Preparedness for future pressures


The drivers and pressures that threaten Australia's heritage do so in different ways, leading to different opportunities to prepare for future pressures or shocks.

Natural heritage is most susceptible to the pressures that arise from climate change, including altered fire regimes, shifting ecosystems and traumatic natural disasters. Development pressures arising from population growth and changing land use also pose risks to natural areas and resources. In the case of natural heritage, preparedness at the national scale involves statutory or voluntary protection for individual natural heritage sites and a truly representative reserved lands system. For individual places or resources, local management responses are determinative. These include research to facilitate understanding of potential adaptive responses to threats and more specific management actions directly targeted at avoiding or minimising risk.

Maintenance has a critical role in building resilience in individual cultural heritage places, both Indigenous and historic.112 Access to, and ongoing use of, Indigenous heritage places by Indigenous communities are also important resilience-building factors.12

Development activity and land use place major pressures on Indigenous heritage. These threaten physical sites and traditional practice. Therefore, a key to preparedness is knowledge—both the identification of significant Indigenous places and management of the traditional knowledge that is part of their heritage value.

The preparedness of historic places for pressures and shocks is also largely a matter of management arrangements and risk preparedness, rather than the innate qualities of the places themselves. Australia ICOMOS, in responding to the pressure of climate change on Australian cultural places, has recognised the need for action to:113

  • identify the cultural heritage places and landscapes at greatest risk
  • monitor and collect data
  • establish standards of conservation planning and practice
  • improve risk preparedness and disaster planning
  • underscore the indivisible relationship between tangible and intangible cultural heritage and between communities and their heritage places in planning processes
  • engage communities in these processes so they are prepared and able to respond.

Although these actions were prepared in response to climate change, they have a general applicability for a broad range of external pressures.

Historic sites are also particularly at risk from economic impacts, especially resource extraction and other intensive forms of development. There is a trend in Australia to regard impact assessment processes as a step on an inevitable journey towards project approval, rather than a true evaluation of the project impact and a decision as to whether or not it should proceed. As with natural and Indigenous heritage, proactive identification is critical to resilience, so that heritage is seen as a genuine existing constraint, rather than as a problem requiring a reactive response.

Mackay R (2011). Heritage: Preparedness for future pressures. In: Australia state of the environment 2011, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b658bbe13a0