This case study discusses the great potential connectivity outcomes when development offsets are required in a landscape which has a foundation of groups committed towards achieving a conservation “corridor”. In this example, the development was the loss of vegetation required for the duplication of the Hume Highway (by Roads and Maritime NSW) and the “corridor” is the priority landscape of the Slopes to Summit partnership (within the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative area) in southern NSW. Offsets required for this development funded strategic land purchases for conservation and in-perpetuity agreements with existing landholders by the Nature Conservation Trust (NCT) to form a linked network of protected areas on private land. Whilst the landscape is relatively small in scale, it does provide an example which could be replicated or “upsized” in other areas of Australia or internationally. Rather than establishing offsets using a “scatter gun” approach, outcomes are multiplied if offsets are established within an overarching connectivity focus. Biodiversity offsets can also be situated alongside other mechanisms such as short term agreements on private land and public land managed for conservation, creating a “tiered” corridor with multi-agency and landholder collaboration.
There is an urgent need to conserve the few remaining patches of the nationally critically endangered Box Gum Grassy Woodlands in this landscape, which are mostly on private land. The bioregion of the South West Slopes in NSW is poorly represented in the National Reserve System (
The injection of funding from developers for establishing offsets creates an opportunity to address some of the issues outlined. Funding covers implementation costs, on-ground works, and the lost opportunity costs incurred by participating landholders (if applicable). Such funding can enable bigger areas to be protected with attractive financial incentives for landholders.
This case study demonstrates the great potential when that injection of funds is strategically directed to a cluster of protected areas versus a large geographic spread. This may be a wiser investment strategy given the paradox of increased urgency to protect and restore habitats with decreased environmental funding.
The success of establishing protected areas on private land in perpetuity is totally dependent on landholder capacity and willingness to be involved. The outcomes in this example are mostly due to “piggy-backing” onto existing foundations of commitment and motivation. This includes the Holbrook Landcare Network which has built a foundation of motivated landholders who are aware of the benefits of conservation connectivity, in particular for birds. This foundation also includes the Slopes to Summit partnership (of three research institutions, four non-government organisations, and two government agencies) who initially prioritised the target corridor and shares a long term vision for its conservation.
Such foundations may not exist in all landscapes where development is occurring and offsets are required. Hence it will be important for those overseeing and directing offset strategies to identify where they do exist and foster the elements that enable them to develop in other areas.
Long term commitment and flexibility is required to make the solution work. This includes on-going landholder support and encouragement. NCT has a stewardship program which includes regular contact and periodic visits. These are essential, in particular for feedback on using stock grazing within conservation goals. To maximise connectivity outcomes on private land, project design should adequately cater for social variables. Landholder’s motivations and their ability to participate and promote the benefits of the project to a wider audience are paramount.
Whilst offsets can provide an injection of funds to enable implementation of large scale projects, we should not be dependent on them for this to occur. The actual offset of the biodiversity lost from the development is questionable. If we are serious about recovery of threatened ecosystems there needs to be a much larger investment in private land conservation, independent of the offsetting market, and for all the right reasons.
The loss of vegetation cleared for the Hume Highway Duplication created an opportunity to dedicate a contiguous link of protected areas from the highway to the Woomargama National Park. These areas are also linked and buffered by revegetation areas funded via other Slopes to Summit partners such as Holbrook Landcare Network and Murray Local Land Services.
Illustrated on a map, the landscape now represents an ideal scenario for conservation connectivity outcomes, where multiple landowners and supporting organisations have actually created a contiguous link of reserves.
It is important to note that not all areas are managed as per the adjoining National Park. Most landholders are still using grazing by domestic stock to manage exotic weeds and excessive biomass, which could become a fire hazard. Firewood can still be collected for non-commercial use in the landholder’s dwellings.
On-going monitoring points have been established within the areas and there are plans for long term research projects to focus on connectivity benefits that the corridor provides.
It all looks great on paper but the outcomes will only be realised with ongoing commitment from the supporting organisations and empowerment of the landholders who manage the conservation areas on their properties.