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Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy

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Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

Cape York Peninsula Land Use Strategy
Abrahams, H., Mulvaney, M., Glasco, D., & Bugg, A.
Office of the Co-ordinator General of Queensland
Australian Heritage Commission, March 1995


Areas of Conservation Significance on Cape York Peninsula

1.0 Introduction

1.1 Aims of the Project

This Conservation and Natural Heritage Project report has been prepared for the Cape York Peninsula Landuse Strategy (CYPLUS) by the Australian Heritage Commission (AHC) and Environmental Resources Information Network (ERIN). The purpose of the assessment is to identify areas of natural conservation significance across the project area for inclusion in the broader land use strategy development planned for stage two of the CYPLUS project.

This report also relates to a component undertaken by Queensland Department of Environment and Heritage (QDEH) to determine the reservation status and adequacy of existing reserves with respect to the same project area. Both project teams have liaised closely on aspects of their respective analyses.

Broadly the AHC/ERIN project has been directed toward assessing the information available against the criteria for listing places on the Register of the National Estate. Those criteria (See Table 1.1 ) are incorporated within the Australian Heritage Commission Act (1975). The associated sub-criteria (also Table 1.1) have been developed by the AHC to assist in the assessment of areas against the values. These criteria were presented to the CYPLUS Nature Working Group whose members had the opportunity to comment on their adequacy in assessing the natural conservation values of the Peninsula.

As part of the assessment process, information on a particular value (such as vegetation richness), or on groups of values associated with a type of place (such as wetlands, dune fields or crocodile habitat), was systematically collated from existing data sets for the whole of Cape York Peninsula. In this way like places or places sharing the same heritage value across the Peninsula could be compared. Thus thresholds of conservation significance could be set for each particular heritage value through considering a comprehensive set of all occurrences of that value on Cape York Peninsula. This contextual assessment process is similar to that undertaken by the AHC in their recent regional assessments of the Central Highland and East Gippsland forests of Victoria (AHC, CNR 1994).

The project has been undertaken rapidly using relevant CYPLUS Natural Resources Assessment Project (NRAP) and Land Use Program (LUP) data sets. It is important to recognise that the project area is some 13.5 million hectares in size. The eight months time frame of the project means that identification of conservation significance has generally focused on widespread values that are significant at least at the regional level. It was not possible to identify all features or areas that are of local significance within Cape York Peninsula or have small restricted locations.

The project has been done quickly to meet deadlines required by the CYPLUS framework. Ideally, a more detailed assessment would have been undertaken. Certainly the valuable resource of community knowledge has been insufficiently incorporated within the report. Comments on this report and any further relevant information can be sent to the Australian Heritage Commission to improve the information.

In any area the size of this study area and having the complexity of natural environments as does Cape York Peninsula there will be areas of local, regional, national and international significance. This assessment has been undertaken primarily to address areas of regional and national significance. Where appropriate the international and local significance of the areas has been addressed briefly to provide further context to the assessment.

Table 1.1 Criteria And Sub-Criteria For National Estate Significance


Without limiting the generality of sub-section (1) of the Australian Heritage Commission Act, a place that is a component of the natural or cultural environment of Australia is to be taken to be a place included in the national estate if it has significance or other special value for future generations as well as for the present community because of:

CRITERION A: ITS IMPORTANCE IN THE COURSE, OR PATTERN, OF AUSTRALIA'S NATURAL OR CULTURAL HISTORY

A.1 Importance in the evolution of Australian flora, fauna, landscapes or climate.

A.2 Importance in maintaining existing processes or natural systems at the regional or national scale.

A.3 Importance in exhibiting unusual richness or diversity of flora, fauna, landscapes or cultural features.

A.4 Importance for association with events, developments or cultural phases which have had a significant role in the human occupation and evolution of the nation, State, region or community.

CRITERION B: ITS POSSESSION OF UNCOMMON, RARE OR ENDANGERED ASPECTS OF AUSTRALIA'S NATURAL OR CULTURAL HISTORY

B.1 Importance for rare, endangered or uncommon flora, fauna, communities, ecosystems, natural landscapes or phenomena, or as a wilderness.

B.2 Importance in demonstrating a distinctive way of life, custom, process, land-use, function or design no longer practised, in danger of being lost, or of exceptional interest.

