University research explores health and wellbeing benefits of landholders in private land conservation

It's often quipped, with studies to back it, that being in nature has a positive impact on our health and wellbeing.

We know too, that landholders across NSW, be they primary producers, hobby farmers or lifestyle property owners, say they feel a deep connection with the land they manage.

In fact, research for NSW Local Land Services in 2021 found "achieving pleasure, enjoyment or happiness" from the land was a top motivator for supporting land management practices to improve land quality. (Landholder benchmarking research 2021: Prepared for NSW Local Land Services August 2021, Ipsos)

And, almost half of that study’s participants said a "healthy outdoor life" was among their business goals for the property.

A new study led by the Queensland University of Technology, supported by the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust through its research strategy, and partially funded by the Australian Wildlife Society and the Society for Conservation Biology, aims to learn more about the health and wellbeing benefits of private land conservation, with landholders from across NSW and through networks such as the Australian Landcare, participating in the study.

Principal researcher Erica Nolasco said the study would explore how we could measure health, wellbeing and life satisfaction gains from protecting threatened habitats and species alongside the biodiversity gains on conservation sites.

Erica said conservation gains were measured using the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust’s Ecological Monitoring Method, recognised and endorsed by Accounting for Nature’s environmental accounting framework.

However, she said, this research would consider indicators to measure health, wellbeing, and life satisfaction gains from protecting threatened habitats and species, and whether they could inform program design or policy direction for future private land conservation initiatives.

“I genuinely believe we can have healthy land and water along with prosperity,” Erica said.

It’s a sentiment Owen and Helen Huggins, of Savernake, in the Riverina region of southwest NSW would agree with. The couple has managed areas on their property under a conservation agreement with the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust since 2019.

"Nothing gives us greater pleasure than to see new plants establishing, great joy in seeing rare species being evident, and when we see that, we see a balance being achieved," Owen Huggins said.

"You can run a strong business, with good livestock and see conservation values achieved," he said.

For Helen, who grew up on the property, it’s also a deep and satisfying connection to the land.

"It's where I was born, it's my home, the attraction of the bush and just the feeling of the place, it runs through my veins. Savernake means so much to me,” Helen said.
With Master qualifications in ecological modelling, Erica, from Brazil, has been in Australia for the past six years, volunteering in environmental organisations and participating in local citizen science research.

Landholders interested in participating in the research are invited to contact Erica and the research team to share the impact of managing a conservation area on their health and wellbeing.

Erica will be conducting in-person interviews with farmers in Central West and Central Tablelands (NSW) during February and March 2024, and later in 2024, NSW landholders in private land conservation will be invited to share their experience via a survey.

You can register your interest in the project online here, or reach out directly to Erica at [email protected] or 0493 816 167.