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Prevention better than cure when it comes to protecting our native animals and plants

Rebecca Spindler
Published 28 Jun 2018 
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Dr Rebecca Spindler (Executive Manager, Science and Conservation).<br/> Dr Rebecca Spindler (Executive Manager, Science and Conservation).

Recently the Government updated its annual threatened species list, and again it has grown. While some species have been removed from the list altogether and some have been included because of increased information, there is a persistent trend in declining conservation status of Australian species.

When it comes to stemming the nation’s extinction rate, the old healthcare adage ‘prevention is better than cure’ is equally applicable. We shouldn’t be waiting for the bellwether signal that a species is on the endangered list before acting; we need to be protecting habitat well before that stage. It will cost less money, and improve success rates if we aim to follow this strategy.

The Threatened Species Commissioner, Dr. Sally Box, and her team are doing great work with limited resources, but funding to protect our utterly unique and incredible wildlife and flora needs to be prioritised when it’s Budget time – regardless of their conservation status. Balancing the urgent needs of the community – such as healthcare, education, and infrastructure – against those of the environment is hard. Many assume incorrectly that our natural resources take care of themselves.

But this growing threatened species list is telling us otherwise. W\hile many conservation agencies around the world wait until a species is threatened or endangered to prioritise action, often that is too late to bring a species back to a thriving condition on the land – all species are important and now is the time to act if we are going to stem the tide of species flowing onto the threatened species list. Conservation of all species in landscape is inherent to the large scale approach that Bush Heritage employs and I am enormously proud that we take this approach and employ the precautionary principle and act early when we see that a habitat needs protection.

The overarching threats of habitat degradation and climate change continue to place our species at risk, and must be addressed. On the first problem: animals and plants lose their homes when development is badly planned or too rapid, and when land is overgrazed or over-cleared for industry. I’m not suggesting that development should stop, but I do believe there needs to be more collaboration to find solutions that are both long-sighted and pragmatic. Take the Nightingale development in Melbourne as a best-practice example; an environmentally sustainable building with no car parking to encourage use of readily available public transport, no air-conditioning to reduce emissions and a rooftop garden that inspires both cooking and community aspects of nature. Or Carlton & United Breweries, who are moving towards 100% renewable energy by adding a rooftop solar installation and is signing an agreement with a solar farm to provide most of the brewery’s power needs for the next decade. Big business needs to be applauded when they go the extra mile to employ innovative solutions such as these, where profit and environmental protection go hand in hand

On climate change: experts have proposed we could reduce our emissions by 25% by restoring 25 million hectares – about 3% of Australia’s land mass. In doing so, we effectively solve two problems – reduce emissions and increase habitat, both key drivers of protecting species. As respected climate change scientist Professor Lesley Hughes has noted: “the inevitable upshot of that rapid change is that many species will find themselves in environments that are no longer liveable. If they can't adapt where they are or move somewhere more suitable, extinctions will necessarily follow.”

Think of the harsh desert landscape that makes up such a big chunk of our country’s DNA – imagine that landscape with even less frequent rainfall. Now imagine that weather system travelling further down the country, and influencing every season. The ABC recently reported that Australia recorded temperatures of 45 degrees Celsius in late March for the first time in history. Sydney, Adelaide and many other locations had their hottest or equal-hottest April days on record, as did the states of South Australia, Victoria and New South Wales.

Do we want an Australia where our legacy for our grandchildren is one of the highest rates of species loss in the developed world? I for one want a better outcome for the next generation.

The good news is that there are many of us working in private conservation that are helping to plug the gaps and help threatened species back from the brink. Bush Heritage Australia currently owns 40 properties across ecologically important lands, and over six million hectares of Australia – many of it in partnerships with Aboriginal Traditional Owner groups and pastoralists. It’s with this collaborative landscape scale approach that we’re helping to protect the habitats over at least 235 threatened species – and all of their neighbours.

There is a need to do more to stem the flow of species onto the threatened species list but it’s going to take a collective effort. We need enthusiastic participation across Governments and sectors - from big business to agriculture, farming and technology - to help come with innovative solutions to benefit a modern and thriving planet.