CRITERION C: ITS POTENTIAL TO YIELD INFORMATION THAT WILL CONTRIBUTE TO AN UNDERSTANDING OF AUSTRALIA'S NATURAL OR CULTURAL HISTORY

C.1 Importance for information contributing to a wider understanding of Australian natural history, by virtue of its use as a research site, teaching site, type locality, reference or benchmark site.

C.2 Importance for information contributing to a wider understanding of the history of human occupation of Australia.

CRITERION D: ITS IMPORTANCE IN DEMONSTRATING THE PRINCIPAL CHARACTERISTICS OF:

(I) A CLASS OF AUSTRALIA'S NATURAL OR CULTURAL PLACES; OR

(II) A CLASS OF AUSTRALIA'S NATURAL OR CULTURAL ENVIRONMENTS

D.1 Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of the range of landscapes, environments or ecosystems, the attributes of which identify them as being characteristic of their class.

D.2 Importance in demonstrating the principal characteristics of the range of human activities in the Australian environment (including way of life, custom, process, land-use, function, design or technique).

CRITERION E: ITS IMPORTANCE IN EXHIBITING PARTICULAR AESTHETIC CHARACTERISTICS VALUED BY A COMMUNITY OR CULTURAL GROUP

E.1 Importance for a community for aesthetic characteristics held in high esteem or otherwise valued by the community.

CRITERION F: ITS IMPORTANCE IN DEMONSTRATING A HIGH DEGREE OF CREATIVE OR TECHNICAL ACHIEVEMENT AT A PARTICULAR PERIOD

F.1 Importance for its technical, creative, design or artistic excellence, innovation or achievement.

CRITERION G: ITS STRONG OR SPECIAL ASSOCIATIONS WITH A PARTICULAR COMMUNITY OR CULTURAL GROUP FOR SOCIAL, CULTURAL OR SPIRITUAL REASONS

G.1 Importance as a place highly valued by a community for reasons of religious, spiritual, symbolic, cultural, educational, or social associations.

CRITERION H: ITS SPECIAL ASSOCIATION WITH THE LIFE OR WORKS OF A PERSON, OR GROUP OF PERSONS, OF IMPORTANCE IN AUSTRALIA'S NATURAL OR CULTURAL HISTORY

H.1 Importance for close associations with individuals whose activities have been significant within the history of the nation, State or region.


1.2 Consideration of Cultural Heritage Conservation

The assessment was directed to identifying areas of nature conservation significance. As a result cultural features (including historic places and places significant to Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders) have not been assessed. These values are undeniably important components of the overall environment both of Cape York Peninsula, and in the wider national context. Similarly it has not been possible to include consideration of the interactions between natural and cultural values that are an integral component of the Peninsula environment. The Aurukun wetlands, for example, are identified as a significant wetland area within this report. However the wetlands also have considerable significance in regards to traditional Aboriginal use, the relationship of clan to land and site, and for religious, social and spiritual significance. In essence, it is only in the interplay of the cultural with a natural values of the landscape that the full conservation value of these wetlands can be recognised. This interrelationship is considered to be a key feature of the international conservation significance of Cape York Peninsula (Harris 1986).

The Australian Heritage Commission, as part of its legal responsibility to identify places of national estate significance, has already recognised twenty-seven cultural places of conservation significance within Cape York Peninsula. This is only a minor percentage of important cultural sites on the Peninsula. Undoubtedly much of the CYPLUS study area will have conservation significance due to Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander values, with literately thousands of specific sites across the Peninsula. Some of these will be very complex and extensive, such as the Bathurst Heads and Quinkan Country sites, that are already listed in the Register of the National Estate. It is important to note that Aboriginal and Islander people consider that their heritage is not public, that is, it is owned; heritage is not just a matter of sites, but a relationship between culture and landscape.

The historic cultural places in the Register are mainly historic structures of Cooktown, or mining sites of the Normanby, Palmer River and Laura areas.

In order to provide CYPLUS with an impression as to the range of cultural sites present in the study area, Appendix 1 contains the name and a statement of significance for all those cultural sites currently listed in the Register of the National Estate. The location of these areas is shown on a map within Appendix 1.

Appendix 1 also contains discussion about the types of surveys required to identify historic sites, and the need for Aboriginal/Islander ownership of the documentation of places significant to these cultures.

1.3 Relationship of Project to Commonwealth Conservation Requirements

The areas identified as a result of this CYPLUS report can be considered as places that could potentially be included on the Register of the National Estate, for their natural values. An integral component of any National Estate listing is to liaise with landholders and communities associated with properties eligible for inclusion on the Register. The CYPLUS project includes a community participation program which addresses the community input to the landuse strategy. It is envisaged that this process would provide an opportunity for community involvement in any National Estate listings that result from this assessment.

