At a glance
The area of land managed for conservation has continued to expand, in both private and public sectors. This is partly due to a decrease in the area of native forest managed for production of timber and wood products. The area formally owned and managed by Indigenous Australians has also continued to increase, although the majority of such areas are in very remote parts of the continent.
There is increasing investment in use of land and native vegetation for carbon sequestration, carbon emissions avoidance or emissions reductions through appropriate management. In some cases, management for carbon outcomes may be at odds with management for biodiversity outcomes.
Land management practices are improving, particularly in relation to soil management, and reduction of nutrient and pesticide run-off. Some of this is attributable to improved integrated pest management programs, which reduce the required application of pesticides.
Current rates of soil erosion by water across much of Australia exceed soil formation rates, although progress has been made in reducing soil erosion through adoption of soil conservation measures.
A new generation of large-scale soil mapping will inform national mapping and monitoring of carbon, biodiversity, agricultural impact and ecosystem functions in general. Increases in dryland salinity appear to have been slowed by the millennium drought, although a return to wetter conditions is likely to increase spread of dryland salinity. Management of soil carbon is central to maintaining soil health and ensuring global food security, as well as providing an important sink for atmospheric carbon; Australia currently has a lower soil organic carbon stock than other parts of the world. Soil acidification is another challenge facing agriculture, with annual lime application currently lower than required to combat the problem in some jurisdictions.
Impacts of human land use are spread unevenly across the country. Nearly 90 per cent of Australia’s native vegetation remains in some form. Vegetation clearing is concentrated in the long-settled agricultural and coastal zones, where more than 50 per cent of native vegetation has typically been cleared. Vegetation condition usually declines along with extent, because increased fragmentation increases the impacts of invasive species and bushfires, and decreases ecosystem functions such as pollination and seed dispersal.
Australia’s land use, soils and vegetation are linked. Each is considered in this section through an examination of its history and current state.