First and foremost, the purpose of Australia’s national parks and many other protected areas is for conservation of our biodiversity and natural landscapes. Creating reserves puts in place secure, long-term arrangements to ensure that land is used to support conservation, and is a low-cost, high leverage strategy compared with other conservation actions.
The reserve system provides important habitat for native species that are under pressure from land clearing and overexploitation in other areas. Highly protected reserves, such as national parks, are the only conservation strategy that is associated with the stabilisation and recovery of threatened species populations.
As well as being important for conservation of local species, national parks are the cornerstone of broader conservation efforts. Connectivity projects such as landscape-scale corridors are supported by a series of core large protected areas, which can then be linked by conservation and restoration work on private and public lands in between them.
National parks and reserves have other important benefits, beyond biodiversity conservation.
- Culture and heritage: They protect many Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal heritage places and artefacts, and provide access to cultural places and resources. Some protected areas are owned, or jointly managed, by Aboriginal people. The natural reserve system also protects features of geological significance, such as cave systems.
- Public access and accountability: Critics of national parks and protected areas sometimes claim that national parks are “locked up” land. However, the opposite is true: our national park system allows the public to access and enjoy many of the diverse and spectacular natural areas of Australia, whilst also protecting them for future generations to enjoy. They also provide places for education and scientific study. Public ownership of the protected area system ensures that there is ongoing professional management that is publicly accountable and supported by financial investment from the government; public participation in management planning; and public access to most areas with visitor facilities provided in many locations.
- Economic values: Intact natural areas provide a variety of resources and processes that benefit human society, known as ‘ecosystem services’. These include processes such as water catchment and filtration, air quality control, pollination and carbon capture and storage. In addition, the reserve system generates jobs in tourism, park management and capital works and income from visitors.
All Australian State’s some Territories and the Federal Government manage and maintain national parks and other conservation reserves, on behalf of the Australian community. They also help fulfil a range of international obligations, such as international Convention on Biological Diversity https://www.cbd.int/
Federal Government’s National Reserve System (NRS) website provides detailed information about Australia’s protected areas, and lays out the goals and principles underpinning the system. NPAC supports the good work being done to expand and manage the NRS, but advocates for further development of this system to protect the full range of Australia’s unique landscapes.