Biodiversity conservation by pastoralists and graziers

More than 100 pastoral businesses participated in the research, including family farms, Indigenous-owned stations and corporate land managers. They managed a combined area of more than 250,000 square kilometres.

The conservation reserves in north Australia’s tropical savannas are insufficiently large or connected  to safeguard the region’s diversity of animals, plants and ecosystems for future generations. Pastoralists manage vast tracts of land. The average size of a pastoral station is around 250,000  hectares, with many stations exceeding one million hectares (larger than greater Melbourne). Consequently, individual decisions can have long-ranging impacts for the region’s natural assets, including biodiversity. Pastoralists can therefore make significant contributions to the conservation effort.

In northern Australia, pastoralists do not receive financial recognition for looking after biodiversity on their land, but other countries and Australia’s southern states have implemented agri-environmental schemes that make biodiversity conservation attractive. Suitable conservation contracts could help pastoralists make a strategic and valuable contribution to reversing the decline of northern Australia’s biodiversity.

Research meetings and visits were undertaken on pastoral stations from Broome to Charters Towers.  A survey was used to investigate how pastoralists managed their operations and made decisions. In the survey pastoralists were presented with a series of choices involving hypothetical contracts for paid biodiversity conservation, and asked whether any of the options were attractive to them and what factors would influence their involvement.

The hypothetical conservation contract options investigated included:

  1. ‘Strict conservation’, which required pastoralists to exclude cattle from a selected area of land for the entire contract.
  2. ‘Conservation with grazing’, where the length and timing of cattle access to land was determined by the needs of native plants and animals. For example, by excluding cattle from wetlands during the brolga breeding season.

Northern pastoralists have a strong stewardship ethic towards the land, biodiversity and cattle. They are usually dependent on one income stream (beef cattle) so the opportunity to diversify enterprises and receive income from a range of sources is highly desirable. The vast majority of pastoralists are willing to participate in contractual biodiversity conservation on parts of their properties, provided suitable contracts are available.

A diversity of contract options will help address biodiversity needs, while matching contract conditions with pastoralists’ business conditions and personal preferences. In general the project found that pastoralists are more likely to engage in contractual biodiversity conservation if:

  • their land is less productive;
  • they understand the relationship between biodiversity and grazing;
  • contracts allow grazing on the contract area during certain times of the year;
  • contracts are shorter;
  • contracts allow a degree of flexibility; and
  • the stewardship payment is higher.

The research happened across the tropical savannas of northern Australia. Case study areas were identified in collaboration with industry associations and regional NRM groups, taking regional needs, research priorities and willingness to participate into consideration.

The project was led by Professor Romy Greiner at Charles Darwin University. Romy is an ecological economist who contributes research to the solution of sustainability problems in natural resource based industries, including agriculture, grazing, tourism and fishing.

Project Leader:
Prof Romy Greiner

Charles Darwin University
[email protected]