Overview of Australia’s land and biodiversity
With so many unique species, we have an
important national responsibility to maintain the planet’s biological diversity.
The health of our soils, the extent and condition of our vegetation, and Australia’s biodiversity have severely declined across much of the country.
Carbon levels in Australia’s soils — important for nutrient cycling, water and carbon storage, and soil structure — have been depleted. About half of Australia’s agriculturally productive soils are affected by acidification, some six million hectares are affected by dryland salinity, and rates of soil erosion are exceeding the rates of soil formation.
Similarly, the extent and condition of vegetation are deteriorating. Since European colonisation, more than 40 per cent of the forests and woodlands have been cleared. Much of what remains is degraded and fragmented. Invasive species, altered fire regimes, pastoralism, droughts and cyclones have also caused vegetation health to decline.
Australia has a shocking extinction record. Since European colonisation, we have lost at least 36 plant and 51 vertebrate animal species. About 1800 species are listed as nationally threatened, and without a substantial increase in conservation effort, seven mammals and 10 birds are projected to die out over the next 20 years.
The top five pressures affecting land and terrestrial biodiversity are invasive species, land clearing and degradation, inappropriate fire regimes, livestock production and global climate change, the latter being the most pervasive, least understood and least predictable of threats.
Returning our land and biodiversity to health will require changes in laws, policies, institutions and programs, and in people’s behaviours, values and support for conservation. Solutions have already been identified in numerous plans and strategies — our challenge is to compel enough investment, participation and motivation to implement these plans.
To better protect Australia’s land and biodiversity we need to:
- recover threatened biodiversity
- abate major threats
- expand and manage Australia’s reserve system
- support Indigenous land and sea management
- monitor and regularly report on land and biodiversity to measure progress and prioritise conservation
- scale up funding.
What philanthropy can do
Philanthropy has a key role to play in strategically supporting civil society to implement conservation solutions and to advocate for stronger government leadership and action. A wide range of philanthropic funding interventions are required, including program funding, capacity building and impact investment.
Grantmaking can be directed towards mobilising Australians to improve the protection and repair of the ecosystems that support biodiversity on land. This includes campaigns to protect precious areas when they are under threat, citizen science to monitor birds and animals, and practical on-ground works that remove pest plants and animals and enhance important habitat.
Advocacy is key to improving the laws, policies and programs that are needed to better protect biodiversity. The priorities for biodiversity are well understood by governments, but the institutional arrangements, including adequate government funding, are not in place for them to be achieved.
With much of Australia’s biodiversity on private land and the Indigenous estate, there is great potential to support non-government managers, including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, to fulfil their ambitions in managing and restoring high conservation value ecosystems.
There is also potential for foundations to invest in innovative financing mechanisms.