Our soils, landforms and vegetation have co-evolved over millions of years. Their health and condition are inextricably linked. Most importantly, their health and condition fundamentally support our way of life, our wellbeing, and our agriculture and industry. Soil type, depth and condition have an influence on the growth and condition of all types of vegetation. At the same time, changes to vegetation caused by fire, clearing, grazing and harvesting affect the condition of our soils. The Land report deals with issues that have direct relevance to the terrestrial environment and its management, and the impacts that changes in that aspect of the environment have on Australians. In this context, it is concerned with soils and vegetation, agriculture and forestry, the resources sector, and urbanisation, and the impacts of these uses of the land. The health and resilience of the land, and the management approaches to it, are covered in other themes. Like other aspects of the environment, the health and resilience of the land are affected by the drivers of population and economic growth.
During the past 5 years, native vegetation has continued to be cleared, bushfire frequencies have increased, and the number of invasive species has also increased. Many agricultural practices have improved, reducing impacts on the environment, but there is room for further improvement. Urban expansion continues, but a slowing in the number of new mining developments has reduced alienation of agricultural land by the resources sector. The area of the conservation estate has increased, as has the area managed by Indigenous Australians. Collaborative engagement in developing national strategies and policies concerning many issues relevant to land management suggests that decisions are being taken at an appropriate scale—for example, national strategies relating to invasive species, and decisions about agricultural development in northern Australia.
The outlook for the Australian land environment will be determined by the choices made to address legacy issues and current pressures, the development of management approaches that are responsive to a changing environment, and the extent to which emerging issues and future pressures are anticipated and prepared for. Climate change is a substantial overarching pressure, but its impacts will largely be felt through existing recognised pressures such as fire, drought and storms. Coordinated planning at a national scale, and at timescales relevant to the existing pressures and their impacts, will be needed to address current management priorities and the demands of a growing population without compromising longer-term requirements to maintain landscape resilience and the provision of vital ecosystem services.