Assessing the management context component of management effectiveness considers the availability of information to understand and address environmental issues (understanding) and the adequacy of plans and policies (planning). In relation to biodiversity management, we would expect that managers would have access to adequate information on:
- the environmental and social significance of biodiversity
- current pressures and emerging risks to biodiversity
- resilience of biodiversity to expected and unexpected risks.
We would also expect that policies and plans are in place to clarify objectives, roles and responsibilities for managing biodiversity.
All jurisdictions have reported concerns about the adequacy of information on which to base assessment of the state and trends in biodiversity and to identify priorities for action. We conclude that not only is information inadequate nationally, but that investment in filling gaps is also inadequate in relation to the potential benefits of having that information. Box 8.7 provides some insights on monitoring and prioritisation of investment from a leading researcher in these fields. One key point made is that there is a need for strategic thinking in the collection of information. Where information collection is not strategic—or worse, is used as an excuse to delay decisions—there is a high risk that it will simply document ongoing decline. Every recent state and territory report has:
- argued that halting the decline in biodiversity (and eventually enabling an increase) is important for ethical and moral reasons, and for the survival and wellbeing of humans
- identified the same set of driving factors (except that awareness and concern about climate change has risen)
- expressed concern that levels of information are inadequate to make robust assessments of states and trends and, hence, to assess the effectiveness of mitigation measures
- recognised that measures taken in the previous reporting period have not achieved their objectives of slowing or reversing drivers of biodiversity decline.
An exception to the inadequacy of biodiversity information is the substantial collection of data held by Birds Australia and collected by its volunteer network. However, while monitoring is detecting trends in bird populations, it may not be frequent enough to isolate the underlying causes.85 Furthermore, monitoring to assess whether management interventions work is either lacking or not strategic, and may be better done using targeted bird monitoring.85
As part of the implementation of the National Plan for Environmental Information,16 data held by government agencies are being reviewed to improve the relevance and scope of data collection, and to make it available to the public. A recent review of datasets held by the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences149 is an example of this approach.