Recovery Programmes in Australia: the Importance of Community Organisations in their Implementation and Success

Geoff Butler and Mark Richardson

Australian Network for Plant Conservation
P.O.Box 1777 Canberra, ACT 2601 Australia

Abstract

As a species we have seriously denuded the biodiversity of our home, but at the same time we are the only life-form that has the potential to save the global environment.

Much good work is being done to rectify the problem, and in many cases it is community groups that have drawn the problems to the attention of governments, and provided the pressure and impetus for change. There is no doubt that many of the challenges can be overcome, but it is well beyond the scope of government agencies alone. Community groups are, and will continue to be, an absolutely essential component of plant conservation activities in Australia, and they can be a driving force behind species recovery programmes. Our experience has been that there are many community groups that are keen to assist in all sorts of ways. However, there is still a need for many government agencies and scientists to recognise this fact, and that what is required is better cooperation and communication between government and non-government agencies. This requirement has been recognised by the Australian Network for Plant Conservation (ANPC) and some botanic gardens and community organisations, and we believe that its recognition in Australia will lead to many successful species recovery programmes, some examples of which are given.

Introduction

The future of the human species and a great percentage of all other life forms on this planet is no longer assured. We face the serious breakdown of ecological systems throughout the world, the final consequences of which cannot be accurately predicted, but which we know will be detrimental. Until we seriously address the issue of our population level, the fickle speculative arrangements that govern our current financial systems and our 'development' mentalities, the problems we face will compound exponentially over the next few decades. We can no longer continue to demand or expect 5% annual increases in gross national product combined with increasing population levels, and still retain an environment that will sustain us.

Only two hundred and four years of European settlement in Australia have led to environmental problems of an immense magnitude (erosion, salination, forest die back, pollution, waste-disposal problems, deforestation). Unfortunately, most of these problems have been treated as separate issues, but more recently they are being recognised and treated as interrelated problems. There is now a deeper understanding in the general community of the complexity of biological systems and a recognition that the biodiversity that surrounds us provides our whole quality of life. It is also true that a large percentage of European Australians have not really adapted to the Australian environment, and this has increased the amount of damage suffered by Australian ecosystems. Poor land-use techniques, introduced vegetation and unsympathetic attitudes to the flora have all contributed to the problem. Land-clearing is still taking place, despite the recession and falling values of agricultural produce, as is further fragmentation of natural areas and wildlife corridors. For this reason, it is highly likely that the number of endangered species may rise in future years (as has happened in New Zealand). In many areas the fragmentation of natural areas allows the invasion of exotic weeds and feral animals, providing further pressure on these areas.

Fortunately, many people are recognising the challenges ahead. While there is still a need for a substantial change in attitude, there are many non government organisations and individuals who are lobbying desperately to ensure the survival of endangered or threatened species. The ANPC has strongly promoted the involvement of community organisations in plant conservation activities, especially recovery programmes for endangered species, and we have embarked on a recovery plan in conjunction with community organisations. This will be described in more detail shortly.

Recovery Programmes

Recovery programmes for endangered species are now being used in some countries to attempt to:

The main aim of recovery programmes is to establish self-sustaining populations in the wild. Recovery programmes are documents that specify:

Recovery programmes are not only concerned with the species to be conserved, but also with the habitat in which it occurs, and therefore there are benefits that flow on in habitat conservation and/or rejuvenation. They will play an increasingly important part in the preservation of endangered species throughout the world in the future. At the same time, there are a few potential dangers if recovery plans are successful, and they should be made known:

Botanic gardens will play a major role in recovery programmes, as they will be able to provide correct gene storage, supply plant material for projects, and provide for education and publicity on conservation work. There is one other very important aspect of the role of botanic gardens, and that is the recognition of the potential of community organisations in recovery programmes. It will be of primary importance that gardens provide training as well as work closely with community groups on these projects, as there may well be a requirement for long-term monitoring of these populations into the future. Community groups could well provide the labour for this.

Community Groups and Recovery Programmes

We are gradually recognising that the challenges we face if we are to preserve biodiversity are far too immense for reliance solely on governments, especially in developing nations (sustainable utilization). There is a need for communities to realise that we are all responsible for species decline, but that we also have the power to rectify the situation. Community groups have many advantages e.g:

However, there are some points that need to be considered when co-opting community groups onto projects:

Examples of Community-Assisted Recovery Plans

The ANPC is currently working on a recovery project for an endangered un named Grevillea species in conjunction with the New South Wales National Parks & Wildlife Service (NPWS), the Tumut Shire Council and two community organisations - the Society for Growing Australian Plants (SGAP) Canberra Region and the Tumut Ecology Reserve Trust (TERT).

The Grevillea was discovered only recently, in a moderately densely populated valley used for rural activities. The valley was settled in the 1830s, and the Grevillea went un noticed for some 160 years. The current populations stand at some 90 known individuals. The species is highly endangered as most individuals occur within a river flood zone. There is also serious competition from introduced weeds and feral browsing animals, and the area is subject to an electricity line easement and road easement.

A recovery plan was prepared by the ANPC in conjunction with the NPWS, but the bulk of the recovery activities will be conducted by members of the SGAP. Already the SGAP have:

Since the conference that resulted in the formation of the ANPC took place, a very active group consisting of the Tasmanian National Parks & Wildlife Service, SGAP's Tasmanian Region, and the University of Tasmania have also started projects on Carex tasmanica, Ranunculus prasinus and Stenanthemum pimelioides.

Conclusion

As in most other countries, Australia desperately needs more funding for research into its flora, in Australians case through the work currently being carried out on the Flora of Australia and the Rare or Threatened Australian Plants (ROTAP) listings. Many of these species of unknown status are likely to be endangered or highly threatened. We also need to consider the whole continent as one area, setting our priorities for conservation work nationally rather than on a state-by-state basis. We also need to examine more closely how the conservation dollars that are made available are used. It should also be recognised that community groups will continue to play a major role in endangered species recovery programmes, and that botanic gardens should move rapidly to provide support for these groups by providing training and working with them on plant conservation activities.

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