As Nature Refuge landholders, we are concerned that the potential of the Nature Refuge Program is being compromised by a lack of adequate financial or on-the-ground support to Nature Refuge landholders to manage our land and protect some of Queensland’s most incredible landscapes.
The Queensland Nature Refuges program is a voluntary conservation program for private landholders who wish to protect the natural and cultural values for future generations by dedicating part or all of their land for conservation. Nature Refuge landholders range from owners of small coastal lifestyle properties to graziers on large pastoral stations, nature conservancies, for-profit corporations and Indigenous Traditional Owners.
Over the past decade more than 500 landholders, and the dedicated program officers who have worked to support them in establishing their refuges, have successfully grown the Nature Refuges program into the largest private protected area network in the country by area, covering a total area of more than 4.4 million hectares across the state.
But managing your land as a Nature Refuge requires a significant responsibility both in terms of time and money needed to deal with land management issues like weeds, uncontrolled fires and feral pests. We fear that funding for the program hasn’t kept up the pace with the growth of the program, placing a burden on landholders and impacting the program’s ability to protect landscapes. This burden falls heaviest on those landholders in Outback Queensland managing some of the state’s largest nature refuges often with limited access to support.
The consequence of under-investment in the program is that many landholders are not able to access technical and financial support for vital conservation planning, management and monitoring activities on their land. This not only leaves a significant burden on landholders wanting to protect wildlife, but also leads to increased risk of failed or insufficient land management as we struggle to keep up.
A recent analysis of the Nature Refuges program found that over the past five years, the Queensland Government has provided, on average, less than 25 cents per hectare annually to nature refuge landholders to manage their lands for nature, with many landholders receiving no ongoing financial support at all.
In 2017-2018 the Queensland Government’s total expenditure on the Nature Refuges Program was approximately $4.6 million. By comparison, the NSW Government is investing $247 million over the next four years to support private landholders to protect and conserve natural values on their land.
The Nature Refuge Program is already a wonderful example of individuals and communities taking significant action at their own cost to care for nature on their land. However, with a little more support, the quality of conservation outcomes could improve immeasurably. Queensland has a unique opportunity to deliver meaningful, measurable and very cost-effective conservation outcomes through better supporting the voluntary contribution and hard work of Nature Refuge landholders.
We call on you to significantly increase nature refuges funding to improve management and monitoring of existing nature refuges and to encourage more landholders to enter the program.