Private land conservation in NSW

The National Reserve System is Australia's network of public, Indigenous and private protected areas.

NSW is nearly 81 million hectares. Of this, about nine per cent—or over seven million hectares—is conserved in NSW national parks (also known as public protected areas). There are 10 Indigenous protected areas in NSW over 16,000 hectares. The NRS also includes private protected areas subject to permanent covenants.

There is a long history of private land conservation (PLC) in NSW over more than five decades. Historically, schemes to support landholders to participate in PLC have been managed by the National Parks and Wildlife Service, the NSW Nature Conservation Trust and the NSW environment department (most recently the former NSW Office of Environment and Heritage).

The legal mechanism of a wildlife refuge proclamation was introduced more than half a century ago in the NSW Fauna Protection Act 1948, and the first wildlife refuge was proclaimed in 1951. These were eventually incorporated into the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. The first in-perpetuity or permanent conservation agreement (which is binding on current and successive landholders and the NSW Government) was established in 1990 under section 69 of the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. Many individuals and non-government organisations also support or participate in private land conservation in NSW outside formal schemes.

Key facts

The BCT currently manages 941 in-perpetuity PLC agreements with landholders over more than 244,500 hectares. These permanent agreements count as part of the NRS.

In addition, the BCT manages a further 287 permanent offset agreements over more than 49,000 hectares. These agreements count as part of the NRS and offset the impacts of development in NSW.

The BCT also manages 806 term or revocable agreements across more than 1.9 million hectares. Of these, 30 agreements across 8,585 hectares are long-term agreements (for 15 years or longer) under the BCT’s new Conservation Management Program. These term or revocable agreements do not count as part of the NRS.

In total, the BCT is currently managing 2,034 PLC agreements with landholders over more than 2.196 million hectares. This represents 2.7 per cent of NSW.

This is a good start. However, more than 70 per cent of the biodiversity of NSW is located on private land, so private land conservation needs to play a much bigger role if we are to achieve good biodiversity conservation outcomes, meet NRS targets and establish a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative system of protected areas.

Australia’s Strategy for the National Reserve System establishes quantitative targets for comprehensiveness and representativeness. NSW is committed to building a Comprehensive, Adequate and Representative (CAR) national system of protected areas. Only one of NSW’s 18 bioregions, the Australian Alps, has met C and R targets; and the South East Corner bioregion is the only other to have met R targets across its three subregions. According to the draft NSW National Parks System Directions Statement, we still need to protect examples of 335 NSW Landscapes in public or private protected areas to meet R targets in NSW.

To find out more about how the BCT is adding to the network of private protected areas visit our PLC outcomes page.

The way forward

To guide the BCT’s work, the NSW Government has set out priority investment areas, investment principles and targets in its Biodiversity Conservation Investment Strategy, including a target for the BCT to sample 120 unrepresented or under-represented NSW Landscapes in conservation agreements with private landholders by 2038.

To meet this and other targets, the NSW Government has committed more than $350 million over the five years from 2019-20 to fund the BCT to deliver private land conservation programs, and to $70 million per annum ongoing (escalated with inflation) subject to performance reviews.

The BCT delivers this investment via it Conservation Management Program and its Conservation Partners Program. Under these programs, the BCT uses a range of delivery mechanisms to encourage and support landholders to participate in private land conservation, including fixed price offers, conservation tenders, voluntary applications, grants, co-investment partnerships and a revolving fund.