Pastoralists support paid biodiversity activities

13 March 2013

A survey of pastoral property owners across northern Australia has found that the majority are interested in diversifying their income stream by undertaking paid biodiversity conservation activities.

The study, led by Charles Darwin University’s Professor Romy Greiner, gauged pastoral interest in conservation contracts by presenting hypothetical situations.

It also explored how pastoralists manage their operations and make decisions, and which contract features would make them most likely to get involved.

“The results are good news from a conservation perspective. Very little of Australia’s tropical savannas are formally protected, so contributions by pastoralists are critical to safeguard biodiversity,” Professor Greiner said.

The hypothetical conservation options tested included strict conservation, where cattle were excluded, and ‘rotational grazing options’, where the length and timing of cattle access to land was determined by the needs of native plants and animals.

Options also varied in how much they paid, contract length, whether there was flexibility in times of ‘exceptional circumstances’, and who monitored the contracts.

The research took Professor Greiner more than 25,000km across the north, between Charters Towers in Queensland and Broome in Western Australia, where she held research meetings and visited remote stations.

Among participating properties were family operated farms, Indigenous owned stations, and corporate pastoralists.

“The average property size was around 250,000 hectares, and some were larger than a million hectares,” Professor Greiner said.

“This means that even if pastoralists enrol only a fraction of their land in conservation contracts, a lot of environmental benefits are possible with the right investment partner.

“As expected, willingness to participate in the hypothetical conservation contracts was dependent on the payment on offer, relative to land productivity.

“Payment offers ranged between $1 and $32 per hectare per year, which reflected the diverse range of land and land productivity across the study area.”

“We found that adding contract flexibility greatly increased people’s willingness to be involved, while longer contracts were less attractive than shorter ones.

The large number of survey responses has delivered a good understanding of pastoral preferences for different contract features, the amount of land potentially available for contractual biodiversity conservation, and a whole-of-industry response to the concept.

Preliminary results are now being discussed with survey participants and other members of the northern pastoral industry, with a final report expected in November.

The findings can inform existing and future conservation and offset programs.

Read more about the project here.

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