Measuring management effectiveness

As with most investments in private land conservation, we want to know where our investment has the highest return against the lowest risk. Private land conservation needs to determine the extent to which it is working – and diagnose why some actions succeed whilst others do not. Recent years have seen a convergence among environmental NGOs and other groups with an interest in conservation in thinking about how best to prioritise, plan, implement and measure conservation actions.

Whilst acknowledging government efforts to develop/lead the thinking behind measuring management effectiveness, there is a real danger that such initiatives will be seen as an additional regulatory burden by landholders and will hence lack the necessary buy-in.

One of the most promising developments in measuring management effectiveness has been the adaptation of the Conservation Measures Partnership (CMP) “Open Standards”. The term open standards was borrowed from the information technology field to reflect standards that are developed jointly through public collaboration, which are not the property of any individual or organizationorganisation and can be freely available and freely distributed.

These proposed standards are common property, thus they can be freely adapted to the needs of individual organisations. Because of the dynamic nature of the practice of conservation, a wide array of practitioners contribute to the constant evolution of the Open Standards for the Practice of Conservation.  The main attraction of the open standards is its flexible yet consistent nature and the fact that it is a bottom-up approach to measuring management effectiveness. Many organisations are now adapting the approach. Conservation Action Planning (CAP) is the Nature Conservancy’s institutional approach to applying the open standards and is currently being trialled by Greening Australia, the Wilderness Society and the Naturelinks program in the “Living Flinders”. The project aims to increase conservation efforts on privately held land as well as reduce invasion by feral species and reconnect existing reserve systems.

A variety of other organisations are starting to use the open standards as well, ranging from covenanting organisations such as the Trust fir Nature Victoria and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, to Bush Heritage Australia and various indigenous groups. One of the main benefits of the CAP process was that it highlighted the benefits of private public partnerships in addressing environmental issues. As such CAP, and through it the use of open standards, is a powerful, adaptive and inclusive approach to measuring management effectiveness. Importantly, private landholders need to buy into using frameworks to measure management effectiveness. This will only happen when the process is being driven bottom-up and the first signs of this happening in Australia are there.

Dockers Plains

Dockers Plains Pastoral Company Landscape Covenant: Trust for Nature

DPPC livestock grazing with riparian remnants in backgorund
Dockers Plains Pastoral Company livestock grazing with riparian remnants in the background (Photo: J. Blackney)

The Dockers Plains Pastoral Company holding consists of 3,000 hectares with two main enterprise activities, a self replacing Angus herd and share cropping principally canola and wheat.

After several years of development, based on work carried out by a river tender grant and some months of negotiation, a deed of Covenant was signed with Trust for Nature in September of 2009. Designed specifically to achieve sustainable land use, the covenant protects significant conservation values whilst allowing sustainable agricultural activities.
The Dockers Plains Pastoral Company Landscape Covenant is the largest covenant in Victoria. The Covenant totals 916 ha and is located in North East Victoria on the Lower Ovens River, approximately 10 kilometres north of Wangaratta. Additionally the northern section of the covenant is an adjunct to the adjacent the Warby Range Lower Ovens National Park.

Ovens River frontage Dockers Plains Pastoral Co Landscape Covenant
Ovens River frontage at Dockers Plains (Photo: J. Blackney)

The covenant protects a high conservation landscape of riparian native vegetation, over 70 to 80 separate wetlands and with 17kms of frontage to the Ovens River. There is an additional 10kms of Reedy Creek frontage and the landscape is the confluence of these two streams. The site is significant in terms of flora and fauna with remnant Floodplain Riparian Woodland, intact wetland systems and significant numbers of wetland birds.

DPPC Wetland photo by J. Blackney
A wetland at Dockers Plains (Photo: J. Blackney)

The covenant has two tiers, 331 hectares is classified as Protected Land and 585 ha is classified as Modified Land. The two tiers reflect differences in conservation significance and land use. The Protected Land conserves the most intact and extensive areas of native vegetation. The Modified Land conserves more modified vegetation areas and wetlands and allows a range of agricultural land uses but critically precludes intensive land use development.

In partnership with the owners and farm management, a system of three grazing zones has been established. Zone one is total stock exclusion in high conservation value areas. Zone two is modified grazing of higher value areas where a set of prescriptions have been developed to minimize grazing impacts on the environment. Zone three is normal grazing where there are no restrictions on grazing levels and restrictions apply on pasture development and intensive agricultural development.

Speaking of his motivation towards private land conservation, co-owner and principal of the Dockers Plains Pastoral Company John Paul states: “The thing that encouraged me to look at the landscape in a different way was the rate that we were losing our large old red gums and how long it would take to replace these paddock trees and monarch gums: hundreds of years”.

“After doing a number of environmental projects including covenanting individual wetlands, we were looking for some way of further protecting the environmental values of the property” John states. “Jim Blackney the Trust’s North East Regional manager aided by developing the Landscape Covenant with us, the first for the State”.

“Our partnership with Trust for Nature has allowed us to continue in developing both the agronomic and environmental aspects of the enterprise. The environmental development continues and is a major focus of the activities of the property. Recent initiatives include a major environmental project via Caring for Our Country project to extend and develop corridors and protect riparian remnants.”

(Thanks to Jim Blackney and John Paul for their preparation of the above story)

Connorville

Roderic O’Connor is a landholder with broad-ranging business experience in agricultural and other commercial fields, with his property, Connorville, covering 17,600 hectares of land in Tasmania. Passionate about the environment, Roderic has taken a pragmatic approach in ensuring that his Tasmanian Midlands family farm business remains exceptionally managed during his stewardship.

Connorville is one of a dozen Tasmanian farms that have been entered in carbon crediting schemes. In 2011 the property was issued with verified carbon credits that are being sold on the international markets. The switch from being a farmer of trees, sheep and irrigated crops to one with a large focus on carbon trading came over the past few years, as Roderic observed the changing viability of the Tasmanian timber industry and the emerging global carbon economy.

RIMG0071
Connorville (Photo: D. Sprod)

Roderic has divided his farm into distinct zones: intensive irrigated production, extensive cropping and grazing (9,400 ha), in perpetuity conservation (4,300), carbon forestry (3,500 ha) and areas voluntarily managed for conservation (500ha). The in-perpetuity conservation zones have attracted capital payments from conservation investors under programs run through the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC).

The carbon enterprise returns income from carbon credits as they are sold on the international market.

“Too few Australians realise that you can already trade carbon and farmers like my family are now being paid to do so,” Mr O’Connor said in 2011 (source: The Australian).

“By registering my forests for carbon offsets, I’m getting the same income as if I had harvested the trees, but I’m also delivering outcomes for the environment and for my family’s farming future.” (Source: The Australian)

(Thanks to Daniel Sprod and Roderic O’Connor for their preparation of the above story)