This project has been undertaken by the AHC in association with ERIN. The Commonwealth environment portfolio has many other conservation obligations including Biodiversity conservation, Endangered Species protection and World Heritage Properties identification and protection. To an extent the information and analysis in this report provides a basis for addressing these responsibilities.

1.4 Previous Relevant Information.

The considerable conservation significance of the flora and fauna of Cape York Peninsula has been described by Stanton (1976) as "biologically the richest and least disturbed of the few large wildernesses left on the face of the Australian continent". The flora and fauna of the area has also been described as of international significance because of its biogeographic and evolutionary relationship to New Guinea (IUCN 1982), and of national importance for the conservation of endemic and rare and threatened species (WPSQ 1990).

The east coast rainforests have received the largest amount of discussion and research effort in the past. However the northern rainforests, heathland communities, dune fields, western wetlands and wilderness values have all been highlighted previously in the literature.

Many of the environmental values of the region have been identified and discussed on a broad scale, for example:

Addressing these large scale features with respect to identifying particular places of significance can prove both difficult and contentious. It is important however to consider that management of conservation values can be undertaken across a number of land tenures, arrangements and land use practices to ensure the values for which an area has been identified are appropriately managed.

The management of values has not been not been addressed in this project. These remain important considerations to be addressed in CYPLUS Stage Two.

A separate report on sites of geological and landform conservation significance, prepared as part of this project, was completed in September 1994, and is available as a separate document. The location of sites of geological and landform conservation significance are shown in Figure 1.1.

1.5 General Methodology.

A place on Cape York Peninsula is considered to be of conservation significance if it meets one or more of the national estate criteria. Through use of a Geographic Information System (GIS), and analysis of databases from ERIN, the CYPLUS Natural Resource Analysis Program (NRAP) and the CYPLUS Land Use Program (LUP), it was possible to assess many values against the criteria in a very systematic fashion. An example was the determination of plants endemic to the region followed by the delineation of significant vegetation communities for the maintenance of those species.

Following the finalisation of the individual values coverages it was possible to combine all the areas above threshold to determine the total area of conservation significance. Places of conservation significance were essentially determined from that aggregate layer.

In some instances particularly the wilderness layer and the wetlands information, the data sets used in the final analyses were amalgamations of several raw data sets. The layer resulting from each analysis was that incorporated in the delineation of areas of significance.

In some other instances information was obtained directly from reports or sub-consultancies, which themselves generated a layer for inclusion in the GIS and the amalgamated layer. An example was the consultancy undertaken to identify the coastal sandmasses of importance.

1.6 Data Sets

An integral component of this project was to incorporate as much as possible the information acquired by the CYPLUS NRAP projects. Of particular note the Neldner and Clarkson (1994) 1:250,000 Vegetation Mapping was incorporated in a number of the analyses and used by other consultants in the derivation of their data sets also. For example this was especially the case with the Queensland Department of Primary Industries Grazing Industry (Cotter 1994) datasets that were derived from the Neldner and Clarkson (1994) vegetation mapping. The soils mapping (Biggs & Philip 1994) and associated data sets have also been of considerable assistance especially with the reworking of the wilderness biophysical naturalness layer.

Many of the data sets incorporated in these analyses were those developed during the CYPLUS NRAP. Without the datasets made available as a result of that program, many of the systematic analyses undertaken would not have been possible.

References to the literature, personal communications and the work of consultants reporting to the AHC are made throughout the report in the customary fashion where appropriate. The major data sets used in the project listed in order of first occurrence in the report follow,

More detailed information relevant to the analyses undertaken and the suitability of the data sets for those purposes is considered in the text where appropriate.

There have also been other data considered by the authors but which have not been included in any of the analyses. In some instances this has been because of the incomplete nature of the data sets at the timelines necessary for this project to meet its deadlines. These data could be incorporated as part of Stage Two in some circumstances where appropriate. Most notably the Population data sets and the Weeds and Feral Animals data set were insufficiently complete for inclusion in the wilderness analysis.

Access to the majority of the data sets used was obtained through the cooperative arrangements available to all CYPLUS project consultants. Where access was obtained from elsewhere it is acknowledged and appropriate caveats on use are outlined in the text.