This document was added or updated on 05/02/2010.
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 three 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.
- Forest: Land clearing has caused a dramatic decrease in Australia’s native forest since European settlement. Although the clearing of native forests can be useful for the purposes of agriculture or urban development, native forests provide valuable services including:
o contributing to global carbon cycling
o conserving and maintaining soil and water resources
o providing habitat for animals and other plants
o providing recreational areas for human use
o providing income for the forestry industry.
In order to be sustainable, native forest management must consider all of the above factors. Plantations allow Australia’s forest industries to expand, while preserving native forest resources. Australia’s total hardwood plantation area has expanded significantly over recent years.
- 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 four 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 and threatened ecological communities.