Australian Bureau of Statistics

Rate the ABS website
ABS Home > Statistics > By Release Date
ABS @ Facebook ABS @ Twitter ABS RSS ABS Email notification service
1301.0 - Year Book Australia, 2008  
Previous ISSUE Released at 11:30 AM (CANBERRA TIME) 07/02/2008   
   Page tools: Print Print Page RSS Feed RSS Bookmark and Share Search this Product  

LAND

The way in which people use the land has significantly changed Australia's natural ecosystems and landscapes. All uses of land exert pressure on the environment. In the 200 or so years since European settlement, vast areas of native vegetation have been cleared for human settlement and the expansion of agriculture. Australia's soils are old and shallow and are susceptible to degradation by agricultural activities.

Australia's population continues to increase, both in numbers and in affluence, putting pressure on land and resources, especially in coastal areas where the majority of the population lives. Australia's estimated resident population of 20.7 million at June 2006 has grown by 1.3 million people (or 6.6%) during the past five years. Future projections indicate that Australia's population could range between 25 and 33 million people by the year 2051, depending on various assumptions about future levels of fertility, mortality and overseas migration (see Population projections in the Population chapter).


Biodiversity

Loss of biodiversity is considered by some as Australia's most serious environmental problem. Biodiversity (or biological diversity) is the variety of all life forms on Earth - the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, the genes they contain, and the ecosystems of which they form a part. Biodiversity is constantly changing. It is increased by genetic change and evolution and is reduced by processes such as habitat degradation and extinction.

Australia's biodiversity is unique. Australia is home to more than one million species, many of which are endemic, that is, they are found nowhere else in the world. About 85% of flowering plants, 84% of mammals, 45% of birds, and 90% of inshore, temperate-zone fish are endemic. In addition, Australia's coastal waters have some of the most diverse marine fauna in the world due to areas such as the Great Barrier Reef. Its biological diversity is globally significant. Australia is recognised as one of only 17 mega-diverse countries, with ecosystems of exceptional variety and uniqueness.

Changes to the landscape and native habitat as a result of human activity has put many of these unique species at risk. Over the last 200 years, many endemic species of plants and animals have become extinct. For the other species of plants and animals whose survival is threatened, a range of management and conservation measures are in place.

Native vegetation is a key element contributing to Australia's biodiversity. Clearance of native vegetation has been identified as one of the most threatening processes for biodiversity loss and species extinction in Australia, through loss and/or degradation of habitat and deterioration of water quality. Vegetation clearance changes the water balance of an area and this may lead to fundamental changes in the local soils and climate, as well as the local water table and its chemical composition. Clearing trees causes dryland salinity through a rise in the water table, bringing natural salts to the surface (in sufficient quantity, these salts are toxic to most plants). Irrigated-land salinity is caused by a similar effect - the application of excess water to land. European farming practices which replaced native vegetation with shallow-rooted crops and pastures have caused a marked increase in the occurrence of salinity in land and water resources.

The impacts of salinity are also wider than lost agricultural production and include damage to water resources, biodiversity, pipelines, houses and roads. Salinity harms Australia's biodiversity (primarily through loss of habitat), while saline water damages bitumen and concrete.

Threatened species

The number of threatened species is one aspect of biodiversity that can be measured with some precision (graph 3.17). The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) classifies listed threatened species into six categories - extinct, extinct in the wild, critically endangered, endangered, vulnerable, and conservation dependent. Since the introduction of this Act, the number of listed threatened fauna rose by nearly 20% from 323 to 384 (of which 130 were birds and 117 were mammals). In June 2006, about half of these species were vulnerable, a third were more seriously threatened (endangered) and the remainder were presumed extinct. There were increases in the numbers of endangered and vulnerable species, but the rise in species assessed as vulnerable was much lower (12%) than those assessed as endangered (23%). Increases may reflect taxonomic revisions and improved reporting, not necessarily a change in conservation status.
3.17 Threatened fauna species - June
Graph: 3.17 Threatened fauna species—June

Table 3.18 details the current list of threatened species, both flora and fauna, as assessed under the Act.

3.18 THREATENED FLORA AND FAUNA SPECIES, By category - 2006

Fishes
Frogs
Reptiles
Birds
Mammals
Other animals
Flora

Extinct
-
4
-
23
27
-
61
Extinct in the wild
1
-
-
-
-
-
-
Critically endangered
2
-
1
5
2
4
57
Endangered
16
15
11
38
34
7
507
Vulnerable
20
12
38
64
53
6
675
Conservation dependent
-
-
-
-
1
-
-
Total
39
31
50
130
117
17
1 300

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, last viewed September 2006, <http://www.deh.gov.au/biodiversity>.


Natural resource management (NRM)

Although Australia's biodiversity continues to be threatened by many factors, much is being done to protect native flora and fauna. One such measure is the protection of land and sea areas (and their biodiversity) inside conservation reserves. National parks and other protected areas are regions (of land and/or sea) specially dedicated to the protection of biodiversity and other natural and cultural resources. They are established under Commonwealth, state or territory laws or by other legal means. All governments participate in the development of a comprehensive, adequate and representative national reserve system as part of Australia's obligation under the United Nations Biodiversity Convention established in 1993.

