderate severity. The situation is stable.
Somewhat adequate confidence

A focus on visitor access and amenities for National Heritage places is having an ongoing adverse impact on the heritage values of these places. Although generally outside National Heritage properties, other forms of industry contribute to impacts, particularly where buffer zones are inadequate.

Extractive industries

Extractive industries such as mining, forestry and fishing have the potential to adversely affect heritage because they create high levels of disturbance. This can affect all types of heritage, particularly natural heritage, given that these industries occur primarily in essentially natural environments. Impacts can occur at both the site and landscape level.

Localised impacts from extractive industries can occur from direct impacts such as ground disturbance and indirect impacts such as pollution. Localised impacts include loss of habitats and species, and damage to, or destruction of, geoheritage and cultural heritage sites. Extractive industries can cause landscape-scale heritage impacts through a loss of key elements or landscape integrity, system degradation, introduction of exotic species and disease, or loss of other conservation values. Significant landscape modification can also adversely impact the social values of a place, especially those that relate to sense of place and aesthetic value. Emotional distress caused by environment change, known as ‘solastalgia’, is a documented impact from the large-scale mining in the Hunter Valley, New South Wales (Roche & Judd 2016). (Also see Wellbeing and amenity.)

The potential heritage impacts from mining depend on the type of mining, the size of the mining operation and its location. For example, in general, small mines, quarries and shaft mines will have less impact than open-cut mining. Some mining-associated activities can also affect heritage. These include mining exploration, which can result in more extensive disturbance than the actual mining, and development of mining infrastructure. Mining also has the potential for significant indirect risks, particularly from mine tailings wash and acid water run-off (see Pressures on, and management of, historic heritage).

Natural heritage is most affected by mining, and mining in protected areas (where allowed) will have significant potential impacts on heritage values. Some forms of geoheritage are particularly at risk from mining, since mine exploration and mining can occur at rare or otherwise significant geoheritage sites. Indigenous heritage has been shown to be particularly at risk from mining-related activities (see Recent Indigenous heritage protection issues). The cumulative impacts on Indigenous heritage in Western Australia from the rapid rate of development activity in the state, particularly in the Pilbara where mining and infrastructure development takes precedence over heritage preservation, have been of ongoing concern for many years (SoE 2011 Committee 2011).

Similar to mining, forestry can have significant impacts on natural heritage. This is especially the case where clear-fell regimes (involving full vegetation removal, windrowing and burning) are used. Establishing plantations creates a similar level of disturbance. All harvesting, but particularly native forest harvesting, can damage or destroy geoheritage sites and landscapes, Indigenous heritage sites and landscape values, and historic heritage sites and cultural landscapes. Activities that support forest harvesting, primarily road building, will also potentially affect heritage. Regeneration burns can further impact heritage, particularly where they escape into otherwise undisturbed areas (e.g. Kiernan 2018).

Forestry can also have significant specific geoheritage impacts, depending on its location. An example is the potential impacts on karst landscapes. These are highly sensitive to clearance, which promotes increased soil erosion and ground collapse, and increased limestone solution, particularly where groundwater is concentrated, such as in road edge drains. Logging and associated activities such as road construction and use can lead to increased sedimentation of karst features, and damage to fragile surface and near-surface heritage features such as springs, sinkholes, cave speleothems and specialised cave fauna. Additional damage to caves can occur through increased recreational caving due to improved access. Caves, cave fauna and groundwater can be affected by fuel and chemical spillages (e.g. Kiernan 2001, Kiernan 2002).

Forestry also has the potential to damage historic timber industry heritage because significant areas of present-day timber harvesting are occurring in previously harvested areas. These contain remnant sawpits, cut stumps, snig tracks, timber tramways, log haulers and associated artefacts (e.g. Kostoglou 1993).

Commercial fishing can affect marine natural heritage (see the Coasts and Marine chapters). The key potential impact of fishing on heritage is overexploitation, leading to severely depleted fish stocks, which may lead to the extinction of target or dependent species and consequent degradation of significant marine ecosystems. Fishing may also affect Indigenous heritage where it significantly reduces or eliminates wild populations of traditionally used or totem species.


