Assessing heritage management outcomes requires informed evaluation of the way in which current pressures and emerging risks to heritage values are being reduced and the resilience of heritage is being improved to retain values. In short, this is an assessment of whether management objectives are being met.

A nationwide lack of monitoring and evaluation programs makes these assessments challenging and highly reliant on individual examples, anecdotal evidence and phenomenological data. Therefore, the judgements presented in this section are based on opinions expressed during the workshops held as part of the SoE 2011 reporting process (as outlined in Chapter 1).

4.5.1 Natural heritage

Australian national parks and other recognised natural heritage places are accessible to the community, strongly promoted both within Australia and overseas, presented to visitors in engaging ways and often important elements in community identity and sense of place.

Each Australian jurisdiction has a separate statutory basis and different structures and processes for natural heritage place management. At a national level, there is a strong focus on the National Reserve System, whose targets provide one way to assess the outcome for Australia's reserved lands. Judged in this way, our reserved lands include a sample of more than 10% of 51 of the nation's 85 bioregions. However, taking other factors into account such as subregions determined by vegetation communities, habitat and whole-of-landscape connectivity, reserved lands possibly cover as little as one-third of an adequate selection.18

Limited information is available on the conservation outcomes for natural heritage in Australian national parks, as only New South Wales and Victoria undertake substantive formal monitoring and evaluation of the state of parks (Box 9.34). Australia's Strategy for the National Reserve System 2009–2030 proposes that the states and territories standardise approaches to data collection and evaluation of management effectiveness.17 The sparse data that are available suggest that heritage values are generally being retained, although some decline in habitat and species loss is evident. Virtually no reliable national data are available to make objective judgements about natural heritage outside the parks system. The data we have relate primarily to inputs—many natural heritage areas have management measures in place to address threats within the bounds of available resources.

Box 9.34 Evaluation of heritage management effectiveness in Yuraygir National Park

Yuraygir National Park protects 65 kilometres of undeveloped coastline, the longest such stretch in New South Wales. Its rainforest, dry eucalypt forest, heathland and wetlands contain threatened species including the ground parrot, spotted-tailed quoll and sand spurge. A major fire in a remote section of the coastline in October 2009 led to an expansion of weeds in the park, with negative effects on reserve values. However, the thinned understorey presented an opportunity for weed control, with a focus on bitou bush and lantana.

After careful planning, approximately 95% of a five-kilometre stretch of coastline had ground-based and aerial weed control of post-fire weed growth. Following this intense control, regenerating natural vegetation has flourished. The work has protected three newly discovered populations of endangered sand spurge and two populations of sea bindweed, a priority species within the Bitou Threat Abatement Program.

The accumulated weed seedbank will need ongoing attention, as will exposed dunes because of their slower natural regeneration. The outcomes will continue to be monitored through on-ground surveys, and subsequent actions will continue to support recovery of native vegetation.

In New South Wales, the results of programs like this are captured annually through regional operational plans and the triennial management effectiveness survey called State of the Parks. The survey provides a standard framework for assessing all parks in the New South Wales reserve system and brings together multiple sources of evidence to contribute to evaluations, such as staff and specialist experience, planning documents, research and monitoring results, community information and corporate data. After a comprehensive review, this information is used to determine the overall effectiveness of management for issues across the reserve system and support ongoing planning and decision-making.

her-box-9-34-bitou-bef.jpg her-box-9-34-bitou-aft.jpg

Jones Point before (left) and after (right) bitou bush control (photos by Jeff Thomas, New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service)

Indigenous heritage

There is no cohesive national picture for Indigenous heritage and no adequate action by government agencies to coordinate management of Indigenous heritage resources and share information. Assessing outcomes for Australia's Indigenous heritage is therefore severely hampered by lack of comparable data and the absence of formal monitoring and evaluation programs.

Differences between jurisdictional systems prevent reliable conclusions being drawn about the coverage of listed and protected Indigenous heritage places. However, the heritage values of Indigenous places in reserved lands or under Indigenous management are being retained. Little information is available on the effects of management action on the values of other parts of Australia's Indigenous heritage. Incomplete understanding of the resource, the current processes used to respond to development pressures and the tendency of consent agencies to permit site destruction continue to place Indigenous heritage sites at risk.

Despite these shortcomings, Australia's Indigenous heritage is celebrated by Indigenous people, often accessible to the wider community, strongly promoted within Australia and overseas, and increasingly presented by Indigenous people in accordance with relevant cultural practices (Box 9.35).

