Management capacity


Jurisdictional reporting on management effectiveness

It is has been widely acknowledged that management agencies are required to manage biodiversity despite an incomplete understanding and limited resources. However, what is less well understood is the inability of management agencies to assess the effectiveness of conservation management investments. All jurisdictions face limitations in their ability to adequately assess the effectiveness of their management actions. Notwithstanding this, many on-ground managers use adaptive management techniques to continuously learn and improve from each management action taken.

Australian Capital Territory
  • Long-term research, monitoring and evaluation remain limited, with previous SoE recommendations to improve these areas only partially implemented.
  • Strategic monitoring and data consolidation across the territory are limited.
  • Public reporting about biodiversity matters should clearly identify and assess the outcomes of decisions and activities that are related to individual species, populations and ecological communities in the Australian Capital Territory.
  • Audits into the effectiveness of state environmental management agencies indicate that, even when robust management frameworks exist, they have been undermined by inadequate data collection. Assessing the success or otherwise of management interventions becomes very difficult, resulting in a lack of accountability.
  • The main reasons for gaps in monitoring are that:
    • the indicator has never been monitored
    • monitoring was undertaken but has ceased
    • monitoring is conducted across a limited spatial and temporal scale, and the accessibility of available data is significantly reduced by the disparate nature of biodiversity datasets.
  • Biodiversity trends over time are difficult to determine because of methodology changes. Although changes can improve data quality, it is often not clear whether trends are because of actual changes, increased accuracy or methodology changes.
  • In response, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) is progressively implementing an approach to improving the effectiveness of management. The approach combines the collection and collation of spatial information on management activity with robust monitoring and evaluation studies, and focuses on clarifying the most important assumptions underpinning the relationship between management actions and biodiversity outcomes. DELWP is also rolling out a set of information products identifying the best management options to conserve biodiversity in certain areas. These ‘strategic management prospects’ are based on models of response to management action by a wide range of species. These underlying models will be progressively refined as improved understanding emerges from the studies.
South Australia
  • The South Australian Government has developed a regionally based NRM reporting framework that allows state and regional natural resource managers to use the same information to understand the trend and condition of their natural assets, and to make informed planning decisions. The first complete set of report cards was released in 2014 and 2015. These are publicly available; they depict trend and condition of assets, and identify key data gaps.
  • Decisions about where and how to invest will be improved by assessing the effectiveness of current and future investments against ecological, social and economic targets, and measures of the condition of natural resources.
New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory

Adequacy of understanding and resources—terrestrial and aquatic

Monitoring data available for the most (relatively) well-known and visible taxa are often inadequate for assessing state and trends, and the effectiveness of management actions. The action plan for Australian mammals 2012 (Woinarski et al. 2014) assessed the extent and adequacy of monitoring programs for all threatened, near threatened and data-deficient terrestrial mammals in Australia. Although there is some monitoring for most (76 per cent) terrestrial threatened (and near threatened and data-deficient) mammal taxa, no monitoring exists for the other 24 per cent of these terrestrial mammal taxa. The action plan notes that there are too few monitoring programs for threatened (and data-deficient) marine mammal taxa to allow a comparable analysis. In addition, a much higher proportion of marine (61 per cent) than terrestrial (1 per cent) mammal taxa is rated in the action plan as data deficient. This category reflects a lack of knowledge of key conservation parameters for many marine taxa.

Many of the monitoring programs for terrestrial mammals are very limited in their extent, periodicity, integration, design, duration, reporting, and direct link to management response (Table BIO3) (Woinarski et al. 2014). Given this dearth of information for the best understood taxon group in Australia—our mammals—it is very difficult to assign them an appropriate conservation status. For a few terrestrial mammals that are high-profile species, monitoring provides good understanding, such as with relatively well-resourced management investments for the Tasmanian devil, and taxa that are extremely restricted and with very small population sizes, for which monitoring may be reasonably simple and inexpensive (e.g. the northern hairy-nosed wombat—Lasiorhinus krefftii, Gilbert’s potoroo—Potorous gilbertii).

Reporting on the monitoring of river health has decreased in Australia during the past decade after the National River Health Initiative program was completed, which produced the Australian River Assessment System (AUSRIVAS) macroinvertebrate models. At the time, the AUSRIVAS program was more concentrated in southern Australia.

Generally, in northern Australia, there is a poor understanding of state and trends of river health, except in Queensland, which still maintains a schedule of monitoring. For northern Australia, the Australian Government–funded TRaCK and the National Environmental Research Program increased knowledge of the importance of connections and cultural significance, and provided a better appreciation of the distribution of organisms, and the structure and basis of food webs. Through this work, the conservation importance of northern Australian aquatic systems has been better quantified and placed into a high-resolution spatial context. In general, however, analysis of the protected area system shows that aquatic systems are poorly protected by the existing conservation network.