Farming, including agriculture, horticulture and pastoralism, is the predominant land use in Australia and occurs across large areas of the country (see the Land chapter).

Much of the land that is used for farming has been cleared and developed historically. This has adversely affected natural and Indigenous heritage in most areas, but has also created a body of historic rural heritage, including features, plantings, sites, site complexes and cultural landscapes (e.g. McConnell & Knaggs 2004, Lennon 2014). Despite the scale of historical land change, natural and cultural heritage values can persist in long-term farmed areas, most commonly in less used areas (e.g. travelling stock routes).

Heritage values are affected by ongoing land clearing, agricultural intensification, land-use changes and changes in farming practices. Impacts will be variable, and include:

  • loss of rare species or damage to geoheritage, archaeological sites and broader Indigenous values, particularly with the disturbance of remnant native vegetation
  • loss of biodiversity, especially linking vegetation, due to intensification of agriculture
  • high levels of disturbance of Indigenous archaeological sites and geoheritage landforms through repeated ploughing
  • destruction of geoheritage, and cultural heritage features and sites through new works, such as road and dam construction.

Many changes in general farm practices – for example, transitioning to larger fields and introducing pivot irrigation – affect rural cultural landscapes by changing field patterns, and removing significant historic elements such as tree rows and hedges. For areas of natural heritage, the most significant farming-related impact will be clearing of high-value remnant native vegetation.

The devastation of the Murray–Darling system is an example of the impact on heritage caused, in part, by agriculture. For many Indigenous nations, significant cultural heritage is tied to this waterway. These nations include the Barkandji people, whose name comes from this waterway (Baaka/Barka – Darling River) (Norman & Janson-Moore 2019) and the Ngarrindjeri nation, who are downstream of the Murray–Darling system where the Murray meets the ocean (Ngarrindjeri Regional Authority 2018). Relevant Indigenous cultural heritage includes creation stories, cultural practice, language, song and custodial obligations. Without the Baaka/Barka, the foundation to all aspects of Indigenous culture and heritage is lost. Agricultural water use is catastrophically affecting the Baaka/Barka in many ways, and some totemic species have been entirely lost. The South Australian Royal Commission (DEW 2019) into the Murray–Darling identified the need for water buybacks due to the overallocation of water for agricultural pursuits. The Inland water and Indigenous chapters have more information about the effects of agriculture on Indigenous communities (see the Inland water and Indigenous chapters).

Farming can also have indirect impacts on heritage. This is most commonly through introduced species (e.g. cane toads and buffel grass), increased downstream sedimentation from ploughing and erosion, and chemical pollution from fertilisers and pesticides (see the Land and Coasts chapters).

Marine and coastal aquaculture can also cause adverse effects on natural heritage, and through this on Indigenous heritage. Marine and coastal aquaculture, mainly fish and shellfish farms, has been increasing in Australia in the past 2 decades. Between 2016 and 2018, the size of the aquaculture industry in Australia grew by 5%, with major increases in Tasmania, South Australia and Queensland (DAWE & ABARES 2020) (see the Coasts chapter).

Production and manufacturing

Production and manufacturing generally have significantly less impact on heritage than extractive industries and farming because of their location and size of operation. Damage to, or loss of, heritage places in this context generally occurs from constructing industrial facilities, and ancillary infrastructure such as water and energy supply, roads, railways and ports, particularly where these are in previously undeveloped areas.

Operating impacts are mainly related to atmospheric, ground or water pollution. Although pollution can impact all types of heritage, biological values are likely to be most affected. Impacts of operation on geoheritage and historic heritage are likely to be relatively minor or superficial. They include coating or impregnation of surfaces with pollutants, and potentially increased corrosion or other fabric decay.

Landscape-scale and other major impacts are likely to be rare, unless there are industrial accidents that cause significant pollution.

