This section provides an assessment of land use and condition in the ACT.
Land development continues to be an environmental challenge for the ACT
Land health is a critical KNOWLEDGE GAP in our understanding of environmental condition
75% of ACT Government land is zoned for natural ecosystems and greenspace
57% increase in urban land area between 1991 and 2016
Human wellbeing as well as terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems are dependent on healthy land. The interactions of soil, air, water, plants, animals and natural processes provide a diverse range of services, including fertile soil for agriculture, clean water production, nutrient recycling, and erosion control. How land is used and managed can significantly affect its capacity to provide these services.
Land use is a key driver of environmental change affecting ecological functions, attributes and the integrity of land health. Many environmental problems in the ACT result from current and historic land use and management. The maintenance of land health requires consideration of the needs of urban and other development in conjunction with environmental protection.
The main pressures on land health are from vegetation clearing for urban expansion (particularly greenfield development) and agriculture, and severe fire that can expose and alter the structure of soils increasing the risk of significant erosion. The degradation of land has consequences for both terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems. Poor land health can lead to the loss of vegetation and habitat, and severely impact on water quality and aquatic biodiversity (see Water section). Poor land health also impacts on agricultural production through the loss of soil nutrients and organic matter, reductions in crop yields and pasture production, and increased erosion.
The ACT’s land is used for urban areas, conservation, agriculture and plantation forestry. Land use change can be driven by a range of social, economic and environmental pressures such as population growth, land values that support housing development, preference for traditional housing, and agricultural drivers such as climate (for example, water availability) and commodity prices.
Changes in the area of one land use type can have negative consequences for others. For example, urban expansion results in the loss of natural habitat as well as agricultural land. Land use change can also have consequences for a range of other environmental pressures, for example the expansion of urban areas creates increased demand for transport infrastructure such as roads and public transport. This means that urban development can have a greater impact on the environment because of the degree of land change required and the resources consumed.
Climate change will increase pressures on land health with higher temperatures, reduced rainfall, more extreme weather events, and an increase in fire risk and severity (see Climate Change and Fire sections). These are likely to affect land use and management through significant changes to landscape functions and vegetation cover.
That the ACT Government:
improve knowledge on land use change in the ACT. This could be achieved through the development of annual land accounts using the United Nations System of Environmental-Economic Accounting framework.
continue to increase the number of medium and high-density dwellings to minimise future growth in the ACT’s urban area.
encourage and provide opportunities for further increases in urban residential infill developments.
ensure current and future greenfield developments incorporate actions to minimise impacts on natural ecosystems and biodiversity.
improve knowledge on land and soil health to address this critical data gap in environmental condition assessments.
Over the reporting period, it was not possible to determine changes in the area of urban and rural lands. However, any changes are estimated to be small. Although nearly 75% of ACT Government land is zoned for natural ecosystems and greenspace, urban expansion continues to be an environmental challenge for the ACT. To minimise urban growth, the proportion of medium and high-density housing is increasing. The rates of infill development are improving with all years from 2015–16 meeting (or close to meeting) the 70% infill target.
There is a general lack of knowledge about land health in the ACT, both for long-term changes and current conditions. This lack of information does not enable an assessment of land and soil health and remains a critical gap in our understanding of environmental condition.
- ? 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
Land use change 2015–16 to 2018–19
It was not possible to determine changes in the area of urban and rural lands. However, any changes are estimated to be small.
Nearly 75% of ACT Government land is zoned for natural ecosystems and greenspace.
Land development continues to be an environmental challenge for the ACT.
Between 1991 and 2016, the ACT’s urban land area grew by 57%, compared to a population increase of 43% over the same period. If this ratio of urban growth to population continues, the ACT’s current urban footprint would need to increase by a further 46% by 2041 to accommodate projected population growth.