Australian and New Zealand Environment and Conservation Council
Environment Australia, 2001
ISBN 0 6425 4734 3
Chapter 5: Involving the community
The Strategy states that the involvement of all Australians is vital to conserving Australia's biodiversity. Increasing public awareness and involvement will provide a boost to many community initiatives. Ensuring that biodiversity conservation forms a part of the formal education curriculum will promote a better understanding of biodiversity's importance.
Many of the Strategy's recommended actions have been implemented, with several effective public awareness campaigns in place and a number of community-based programs, such as the National Landcare Program, Bushcare and Coastcare, providing the inspiration and funding for community projects. The national curriculum profile, which is developed cooperatively by the States and Territories, the Commonwealth and educational institutions, now includes biodiversity as part of an interdisciplinary approach.
Increase public awareness of and involvement in conservation of biodiversity.
Public awareness of and involvement in biodiversity conservation has increased. However, significant work is still required for the majority of the general public to gain an adequate awareness of biodiversity.
- Environment Australia has run a national communications campaign to inform the general public about biodiversity and its importance, and to provide information about the ways in which individuals and groups can work towards its conservation. Environment Australia also promotes stories about biodiversity and its protection in the media nationally.
- Environment Australia has funded the establishment of environmental resource officers attached to each State-level local government organisation. The resource officer's activities have included disseminating information and raising biodiversity issues at a local government level.
- An AC Nielsen phone poll conducted in 1998 discovered that only a minority of the population understood the concept of biodiversity and that there was considerable confusion on the issue.
- The Community Biodiversity Network, funded by Environment Australia, disseminates information on biodiversity conservation to community groups, individuals and local governments through promotions such as Biodiversity Month and the Lifelines bulletin. It also plays a large role in encouraging media networks to feature segments on biodiversity and its conservation. A series of Community Service Announcements on biodiversity reached a wide audience.
- An Internet-based clearing-house mechanism, developed by Environment Australia, allows people nationally and internationally to research and access information on Australia's biodiversity. The clearing house aims to promote technical and scientific cooperation, and a proposed on-line discussion list will allow information to be exchanged on a range of biodiversity-related topics. The clearing-house mechanism is linked to biodiversity-related sites throughout Australia and to the central Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Secretariat database in Montreal and the 30 other countries with clearing house Internet sites.
- Through the Office of the Australian Capital Territory Commissioner for the Environment, a regional State of the Environment report has been prepared covering the Territory and the surrounding 17 local government areas that comprise the Australian capital region. This initiative links political processes as well as the major environmental themes across four bioregions.
- Bushcare facilitators are employed at the State and Territory and regional levels to liase with landholders and community groups. Best practice examples are disseminated through articles, brochures, Bushcare facilitators and the Council for Sustainable Vegetation Management.
- Greening Australia provides environmental education advice and support for sustainable native vegetation management.
- Coastcare supports direct community involvement in the management of coastal and marine areas. Its focus is on practical actions and on-ground works that tackle the causes of environmental degradation. Coastcare facilitators are employed at regional levels to assist community groups in a range of projects including repair and rehabilitation of Australia's coastal and marine environments. Facilitators assist in the establishment of partnerships between local land managers (generally local government) and Coastcare groups, and assist in the skill and knowledge development of groups.
- The majority of Coastcare groups have a high level of understanding of, and the skills to protect and conserve, coastal and marine biodiversity.
- There are approximately 1500 Waterwatch Australia groups nationally, including communities and school groups. This national network monitors water quality and aquatic biodiversity.
- State and Territory biodiversity strategies all include specific sections concerned with increasing community participation in biodiversity conservation. These include identified actions, such as developing opportunities and incentives to the community to conserve biodiversity and improving the accessibility of regionally relevant biodiversity information to the community.
- The Northern Territory introduced a Volunteers on Parks Program; maintained and enhanced the Junior Ranger Program; maintained formal and informal consultative and support groups for major parks; established Friends groups at Darwin Botanic Gardens, Territory Wildlife Park and Alice Springs Desert Park; supported and encouraged development of Landcare, Coastcare and Waterwatch groups throughout the Territory; and maintained good relations with local media. Traditional Aboriginal owners in the Tanami Desert participated in studies of bilbies and exotic predator species.
- In South Australia, community involvement in biodiversity conservation is being facilitated through extension services promoting the conservation of native vegetation, community involvement in the preparation of regional biodiversity plans, and involvement in reserve management planning and management through national parks consultative committees and Friends groups. A network of regional Natural Heritage Trust facilitators, bush management advisers and regional ecologists has been established to provide advice and assistance to landholders on biodiversity issues.
- A range of New South Wales programs increases public awareness and involvement in biodiversity conservation. Relevant programs include the Land For Wildlife program, Farming for the Future (particularly the development of a module that covers biodiversity issues), Weeds Awareness Week coordinated by NSW Agriculture, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service's Discovery and Saving our Species programs and NSW Fisheries' Fishcare Volunteers. A Community Biodiversity Survey Manual and a Tour Operators Information Kit are being developed.
- Weedbuster Week was designed in Queensland and has now become a national event, with media events, weedbusting and awareness activities occurring in every State and Territory.
Expand biological diversity studies in educational curricula.
Progress is being made with the development of educational materials and the inclusion of biodiversity in curricula. The focus of biodiversity education needs to be broadened from the primary and secondary school focus that it currently has to encompass TAFE and tertiary levels. A greater emphasis on biodiversity, as distinct from environmental education in general, would allow the issues to be more fully explored by students. Stronger connections are needed between biodiversity education and career development in the environmental field. Progress in this area varies greatly between jurisdictions.
- In 1999, the Ministerial Council on Education, Employment, Training and Youth Affairs revised the Common and Agreed National Goals to incorporate a stronger environmental education focus. Goal 1.7 states that by the time students leave school they should 'have an understanding of, and concern for, stewardship of the natural environment, and the knowledge and skills to contribute to ecologically sustainable development'.
- State and Territory curricula are steadily being rewritten to incorporate this goal in a range of subject areas, from ecological systems and processes, to policy tools used to protect and conserve the environment. The coursework addresses local and international issues and includes hands-on activities.
- New South Wales, Victoria and Western Australia have produced biodiversity education resource books for teachers at the primary and secondary level. These present the concepts of biodiversity and sustainability to students through classroom activities, using State-based examples. South Australia is in the process of developing a similar teacher resource guide.
- In Victoria, the Department of Natural Resources and Environment is marketing the resource manuals to teachers and education officers through professional development opportunities such as workshops, conferences and network meetings.
- The Western Australian branch of the Australian Environmental Education Network has produced a biodiversity education module for secondary schools called Bugs, Beasts & Biodiversity – Exploring Biodiversity in the South West of Western Australia (Orsini, 1999) which is available on the Internet.
- The Northern Territory has implemented a Board of Studies environmental education policy. Biological Diversity, Continuity and Change was established as an essential element of the Year 10 science curriculum. Biodiversity is studied in Year 11 environmental science, marine science and ecology courses and Year 12 ecology. Culturally appropriate science units support the science courses for indigenous students. Curricula and materials are provided to teachers at the Darwin Botanic Gardens, Territory Wildlife Park and Alice Springs Desert Park.