Box 9.35 Effective Indigenous land and sea management—Magamarra, Arnhem Land coast, Northern Territory

Magamarra is a marine sacred site within the estuarine waters of the Blyth River on the Northern Territory Arnhem Land coast. The site is within the custodial waters of the Guwowura and Mareang A-Jirra groups, upstream from the Blyth River mouth, between the townships of Maningrida and Ramingining.

Magamarra is a significant site to the Guwowura and Mareang A-Jirra people of northern Arnhem Land, and is used mainly for cultural burial ceremonies related to commemorating the dead. It is a place for renewal, reflection and commemoration. It is the final resting place for all Guwowura and Mareang A-Jirra people and where the spirits of their ancestors chose to base themselves for eternity.

When we die, our spirits come here to rest in the mermaids' castle. Our spirits join those of our ancestors. This is where we are reincarnated in the waters. Traditional custodian

Magamarra encompasses objects within the Blyth River waters such as the Barala (sand sculpture), stone statues and other objects that embody ancestral spiritual beings. The site was created by ancestral beings in the dreaming. The physical condition and integrity of this site are vital to the cultural wellbeing of the Guwowura and Mareang A-Jirra people. Magamarra is also part of daily life for approximately 40 people living at remote outstations or on country. The Magamarra site is in the custodial waters of the Guwowura and Mareang A-Jirra clans, but may be used by other groups with shared boundaries. The site is also intrinsically linked to the surrounding cultural landscape that incorporates many other marine and terrestrial sacred sites.

Magamarra is a registered sacred site under the Northern Territory Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act 1989, and access to the site is restricted. The mouth of the Blyth River is registered as a sacred site and is demarcated by signage and a closing line, which is designed to prevent people (especially fisherman) from entering the sacred site. The traditional custodians of Magamarra have unrestricted access to the site as it is situated on Aboriginal land.

In 2009, after many years of consultation and negotiation, the lands around Magamarra were declared Australia's 33rd Indigenous protected area (IPA). The Djelk IPA is managed by the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, based in Maningrida, and is serviced by a large team of rangers known as the Djelk Men's and Women's Rangers.

Magamarra has a high level of protection compared to other Indigenous heritage sites—it is located on Aboriginal lands within an IPA managed by Aboriginal rangers and is registered as a sacred site. Unlike traditional custodians of sacred sites in other parts of Australia, traditional custodians of Magamarra have the legal right to control access to the site and to enforce customary laws associated with the site through offences such as trespass and desecration of sacred sites. Nevertheless, the effectiveness of Magamarra's legal protection is questioned by traditional custodians who have customary responsibility for its protection.

The Blyth River is also a well-known place for recreational and commercial barramundi fishers. Traditional custodians perceive illegal fishing activities at Magamarra as the most significant threat to the site's condition and integrity. Traditional custodians report ongoing problems with commercial fishermen not respecting Aboriginal law or culture and entering the site at night.

The Djelk Rangers who manage the whole protected area support the traditional custodians. The rangers mainly deal with environmental issues relating to the area, but are also called in when people are destroying or desecrating sites. However, the long distances from fisheries enforcement officers often mean offenders cannot be apprehended and prosecuted. There would be merit in exploring the possibility of Indigenous rangers becoming fully-fledged fisheries officers with enforcement powers.

Source: Schnierer et al.12

Historic heritage

Historic heritage places are usually accessible, often cherished, increasingly presented to visitors in engaging ways and recognised as important elements in community identity and sense of place.

Through the Historic Heritage Chairs and Officials of Australia and New Zealand, there is some national coordination of the management of Australia's historic heritage resources, despite the separate statutes and different government structures in each jurisdiction.

Australia's listed historic sites are numerous, but have been assessed, listed and protected in an ad hoc manner. Although the Australian heritage database offers a convenient portal to information about more than 20 000 natural, historic and Indigenous heritage places, it does not include all the statutory heritage lists and is difficult to use. There are no readily available national data that allow assessment of the representativeness of the national set of listed historic places. Limited information is available on the effectiveness of historic heritage management, as very little monitoring and evaluation takes place. However, select sampling of a small set of historic places suggests that the heritage values of our listed historic sites are generally being retained.11

Mackay R (2011). Heritage: Outcomes. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra, https://soe.environment.gov.au/science/soe/2011-report/9-heritage/4-effectiveness/4-5-outcomes, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0