Production and manufacturing also impact waterways, which can adversely affect Indigenous cultural heritage. Waterways are the lifeblood of many Indigenous communities across Australia. When waterways are compromised – often as a byproduct of manufacturing and production – the foundation of all aspects of the culture of Indigenous people is threatened. Waterways provide many important food resources associated with traditional cultural practices, and shelter and habitat for many totemic species. When any aspect of Country is damaged or polluted, it has direct negative impacts on Indigenous people, who are the Traditional Custodians of Country (Hemming et al. 2020, O’Donnell et al. 2021).

Tourism and recreation

Human recreational activities, including tourism, can have a significant adverse impact on heritage. This can occur from direct use impacts and development of supporting infrastructure, or indirectly, such as through the introduction of invasive species. Although tourism can have positive impacts such as increased awareness of values and the need to protect these, and broader benefits such as improved community wellbeing, much of Australia’s heritage has the potential to be adversely impacted by tourism.

The nature of the impact depends on where it occurs and the level of interest. Small visitor numbers can potentially have a major impact in sensitive areas such as cultural heritage sites, high-quality conservation areas and areas of high ‘wilderness quality’ (noting that notions of ‘wilderness’ can be deeply problematic for Indigenous people; see Types and condition of natural heritage). Large visitor numbers can have significant effects in any areas, especially when this level is not planned for.

Tourism, from both Australian and overseas visitors, is often focused on Australia’s heritage places, especially iconic heritage places, scenic natural areas and special historical sites. Many of these places are protected areas or places, and many are Australian World Heritage properties (e.g. Uluṟu, the Sydney Opera House, the Port Arthur Historic Site, Naracoorte, Ningaloo, the Blue Mountains, the Great Barrier Reef).

In 2018, nature-based tourism comprised 19% of Australian tourist activities, with an annual growth of 9%, and heritage tourism comprised 5% of Australian tourist activities, with an annual growth of 11.2% (NTA 2018). The increasing interest in nature-based recreation and leisure in Australia means that the most significant impacts are likely to occur in protected areas.

Tourism and recreation can have significant adverse impacts on all heritage if not well managed. Impacts will occur largely from the construction or upgrading of tourism facilities and infrastructure (e.g. recreational tracks, picnic facilities, boat ramps, visitor centres, visitor accommodation), which can overprint, damage or destroy existing heritage values. Specific impacts can include damage to heritage sites or site elements, damage to areas of significant or vulnerable natural values and habitat, loss of wilderness values, and significant visual impacts (noting that notions of ‘wilderness’ can be deeply problematic for Indigenous people because they can work against the recognition and empowerment of Indigenous perspectives and aspirations). ‘Upgrading’ of heritage places and historic infrastructure to accommodate tourists and meet requirements such as disability access can also impact heritage values. Visitor use, if not accompanied by site hardening or other protections, will potentially degrade heritage fabric, and may degrade significant plant communities or fauna habitat. There are also specific leisure activities (e.g. fishing, recreational 4WD use, caving, diving) that can damage sensitive heritage environments and places if not regulated or controlled. Underwater cultural heritage is particularly at risk from water-based recreation (e.g. boating, fishing, diving). Collecting from heritage areas and places can impact all types of heritage. Indirect potential visitor impacts include increased damage to values through vandalism and souveniring, introduction of diseases and exotic plants and animals, and increased risk of bushfire.

Some impacts relate to changes in tourism patterns. Overcrowding can lead to sites being ‘loved to death’, causing impacts on tourist sites from the additional wear and support infrastructure that is required for greater numbers of people, and a reduced experience of the site due to issues such as crowding and queuing (McKinsey & Company 2017). Privatisation of public spaces in protected areas, development in inappropriate areas and developments that are unsympathetic to their setting can occur where there is a focus on catering for the upper end of the market.

Some recreation can affect social values; for example, the use of drones can impact people’s traditional appreciation of natural values. Specific uses of places can be disrespectful of particular values, as in the case of previous climbing on Uluṟu, which has deep cultural significance to the Aṉangu people. There are also particular issues for regional Indigenous communities where, in addition to potential physical damage to sites, tourism may put places of cultural importance at risk, affect the day-to-day lives and other economic areas of community, and be an unwelcome intrusion (e.g Neiijie 1984).