Extent and condition of conservation areasIndicator
Extent: Conservation areas protect 60% of the total ACT area and continue to increase as environmental offsets are added to the Canberra Nature Park network.
Condition: At the time of reporting, it was not possible to determine the condition of conservation areas in the ACT. It is also not currently possible to assess whether offsets have ensured no net loss of biodiversity as a result of land development. However, assessments for offsets will likely take many years. Recently initiated monitoring programs will greatly improve condition knowledge in the future.
- ? Poor
- ? Unknown
- ? Good
Indicator assessment legend
Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.
Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.
Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.
Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus
Limited evidence or limited consensus
Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment
Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator
- Extent of conservation areas
- Environmental offsets
- Condition of conservation areas
- Case studies
The ACT’s conservation areas are critical for the protection of natural ecosystems and the biodiversity and services they support. Parks and reserves provide habitat for many threatened species and ecological communities. They represent the ACT’s most extensive and least disturbed environments, as well as remnant ecosystems within urban and agricultural lands.
Conservation areas provide a range of benefits for the ACT community including ecosystem services such as clean air and water. Conservation areas also play an important role in nature-based recreation and tourism, which provides significant health and education benefits and contributes to the ACT economy.
Whilst conservation areas exclude damaging land uses and activities, the ecosystems and biodiversity they protect are still at risk from a range of pressures. Invasive species, inappropriate fire regimes, pathogens and diseases present a serious threat to the ACT’s ecosystems and biodiversity and require ongoing intervention to minimise impacts. Climate change will also threaten conservation areas, especially where changes to temperature and rainfall, and the occurrence of fire, exceed the tolerances of ecosystems.
Environmental offsets are land added to environmental reserves to address potential development pressures. In the ACT, offsets provide environmental compensation for a development that is likely to have adverse environmental impact on a protected matter. In the ACT, offsets are categorised as those that are:
- required under the EPBC Act to compensate for the residual adverse impacts of an action on Commonwealth-listed threatened species and communities classed as Matters of National Environmental Significance (MNES).Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities, 2012, Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, Environmental Offsets Policy, Commonwealth of Australia. MNES within the ACT that are currently protected in land offsets include White Box, Yellow Box, Blakely’s Red Gum Grassy Woodland (Box Gum Woodland), Natural Temperate Grassland, Striped Legless Lizard (Delma impar), Golden Sun Moth (Synemon plana), Pink-tailed Worm Lizard (Aprasia parapulchella), Superb Parrot (Polyteli swainsonii), and Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorhynchoides).
- required under the ACT’s Planning and Development Act 2007 (the Planning Act) to provide environmental compensation for the likely impact on a declared protected matter. Planning and Development Act 2007 (ACT), s. 111C.
Almost all environmental offsets within the ACT are delivered via direct land offsets which protect, conserve and restore areas land with specific ecological values. Indirect offsetting is generally a last resort or an additional requirement such as the proposal of development funding research into a protected matter. Indirect offsets have been established in respect of Strategic Assessments in Gungahlin and the Molonglo Valley.
In response to a ministerial direction, independent audits of the Gungahlin and Molonglo Valley offsets have been undertaken.Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, 2018, Independent Audit of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment. ACT Government, Canberra. Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment, 2018, Independent Audit of the Molonglo Valley Strategic Assessment, ACT Government, Canberra. These assessments focused on the implementation of commitments in accordance with procedures established under the EPBC Act. For each audit, Corrective Action Requests were issued, all of which were addressed by the ACT Government and the audit closed. The next audits are due in 2022.
Condition and trends
Extent of conservation areas
In 2019, there was 141,000 hectares of conservation areas in the ACT, protecting 60% of the total ACT area (Figure B2). This not only represents a significant proportion of the ACT’s natural environment, but is also a much higher proportion than any other jurisdiction in Australia.
Categories of conservation in the ACT include national park, wilderness area, nature reserve, water supply protection, and special purpose reserve. The Namadgi National Park and Bimberi Wilderness Area account for nearly 80% of the conservation area and around 46% of the total area of the ACT. Nature reserves (including Canberra Nature Park) accounts for 14% of the conservation estate, with water supply and special purpose reserves accounting for 5% and 3% respectively (Figure B3).
Figure B3: Conservation categories in the ACT as at 2019.
Conservation areas, as designated under the Territory Plan 1993, show an increase of nearly 13,000 hectares between 1997 and 2018 (Figure B4). The large increase in 2008 is due to the declaration of the Lower Cotter Catchment as a reserve. Over the reporting period 2015–16 to 2018–19, just over 1,000 hectares were added to the reserve system, primarily through environmental offsets added to the Canberra Nature Park network.
Figure B4: Additions to conservation areas designated under the Territory Plan, 1993 to 2018.
The area of ACT environmental offsets has grown from 18 hectares in 2009 to some 1,865 hectares of ACT land in 2019 (Figure B5).This area does not include the Kenny 160 hectare offset approved as part of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment [Umwelt Pty Ltd, 2013, Gungahlin Strategic Assessment: Biodiversity Plan: Final, Umwelt, Canberra], which has not yet been established and is not yet in the reserve system.
This growth reflects the need to compensate for adverse environmental impacts from the significant increase in the ACT’s urban footprint that has occurred since 2000, and continues today.
In 2019, 47% (871 hectares) of offsets were protected by nature reserve. This represents a significant increase in the area of offsets included in the reserve system since 2013 Environmental offsets now contribute to around 16% of the ACT’s urban reserve areas.
There are currently 23 offset areas in the ACT, with the 688 hectare Molonglo offset by far the largest area, contributing around a third of the total offset area (Figure B6). The ACT Parks and Conservation Service manage over 90% of the total offset area on behalf of the ACT Government. There are also a small number of other offset managers within the ACT who own and manage varying amounts of offset land.
Figure B5: Extent of Commonwealth Government-approved offsets in the ACT and area protected by nature reserve, 2009 to 2019.
Condition of conservation areas
It was not currently possible to determine the condition of conservation areas in the ACT. Condition assessments will require significant monitoring of the health of vegetation (see Indicator B4: Extent and condition of native vegetation) and biodiversity, pressures (such as invasive plants and animals, fragmentation and fire intervals), and the level of management intervention for each conservation area.
It is also not possible to currently assess the condition of offsets or their effectiveness in providing the outcomes required that ensure no net loss of biodiversity has occurred following land development. Such assessment will likely take many years, particularly given that management interventions need to be undertaken over long periods of time to achieve the desired ecosystem and biodiversity outcomes.
The ACT Government is undertaking a Conservation Effectiveness Monitoring Program (CEMP) to provide an ecosystem condition monitoring framework for the ACT. The CEMP will evaluate the effectiveness of management actions in achieving conservation outcomes. The CEMP reports will be undertaken every 4 years for 8 ACT ecosystems including:
- upland and lowland native grasslands
- upland and lowland woodlands
- upland and lowland forests
- aquatic and riparian
- upland bogs and fens.
The results of the CEMP will enable an assessment of the condition of conservation areas, and the ecosystems they contain, in future ACT State of the Environment reports.