In South Australia, consolidated reporting of ecological and abiotic monitoring of river systems has been undertaken for the Coorong, Lower Lakes and Murray Mouth; these areas were reported on each year (up until 2014). However, these reports have now been replaced by online Environment Protection Authority reports for aquatic ecosystem condition, covering the entire state.

Table BIO3 Extent of monitoring, adequacy of monitoring design and links to management effectiveness for threatened (excluding extinct), near threatened and data-deficient terrestrial mammal species
Monitoring program

Number of taxa

Monitoring programs rated according to extent of monitoring sites

Monitoring undertaken comprehensively across range


Monitoring undertaken representatively at many sites across range


Monitoring undertaken at several sites across range, but significant components not monitored


Monitoring at a few sites, not necessarily representative


Monitoring at 1 site only (except where this is the only site of occurrence)


No monitoring


Monitoring programs rated according to adequacy of monitoring design

Monitoring with high statistical power to detect small (e.g. 5%) change in population size; power analysis may have been undertaken


Monitoring with sufficient statistical power to reliably detect moderate (e.g. 30%) change in population size


Monitoring with reasonable design, but low statistical power (e.g. unlikely to reliably detect 50% change in population size)


Monitoring with only rudimentary design, but resulting in sufficient records to suggest broad changes in abundance


Monitoring typically ad hoc with few records


No monitoring


Monitoring programs rated according to extent to which monitoring is linked to assessment of management effectiveness

Monitoring closely linked to adaptive management, and explicit measurement of management performance


Monitoring design explicitly tests different management impacts


Monitoring programs provide some consideration of effects of different management regimes


Monitoring program may provide weak inference about management, but no clear links to adaptive management


Monitoring program not capable of assessing management effectiveness


No monitoring


Source: Woinarski et al. 2014

Information gaps and gap-filling initiatives—terrestrial and aquatic

A major government-funded initiative contributing to advancing access to biodiversity information is the Atlas of Living Australia (ALA). The ALA is a national research infrastructure under the National Collaborative Research Infrastructure Strategy hosted by CSIRO. It is a supported collaborative partnership of organisations that have stewardship of biological data and expertise in biodiversity informatics, including museums, biological collections, community groups, research organisations, government (state and territory, and Australian) and natural resource managers. The ALA currently holds more than 57 million records of more than 110,000 different species from across Australia. Its adoption and use are illustrated by the more than 6 billion records that have been downloaded for use to date—an average of 3500 users per day.

Since 2012, the number of data records stored in the ALA has at least doubled for all taxa; tripled for amphibians, fungi and plants; and increased by more than 4 times for fish and mammals (Figure BIO29). Increases in the numbers of records collected (Figure BIO30) have been highest along the east coast, particularly in the Wet Tropics, Cape York Peninsula, South Eastern Queensland and Sydney Basin IBRA regions. The Mulga Lands IBRA region in south-west Queensland has also seen a significant increase in the number of records stored by the ALA.

Another major initiative that is contributing vital knowledge about Australia’s biodiversity is Bush Blitz, which began in 2010. Bush Blitz is a unique partnership (comprising the Australian Government through Parks Australia and the Australian Biological Resources Study, BHP Billiton Sustainable Communities and Earthwatch Australia) whose goal is to document plants and animals across Australia. Since commencing, Bush Blitz has discovered (as at October 2016) more than 1196 putative new species, including 1139 new animals (mostly terrestrial invertebrates, including bugs, spiders, moths, beetles and bees), 27 new vascular plant species, 26 new lichen species and 4 new fungi species (see also Biodiversity funding).

Photo of someone with a trapdoor spider on their arm.

University of Adelaide PhD student holding a new species of trapdoor spider at Judbarra/Gregory National Park, Northern Territory

Photo by Jo Harding, © Bush Blitz

Community engagement

In 2011–12, a survey of ‘community engagement with nature conservation’ was undertaken across Australia, aiming to measure Australians’ engagement with the natural environment and participation in nature conservation activities. The survey produced some key findings:

• An estimated 8.1 million Australian adults (47 per cent) had participated in nature conservation activities at home or on the farm in the past 12 months: 43 per cent had planted or cared for Australian native trees or plants, and almost 1 in 5 (19 per cent) had cared for Australian native wildlife. People living outside capital cities were more likely to have undertaken these activities than those living in capital cities (54 per cent and 43 per cent, respectively).

• Of the people who had participated in nature conservation activities at home or on the farm, the most common reasons for planting or caring for Australian native trees or plants, or caring for Australian native wildlife, were ‘non-environmental’ reasons relating to making the garden more attractive and tidy (69 per cent), and enjoyment (68 per cent).

• Advocacy for nature conservation can include actions such as donating money to a relevant cause or organisation, signing a petition, participating in rallies and contacting a member of parliament. In 2011–12, nearly one-quarter of Australian adults (23 per cent) engaged in one of these activities: 17 per cent of Australian adults donated money, and 11 per cent signed a petition related to nature conservation. People living in Tasmania were more likely to sign a petition (15 per cent) than any other state or territory.

