Australia’s natural heritage includes lands that are reserved in parks and other places, both listed and unlisted. Although continued addition to the National Reserve System (particularly to under-represented bioregions) is important, broader considerations such as identification and protection of geological sites, ecosystem connectivity and a national whole-of-landscape approach to natural heritage protection can help to build long-term resilience. Environmental conditions across the continent are highly variable, so it is important that selection of places for listing or reservation considers individual place values as well as wider landscapes and interconnected ecosystems. Major barriers to a comprehensive National Reserve System include the potential economic value of desirable land, and the fact that some ecosystems are only represented by scarce remnants. Although Australia now has more than 17 per cent of terrestrial lands and 36 per cent of marine areas reserved, the National Reserve System target of 10 per cent per bioregion is yet to be achieved.
Habitat loss and invasive species continue to threaten natural heritage values. The outlook for habitats depends on both adaptive management and thoughtful intervention—the latter is highly dependent on proactive research and cooperation between scientists and managers. Many invasive species, such as mimosa, carp and cane toads, have now invaded well beyond the threshold for feasible eradication and can only be managed. Others, like the Macquarie Island rodents, have responded well to well-resourced eradication programs. The challenges presented by invasive species are being addressed through the and allocation of additional resources, which are particularly focused on managing risks to agriculture.
The National Environmental Research Program and its successor, the National Environmental Science Programme (NESP), both include substantial applied science projects with direct application to natural heritage. The broad program areas covered include important issues such as threatened coastal environments, arid lands and invasive species. Although approximately 27 per cent of currently funded NESP projects support relevant applied research work in the Great Barrier Reef and Kakadu National Park, there are opportunities to afford future priority to a broader range of applied heritage research.