By Robin Tennant Wood, writing from eastern Palerang.
ONE OF THE LARGEST factors influencing biodiversity decline is loss of habitat. Peri-urban development, rural subdivision and the so-called ‘tree change’ movement have resulted in vast tracts of wildlife habitat being lost. This, in turn, pushes wildlife to the margins of their habitat where they are killed on the roads, shot by farmers or become collateral damage in further development.
Governments are virtually powerless to act, even if they had the will. It’s difficult to legislate to ensure habitat conservation. But there is another way.
In 1993 the Humane Society International established the Wildlife Land Trust in the USA. It has since been adapted and adopted in Australia, Canada, South Africa, USA, Belize, Romania, Jamaica, India, Indonesia, New Zealand and Peru. According to the Australian Wildlife Land Trust (WLT), “only 11.5% of the Australian landmass has some form of security as a protected area, and as a result we have one of the worst records for mammal extinctions and near extinctions of any developed country”. The Trust aims to put the brakes on wildlife habitat decline by using private land as sanctuaries.
The WLT was launched in Australia in 2007 and currently has 511 private properties signed up as sanctuaries, covering a total of 62,655 hectares. There is no cost to landowners in becoming a sanctuary, it is not legally binding and there are no strings attached: just a commitment to protect native wildlife and its habitat on their property.
The movement is spreading like, well, wildfire.
Why focus on private land? It’s a bit like Hardin’s theory of the Tragedy of the Commons: individuals will be more inclined to maintain their own property better than public property. While Hardin’s 1968 treatise has been debated for close to fifty years, and in many respects is incorrect in its assumptions, the WLT Sanctuary program is based on the notion that private landowners are in the best possible position to preserve their land for the future. There is a sense of ownership to the Sanctuary program, and a sense of doing something positive not just for the wildlife, but for future generations of people.
What wildlife is on the property?
It’s an eye-opening exercise to do a wildlife audit of one’s property. Sure, you’ve seen kangaroos, wallabies and wombats around, but start listing all the native animals, birds and reptiles on your land and you start to get a picture of why preservation of habitat is so important. When I sat down to itemise the wildlife on my 15-acre property I immediately came up with a list of 25 mammals, birds and reptiles over a cup of coffee. There are, no doubt, plenty that I missed – particularly in the birds and reptiles categories where I’m far from knowledgeable. I’m reliably informed that there are at least six different types of frogs on my property and one is quite rare.
There is no upper or lower limit on property size for the program. The only requirement is that wildlife and habitat are present and that the owners are committed to preserving it. Essentially, there are no losers and everyone, human and non-human, is a winner.
For more information: Wildlife Land Trust.