Indigenous land and sea management

New Indigenous land and sea management briefing coming in 2021.

New briefing coming in 2021
We are in the process of updating the Indigenous land and sea management briefing note. In addition, we have new supporting material to help funders further understand this sector.

Contact us if you would like to be alerted when the new materials are available, or would like more information or advice on funding Indigenous land and sea management:

Overview of Indigenous land and sea management

Indigenous-titled lands cover about four million square kilometres of land and sea Country – over half of Australia’s land mass. These areas represent a rich diversity of ecosystems — in some cases, ecosystem types and species found nowhere else on earth.

Many Indigenous landholdings are contiguous with or form an integral part of the National Reserve System which protects areas of high environmental value.

Indigenous lands include an enormously rich diversity of ecosystems – from the tropics of northern Australia to some of the driest areas of the desert centre. Large parts remain ecologically intact, with vast tracts of mainly undisturbed, connected and healthy environments.

Threats to Indigenous lands

The ecosystems of Indigenous lands are threatened by feral animals and invasive weeds, changing climate, overgrazing and the pollution of waterways and marine environments.

Recognising Indigenous knowledge

Indigenous people do not generally separate land and cultural heritage. They talk about ‘looking after country’ with the expectation that country will, in turn, look after them. This reciprocal relationship is a vastly different approach to the Western environmental management paradigm.

Indigenous knowledge must be recognised for its unique potential to improve understanding of the environment and offers insights into a sustainable future. Indigenous people must be paid fairly for the environmental work they do.

Government Indigenous land and sea management programs

As of March 2012, the Federal Government’s Working on Country Program supports 80 ranger groups employing more than 600 rangers. There is great potential for more Indigenous people to be involved in similar work.

Some Indigenous communities are also seeking a strong role in looking after marine and coastal environments. More support and resources are urgently needed to help them.

Maintaining and managing Indigenous lands properly is in the national interest and benefits all Australians.


  • Recognise the extraordinary environmental significance of Indigenous lands and support the development of appropriate responses to the threats they face.
  • Recognise and support Indigenous customary marine tenure and aspirations to manage sea country.
    Appreciate that Indigenous customary land management, in combination with Western science, is a sound and legitimate basis for joint care of protected areas.
  • Recognise that economic disadvantage means many Indigenous land owners need help to look after their lands.
  • Acknowledge and respect the substantial contribution that Indigenous knowledge is making in tackling Australia’s environmental problems.
  • Make sure funding for work on Indigenous lands is fair.
  • Support Indigenous aspirations to live on country as an effective way of looking after the environment.
  • Fund further research on Indigenous environmental care from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous perspectives.

Indigenous land and sea management funder group

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people own or manage over 4 million square kilometres of land and sea Country – over half of Australia’s land mass. These areas include some of the most biodiverse and intact ecosystems on the planet. In addition, Indigenous protected areas make up 47 per cent of the National Reserve System and this is expected to expand to 54 per cent over the coming year.

As a nation, Australia faces major challenges in arresting biodiversity decline. Indigenous land and sea managers are providing significant contributions to addressing this national challenge. And yet First Nations people are not necessarily resourced to access and manage their lands, to remove invasive plants and pests, to reintroduce traditional fire practices and to care for cultural sites.

While government provides funding for Indigenous land and sea management programs, this does not meet the demand from Traditional Owner groups and it is not sufficient to maintain the environmental health of the vast continent.

Philanthropy has a role to play in supporting this critical work to expand into new areas, trial new models and approaches, build the capacity of First Nations organisations, help to share powerful stories and to embed a broader, stronger Indigenous land management sector in Australia.

Join us

The Indigenous land and sea management funder group meets quarterly and provides a forum for you to share funding experiences, new opportunities and collaborations, catch up on the latest news and developments and to tap into the experience of the group to resolve questions and overcome funding challenges.

Next event

Visit our events section to see the latest Indigenous land and sea management funder group meeting.

To have a discussion about this funder group, contact Ione McLean

Continue the conversation

You can also join our Indigenous land and sea management funder group email list and continue talking with each other outside of our organised events. To join, send us an email to