The world is now home to more than 7 billion people, and UN projections suggest that the human population will reach 9.6 billion by 2050. The Australian Bureau of Statistics estimates that the country’s current population of more than 23 million will grow to between 30.9 and 42.5 million by 2056.
This dramatic growth of human populations directly and indirectly leads to many of the pressures that biodiversity faces worldwide. 83% of the world’s land area (excluding Antarctica) bears a detectable human footprint, and it is has been estimated that only 16% of land outside of polar regions consists of large undeveloped wild areas.
In particular, human population growth drives habitat loss and degradation, as land is cleared to make way for sprawling urban centres to house us, agricultural lands to feed us and industries such as mining and forestry to supply us with energy and materials. Even relatively minor activities, such as building roads, fragment habitat and can lead to a large cumulative impact on natural areas.
Population growth in the GER corridor
A high proportion of Australia’s population lives within 100km of the GER corridor, and this population continues to expand. The state capitals of Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane are the largest cities in the country, with a combined population of around 11 million people, and are surrounded by large areas of urban development that push up against the GER. In recent years, extensive peri-urban zones have also developed, including around Cairns, between Byron Bay, the Gold Coast and Brisbane, and between Wollongong, Sydney and Newcastle.
The growing population of the GER corridor puts pressure on the natural environment through clearing for urban development, agriculture and industry, and the waste and pollution that is generated by these activities. There are more than 20 major crossings of the ranges in NSW alone, where highways and other infrastructure cut through the ranges to connect the coastal population with resources inland. Even when habitat is left fairly intact, for example in protected areas such as national parks, these areas can still be susceptible to weed invasion and changes to soil chemistry from neighbouring urban or agricultural areas. Public lands such as national parks are also important for recreation and a significant source of revenue, but the impacts of visitation by a growing population must be carefully managed to prevent the environmental values of these areas being degraded.
In order to minimise the impacts of this growing population on nature, it is vital that people feel connected to the environmental and cultural heritage of the GER corridor, understand the need to protect these values, and know how their actions can have an effect. GER and its partners are therefore actively engaging community groups and involving them in conservation through education, volunteering and Citizen Science programs. Some examples of projects within the GER that are connecting people of all ages with nature include Youth Leading the Great Eastern Ranges, the Slopes to Summit ‘Bioblitz’ and the Great Koala Count.