KEYNOTE SPEAKER: DR JAMES FITZSIMONS – Building a collaborative national reserve system from public, private and indigenous lands: Lessons from Australia

(Thursday 9 November 2017)

Over the past 20 years Australia has been systematically expanding the National Reserve System (NRS), the national system of protected areas on all tenures, using the principles of ecological comprehensiveness, representative and adequacy. On land this expansion has been the result of governments upgrading public land or purchasing private land, indigenous people choosing to declare their lands as Indigenous Protected Areas, private landholders placing protective agreements on their properties, and the rise of the private land trusts in purchasing high priority sites for conservation. The Australian protected area system now comprises over 19% of the terrestrial land mass and over 33% of our marine Exclusive Economic Zone. Analysis shows that recent growth has been increasingly strategic – in the year 2000 less than 40% of terrestrial bioregions had reservation levels greater than 10% (the 2010 Convention on Biological Diversity target), but in 2016 this rose to 66%. The growth in the NRS has been complemented by a range of other approaches to conserve biodiversity on private land, from purely voluntary to incentive-based agreements, and large-scale connectivity networks. However, growth has slowed over the past few years with 1) the cessation of the Australian Government’s dedicated National Reserve System Program fund for land acquisitions and related loss of the NRS policy branch within the environment department, 2) the decline of inter-jurisdictional collaboration, and 3) the ideological shift in some jurisdictions away from protected area expansion. With less than 43% of Australia’s bioregions meeting the 2020 Convention target of 17% reservation (Aichi Target 11) as at 2016 there are still significant gaps to fill if Australia is to meet its international obligations. Options for restarting the process of strategic growth toward a truly comprehensive, adequate and representative National Reserve System are outlined, as are lessons for other countries from the Australian experience.

Dr James Fitzsimons is the Director of Conservation for The Nature Conservancy’s Australia Program where he oversees the organisation’s conservation planning, science, implementation and policy functions. He is an Adjunct Professor at the School of Life and Environmental Sciences, Deakin University, Australia, with particular research interests in the fields of protected area policy, practical conservation planning and mechanisms to integrate conservation outcomes on public and private lands and has edited four books (Innovation for 21st Century Conservation, Linking Australia’s Landscapes, Valuing Nature, and Big, Bold and Blue: Lessons from Australia’s Marine Protected Areas). He has previously worked in the fields of conservation policy and planning for government environment departments and agencies, and for non-govern­ment environment organisations.