Most national parks and other protected areas in Australia are declared and managed by state and territory governments although, during the last decade, some protected areas have been established which are managed by conservation or other groups. Declaration and management of Indigenous protected areas - Indigenous-owned land that is managed to protect its natural and associated cultural values - began in 1998.

The area of conservation reserves in each state and territory is recorded in the Collaborative Australian Protected Areas Database (CAPAD) <http://www.deh.gov.au/parks/nrs/capad> (last viewed August 2007) using the World Conservation Union (IUCN) classification system of protected areas. The classification system comprises seven categories based on the main (or primary) management intent of protected areas as follows:
  • IA - Strict nature reserve: managed mainly for science
  • IB - Wilderness area: wilderness protection
  • II - National park: ecosystem conservation and recreation
  • III - National monument: conservation of specific natural features
  • IV - Habitat/species management area: conservation through management intervention
  • V - Protected landscape/seascape: landscape/seascape conservation and recreation
  • VI - Managed resource protected areas: sustainable use of natural ecosystems.
Table 3.19 shows the amount of protected land in each category. Most of the land recorded in CAPAD is public land. About 10.5% of land is protected on the Australian mainland and Tasmania.

3.19 TERRESTRIAL PROTECTED AREAS, By state and territory - 2004

IUCN category
IA
IB
II
III
IV
V
VI
Total

AREA ('000 ha)

New South Wales
775
1 682
3 239
5
208
4
222
6 134
Victoria
263
202
2 849
65
77
139
151
3 746
Queensland
37
-
6 971
44
84
-
1 483
8 619
South Australia
6 248
2 216
2 643
758
1 985
506
10 988
25 344
Western Australia
10 821
-
6 148
74
15
1
10 340
27 400
Tasmania
24
-
1 495
18
187
90
777
2 590
Northern Territory
44
-
6 204
7
263
181
234
6 932
Australian Capital Territory
-
-
129
-
-
-
-
129
Australia
18 213
4 100
29 678
971
2 819
920
24 196
80 895

PROPORTION (%)

New South Wales
1.0
2.1
4.0
-
0.3
-
0.3
7.7
Victoria
1.2
0.9
12.5
0.3
0.3
0.6
0.7
16.5
Queensland
-
-
4.0
-
-
-
0.9
5.0
South Australia
6.3
2.3
2.7
0.8
2.0
0.5
11.2
25.8
Western Australia
4.3
-
2.4
-
-
-
4.1
10.8
Tasmania
0.4
-
21.9
0.3
2.7
1.3
11.4
37.9
Northern Territory
-
-
4.6
-
0.2
0.1
0.2
5.1
Australian Capital Territory
-
-
54.7
-
-
-
-
54.8
Australia
2.4
0.5
3.9
0.1
0.4
0.1
3.1
10.5

- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells)
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage.


With 63% of Australian land in private ownership, efforts to protect biodiversity now extend beyond the reserve system into some of this private land. This occurs through community landcare groups and conservation agreements made between landholders and governments. Some companies and community groups also operate conservation reserves. Indigenous communities are also involved in managing land, for example, Kakadu, Uluru - Kata Tjuta National Parks (Northern Territory) and the Booderee National Park and Botanic Gardens (New South Wales) are all managed jointly with traditional owners and the Australian Government. This provides an emphasis on maintaining and strengthening traditional ties with the land, which relies heavily on ensuring the land and the ecosystems it supports are in good shape.

NRM on Australian farms

In 2004-05, farmers reported having 324 million hectares of native vegetation on their land. This represents 73% of total agricultural land in Australia. A significant proportion of this reported area was in the rangelands, an area outside the cleared intensive land use zone. Farmers often reported these large rangeland areas as being covered entirely by uncleared native vegetation.

Farmers in Australia spent over $3.3b preventing and/or managing NRM issues and more than $1.1b to prevent or manage weeds in 2004-05. While weed activities were the most costly in dollar terms, it was land and soil issues which, on average, proved the most time consuming. On average, agricultural establishments undertaking land and soil activities spent 51 person days of effort on these activities. Of the agricultural industries, the Grain growing industry spent the most overall on NRM in 2004-05 (approximately $772m), followed by the Beef cattle industry ($639m).

NRM issues were reported as being present on 86.5% (112,357) of agricultural establishments in 2004-05, whereas 92% (119,417) reported undertaking some form of activity to prevent and/or manage these issues (table 3.20). This suggests a number of farmers preventively managed their holdings in order to avoid NRM issues affecting their land.

