1.2b Recognising the values and benefits of native vegetation

Many benefits and values have been associated with native vegetation. The National Framework for the Management and Monitoring of Australia’s Native Vegetation 18 notes that native vegetation contributes to natural values, resources and processes of biodiversity, soil and water resources, hydrology, land productivity, sustainable land use, and climate change. It also contributes to natural and cultural heritage, and indigenous people’s interests.

Benefits for sustainable production

The contribution of native vegetation to land productivity, sustainable land use, and ultimately the profitability of properties is often one of the first questions producers ask about the benefits it can provide to them 19. Figure 1 and Figure 2 provide examples of some of the production benefits that woody and grassy native vegetation can provide at paddock and farm scale. These include: shelter for stock and crops from wind and weather, pest control by birds and insects, primary and secondary products from native vegetation, pollination by insects, health, recreation and amenity benefits and helping to address erosion, waterlogging and salinity management. These figures were developed for mixed farms in southern and eastern Australia, but many of the benefits are more broadly applicable.

When production benefits of native vegetation and associated biodiversity are raised, landholders often ask “What is the evidence?.” The Living Systems Resource Kit 20 project tried to address this question by creating fact sheets on the economic benefits of biodiversity for a range of rural industries. Numerous examples of the links between sustainable production and native vegetation, and management practices associated with them, are also provided in Questions 3 and 4. A particular focus is placed on sustainable grazing practices and the use of farm forestry and plantations to meet multiple objectives. This is because the beef and sheep industry use around 250 million hectares of native vegetation as their primary resource base 21, and farm forestry has been identified as a potential ‘win-win’ solution for producers in more highly cleared landscapes. Native Vegetation and Regional Management 22 also describes numerous research studies on the production benefits of native vegetation.

The values of native vegetation to sustainable production can differ across enterprises. Water quality is important to dairy farmers, for both human and livestock consumption. Dairy Farmers: Going with the flow 23 is an audio CD with two dairy farming families telling how they are managing their rivers, land and native vegetation to improve the values of their properties and herds.

Figure 1: Some of the paddock-scale production benefits that native vegetation can provide on mixed farms in southern and eastern Australia.

Source: Cranley, L. and Williams, J. (unpublished) The Benefits of Native Vegetation to Grain Growers and their Regions. Report to the Grains R&D Corporation, Canberra.

Figure 2: Some of the farm-scale production benefits that native vegetation can provide on mixed farms in southern and eastern Australia.

Source: Cranley, L. and Williams, J. (unpublished) The Benefi ts of Native Vegetation to Grain Growers and their Regions. Report to the Grains R&D Corporation, Canberra.

Many of the production benefits ascribed to native vegetation fall into the category of ecosystem services. These are services supplied when natural assets (soil, plants and animals, air and water) are transformed into things that humans value. For example, when fungi, worms and bacteria transform the raw ‘ingredients’ of sunlight, carbon and nitrogen into fertile soil, this transformation is an ecosystem service. Natural Assets 24 lists the ecosystem services most highly ranked by the catchment community for different industries and land uses (Table 1). Many of these services are related to the presence of native vegetation.

The CSIRO National Farm Tree Survey 25 conducted in 1996 found that 50 per cent of responding landholders planted trees to treat dryland salinity or waterlogging, 40 per cent to treat wind erosion and 33 per cent to control gully erosion. A high proportion reported success. This survey found that most landholders preferred to plant native trees and shrubs, but only 50 per cent planted natives exclusively.

Table 1: Highly ranked ecosystem services in the Goulburn-Broken Catchment, Victoria for individual land use/industries.

Source: Binning C, Cork SJ, Parry R, Shelton D (2001) ‘Natural Assets: An Inventory of Ecosystem Goods and Services in the Goulburn Broken Catchment.’ CSIRO Land and Water, Canberra, ACT.

Well-being values

Production benefits are just one of many values associated with native vegetation and its associated biodiversity. The Living Systems Resource Kit 26 identified four key values related to biodiversity that landholders consistently rank highly. The strong association between native vegetation and biodiversity makes the findings more broadly relevant.

  • Well-being – biodiversity can contribute to health through less use of pesticides, and to stress release by providing relaxing places to visit.
  • Relationship – biodiversity contributes to the options and experiences available to future generations.
  • Sustainability – biodiversity is a fundamental pillar of sustainability.
  • Wealth – by reducing input costs (such as for pest control) and through new opportunities.

 Action: 1.1
 Identify the values, uses and management issues that you associate with native vegetation. Search this guide for information relating to management issues.

Of these values, it has been found that well-being appears to be the strongest held overall. This is probably because it encapsulates elements of all the others. Surveys of landholders in NSW 27 and south-western WA 28, 29 have also explored attitudes to a number of issues related to existing native vegetation, the replanting of vegetation on farms and land degradation. Some values attributed to native vegetation include the preservation of local identity, recreational opportunities, conservation of flora and fauna, economic gain and achieving sustainable land use. In terms of stimulating greater management action, the removal of some financial constraints, together with the provision of relevant technical information on the management of vegetation, were identified as key issues by producers.

The cultural dimensions of native vegetation and biodiversity are very important to indigenous land managers. The paper Aboriginal Cultural Values of Native Vegetation in New South Wales 30 for example, recognises the strong relationship Aboriginal people have with the environment and its natural resources. It looks at how Aboriginal people used natural resources according to their lore to maintain systems and species. In this way, the health of the land and maintenance of biodiversity remains linked to the physical and spiritual
well-being. Aboriginal people value native vegetation as a source of sustenance and medicine. It may also have spiritual meaning and, more recently, significance as educational, employment and recreational sites. Another important cultural value is the environmental knowledge that Aboriginal people possess. Much has been written about the links between indigenous people and the land, particularly in northern Australia. The companion guide, Native Vegetation and Regional Management 31 expands on these resources.

Conservation values

The conservation value of native vegetation is significant to many landholders and the broader community. Many native plants and animals are found nowhere else, for example, over 80 per cent of the flowering plants in our country only occur here 32. Almost 100 per cent of eucalypts – an icon in our landscapes – are only found in Australia 33. Native vegetation also provides habitat for a number of unique animal species such as the koala and many birds. Many policy and legislative responses by government (Section 1.2d) are designed to help ensure these native species and communities are conserved in the long-term. Some landholders see the conservation value of native vegetation as a public good that they provide to the broader community 34. This has led to the development of a number of incentive schemes for managing native vegetation, which are covered in detail in Native Vegetation and Regional Management 35.