Protected areas provide important habitat for native species that are under pressure from land clearing and overexploitation elsewhere in the landscape. Creating a diverse, extensive and well-managed protected area system, in conjunction with connectivity projects that link protected areas with other land types, will give native species the best chance of survival in the face of threats, such as climate change and habitat loss.
National parks and reserves have other important benefits, beyond biodiversity conservation:
- They protect many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage places, artifacts and cultural resources. Some protected areas are owned, or jointly managed, by Aboriginal people.
- They allow the public access to many of Australia’s beautiful and diverse natural areas, providing opportunities for recreation and connection with the country’s natural and cultural heritage.
- They provide ecosystem services, which are natural processes that benefit human society, like water filtration and pollination.
- They capture and store carbon in undisturbed soils and vegetation.
- They have economic benefits, generating jobs in tourism, park management and capital works and income from visitors.
National parks and reserves in the GER corridor
A significant portion of the GER corridor is made up of national parks and other protected areas. These include famous national parks such as the Daintree National Park in far northern Queensland, the Royal National Park near Sydney, Kosciuszko National Park in the Australian Alps, and the Grampians National Park in western Victoria. In the NSW section of the GER corridor, national parks and protected areas occupy approximately 48% of the total land area. Around 40% of these areas are declared as wilderness. In some areas, such as the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area in NSW, a number of national parks connect to form an extensive swathe of natural vegetation along the ranges.
Because of the importance of reserves within the GER, they need to be managed primarily for conservation purposes. Recreational opportunities and infrastructure provided in these parks must be low-impact and compatible with the reserves’ environmental values. It is important that tourism programs and operators within national parks adhere to best-practice ecotourism standards. It is also important that high-impact extractive industries, such as forestry and mining, do not occur in national parks and other high conservation value reserves which contain fragile ecosystems.
The NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, a GER partner, is responsible for expanding and managing the system of national parks and other protected areas in NSW. It is constantly working to expand the NSW reserve system through strategic land acquisitions. These acquisitions are particularly targeted towards creating reserves in bioregions that are currently underrepresented in the reserve system, consolidating boundaries and linking existing protected areas, following the strategy laid out in the NSW National Parks Establishment Plan 2008.
GER indirectly supports the protected area system by working with landholders who own land that adjoins national parks and reserves. In some cases, landholders choose to protect bushland on parts of their property, effectively increasing the size of the neighbouring protected area, or linking it to another reserve. In other cases, by managing productive land in a way that is sustainable and compatible with conservation needs, neighbouring landholders can create a protective buffer zone around core habitat in national parks and reserves. This is important because the boundaries of core habitat areas are vulnerable to pressures such as weed invasion or pollution from surrounding land. If neighbouring land uses conflict with conservation, protected areas, no matter how extensive, can become isolated ‘islands’ of habitat, preventing the movement of native species across the landscape.