• In 2011–12, almost 2 in 5 Australian adults (39 per cent) indicated that they consider the negative environmental impact when purchasing particular products. Women (45 per cent) were more likely to do this than men (33 per cent).

• Australian adults were asked to indicate whether they could be encouraged to become involved or more involved in nature conservation activities. Nearly three- quarters of Australian adults (74 per cent) indicated that they could not be encouraged to become more involved in nature conservation activities.

• An estimated 4.5 million Australian adults (26 per cent) could be encouraged to become more involved in nature conservation activities. Of these, an estimated 2.5 million indicated that having more free time could encourage them to become more involved. Other motivators included more information or advertising on environmental issues (10 per cent), more environmental events in their local area (9 per cent), seeing the direct benefits of personal efforts (7 per cent), an increase in government rebates and incentives (6 per cent), and having more money to contribute (6 per cent).

In New South Wales, every 3 years the Office of Environment and Heritage surveys the New South Wales community and discussion groups to track trends in the public’s environmental views, priorities, knowledge and actions. The 2012 research showed an increasingly positive view of the environment and its current condition than in previous surveys. Overall, environmental concerns had lessened compared with previous years, reflected in the lack of a single dominant environmental issue about which people expressed concern, an overall drop in concern about environmental problems, and a decline in environmental issues as a priority for government compared with other issues such as health, education and transport. There was also a more positive assessment of several environmental indicators compared with 2009 or 2006.

Indigenous engagement

The Land report contains information on Indigenous engagement in land and biodiversity management across Australia. The Heritage report contains information on Indigenous heritage across Australia. Both reports describe the increase of around 20 per cent from 2010 in Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs), such that they now make up more than 44 per cent (72 IPAs as of January 2016) of the National Reserve System, and protect biodiversity and cultural heritage for Indigenous groups and Australian society. Considering jointly managed national parks and IPAs together, Indigenous groups are involved in the management of around 47 per cent of the National Reserve System. There has also been an increase in Indigenous management of sea Country in Australia, with IPAs declared that contain large marine components that are managed through Indigenous-led collaborative governance arrangements with government agencies, commercial fishers and other interested parties. Formal Indigenous land and sea management plans enable traditional practices to form the basis of contemporary, collaborative environmental and resource management governance. The rapid expansion of Indigenous ranger programs during the past 15 years has also increased Indigenous management capacity and governance of natural resources.

During the past decade, along with the increase in Indigenous-managed lands, there has been an increase in recognition and incorporation of Indigenous values and knowledge into land management more broadly. The application of traditional ecological knowledge to biodiversity monitoring occurs both on and off lands formally managed (or co-managed) by Indigenous people. The increase in IPAs has seen more formal recognition and adoption of Indigenous management practices, including a recognition that the high levels of biological diversity that exist are a direct result of traditional land management practices. Use of Indigenous ecological knowledge for management is not confined to IPAs. For instance, information about terrestrial native mammal fauna across northern Australia was compiled from a large series of interviews conducted across Indigenous communities to improve monitoring for management (Ziembicki et al. 2013). Similarly, collaborative research between the Aboriginal rangers from Warddeken Land Management Limited and western scientists has been used to quantify the ground-level impacts of buffalo on perennial freshwater springs of the Arnhem Plateau (Ens et al. 2010). The increase in uptake of Indigenous ecological knowledge into management is widely recognised as a major step forward in improving management effectiveness.

Target 2 of Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy is ‘by 2015, achieve a 25 per cent increase in employment and participation of Indigenous peoples in biodiversity conservation’ (NRMMC 2010). The growth of Indigenous ranger programs may be the most significant nationwide development; the Closing the Gap report (2016) notes that 775 Indigenous people have been employed through Working on Country and IPAs. Mid-term evaluation of the Working on Country program’s investment in rangers of $564 million from 2009 to 2018 identified strong mutual benefits in both supporting the interests of Indigenous people in caring for Country, including critical spiritual and cultural dimensions, and assisting the Australian Government to meet its responsibility to protect and conserve the environment (Ryan et al. 2012). The initiatives have steadily developed capacity among rangers, especially through exchanges between traditional and scientific knowledge, and by delivering environmental, employment, economic and cultural benefits. Many ranger groups have taken up scientific tools such as CyberTracker and other handheld data recorders for monitoring long-term change (Walsh et al. 2014). Carbon-related activities, such as burning or sequestration, may offer strong socio-economic and environmental outcomes throughout the Indigenous estate.

The National Environmental Science Programme’s Northern Australia Environmental Resources Hub has identified that increasing Indigenous capacity and participation in management of land and sea Country is core to improving environmental management outcomes. Strengthening local Indigenous organisations will be critical for improved planning that incorporates Indigenous knowledge systems, increases rangers’ services and on-ground work, and builds a peer-to-peer exchange for learning and management impact.

Cresswell ID, Murphy H (2016). Biodiversity: Management capacity. In: Australia state of the environment 2016, Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy, Canberra,, DOI 10.4226/94/58b65ac828812