Australia's population continues to increase, both in numbers and in affluence, putting great pressure on land and resources. Since European settlement in 1788, the way in which people use the land has significantly changed Australia's natural systems and landscapes. Some land management practices place enormous pressures on the land which can result in damage to ecosystems, reductions in biodiversity and degradation of soils and waterways.
This section is divided into two main parts:
- Land: Australia’s landscape has been highly modified since European settlement. Native vegetation, which provides a protective cover for the land, has been removed or degraded in many areas due to urbanisation, agriculture, mining, pastoralism and infrastructure development. Altering land from its natural state inevitably results in changes to soil health and landscape functionality. If persistent, these changes can lead to environmental problems and rapid deterioration of both aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems, which can also have economic and social impacts.
- Biodiversity: Australia is home to more than one million species, many of which are endemic – that is, they are found only in Australia. Globally, Australia is recognised as one of 17 “mega-diverse” countries, with ecosystems of exceptional variety and uniqueness. Changes to the landscape and native habitat as a result of human activity have put many of these unique species at risk. Ideally, the trends included in this section would consider all Australian biodiversity – the abundance and diversity of micro-organisms, plants and animals, the genes they contain and the ecosystems which they form. To measure change as comprehensively as this would be difficult, if not impossible, and so here we focus on seven trends. These trends are closely linked to the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cwlth) and include: Parks and protected areas, threatened fauna, threatened flora, threatened ecological communities, the register of critical habitat, key threatening processes and the number of recovery plans.