This chapter provides an account of the most significant and recent human impacts on our land. It highlights improvements in land management over some parts of Australia, as well as several adverse trends. Our focus is relatively narrow—primarily on land use, vegetation and soil. In particular, we focus on the land management practices and landscape processes that, in our view, warrant most attention.
The chapter starts with an introduction to Australia’s soils, vegetation and systems of land use. An assessment is then made of the condition and trends in soil and vegetation across the country. This is followed by an analysis of major pressures on soils and vegetation, and the potential threats to the services and products they provide.
The effectiveness of management for sustaining and protecting our soils and vegetation under different land uses is then considered. The chapter describes the resilience (ability to cope with change) of the land and the current risks to land function, and concludes with an assessment of the outlook for Australia’s land resources.
The larger context for this chapter is the magnitude of the pressures emerging globally on land use. Stated simply, the world needs to increase food production as the population grows, but there are significant constraints to achieving this, including:
- water scarcity
- limited increases in available arable land
- apparent plateaus in yield for major crops
- the need for reduced emissions of GHGs from agriculture
- increasing costs of energy and nutrients
- widespread land degradation
- risks from contaminants
- the likely implications of climate change for biodiversity and current land use systems.