3.20 NATURAL RESOURCE MANAGEMENT (NRM) - 2004-05

no.
%

Agricultural establishments
129 934
100.0
Agricultural establishments reporting native vegetation
81 815
63.0
Agricultural establishments reporting NRM activities
Any NRM activity
119 417
91.9
Native vegetation
50 634
61.9
Weeds
104 487
80.4
Pests
99 136
76.3
Land and soil
75 505
58.1
Water
42 685
32.9
Agricultural establishments reporting NRM issues
Any NRM issue
112 357
86.5
Native vegetation
36 408
44.5
Weeds
95 062
73.2
Pests
90 171
69.4
Land and soil
60 048
46.2
Water
49 523
38.1

Source: Natural Resource Management on Australian Farms (4620.0).


Decreased value of production and decreased value of holding were the two most common impacts of reported weed issues across Australia in 2004-05. Approximately 82% of agricultural establishments in New South Wales with weed issues reported decreased value of production as one of the weed issues. Increased fire risk also rated highly across the states and territories, but particularly so in the Northern Territory where 62% of agricultural establishments with weed issues reported this as a concern.

In 2004-05, decreased livestock production (63%) and decreased crop production or crop damage (60%) were the main impacts reported by agricultural establishments with pest issues. Decreased crop production or crop damage were particularly prevalent in Tasmania (79%), Western Australia (77%) and South Australia (72%). Approximately a quarter of agricultural establishments with pest issues reported damage to native vegetation as an impact.

Erosion, soil acidity and soil compaction were commonly reported land and soil issues across most states and territories. Dryland salinity was particularly significant in Western Australia, where 44% of agricultural establishments with land and soil issues reported this problem. Surface waterlogging also caused problems in Tasmania (51%) and Western Australia (41%).

The most frequently reported water issues in 2004-05 were surface and ground water availability, coinciding with the drought conditions experienced in many parts of Australia at that time. Surface water availability was a particularly significant issue in New South Wales and Queensland, where approximately 73% of agricultural establishments with water issues reported this as an issue in these states. The drought affecting eastern Australia during 2004-05 was also evident in the Australian Capital Territory, where 78% of agricultural establishments with water issues reported surface water availability as a major issue.
Waste

The generation and disposal of waste is an environmental issue of increasing importance. In 2002-03, Australians generated more than 32 mill. tonnes of solid waste, in excess of 1,600 kilograms of waste per person (table 3.21). Of this amount, approximately 27% of solid waste came from municipal sources, 29% from the commercial and industrial sector, and 42% from the construction and demolition sector.

3.21 SOLID WASTE GENERATION - 2002-03

Municipal
Commercial and industrial
Construction and demolition
Total
Per person
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t
'000 t
kg

New South Wales
3 326
4 196
4 649
12 171
1 828
Victoria
2 291
2 743
3 575
8 609
1 763
Queensland(a)
1 742
959
1 166
3 973
1 057
Western Australia
833
744
1 945
3 522
1 820
South Australia
600
677
2 156
3 433
2 255
Australian Capital Territory(a)
111
150
250
674
1 420
Australia(b)
8 903
9 469
13 741
32 382
1 639

(a) Total waste generation figures include organics not disaggregated by source sector.
(b) Excludes Tasmania and the Northern Territory.
Source: Productivity Commission, 'Waste Management', Report no. 38.


In 2002-03, of the total waste generated (32.4 mill. tonnes), more than half (54%) was disposed to landfill and the remainder was recycled. Recycling has increased over the last 20 years to the point where it is a widely accepted part of waste management activities in Australia. Recycling in 2002-03 accounted for 57% of construction and demolition waste generated (7.8 mill. tonnes), 44% of commercial and industrial waste generated (4.2 mill. tonnes), and 30% of municipal waste generated (2.7 mill. tonnes). Waste recovered for recycling in 2002-03 was approximately 15 mill. tonnes. Table 3.22 shows an increase in waste generation per person, and a decline in waste to landfill achieved through a large increase in recycling over the period 1996-97 to 2002-03. The Environment chapter contains more information about household waste management practices and recycling.

3.22 WASTE GENERATION, Selected indicators(a)

1996-97
2002-03
Change from 1996-97 to 2002-03
tonnes
tonnes
%

Waste to landfill
21 220 500
17 423 000
-18
Waste recycled
1 528 000
14 959 000
879
Waste generation
22 748 500
32 382 000
42
Waste to landfill per person
1.15
0.87
-24
Waste to landfill per $m GDP
41.76
23.47
-44
Waste generation per person
1.23
1.62
32
Waste generation per $m GDP
44.77
44.07
-2
Recycling per person
0.08
0.75
838
Recycling per $m GDP
3.00
20.37
579

(a) Gross Domestic Product (GDP) grew by 4.5% in the 5-year period; total population grew by 7%.
Source: Department of the Environment and Heritage, 'Submission to the Productivity Commission Inquiry into Waste Generation and Resource Efficiency '.





Previous PageNext Page


Bookmark and Share. Opens in a new window


Commonwealth of Australia 2014

Unless otherwise noted, content on this website is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.5 Australia Licence together with any terms, conditions and exclusions as set out in the website Copyright notice. For permission to do anything beyond the scope of this licence and copyright terms contact us.