Queensland’s national parks are a valuable resource, intrinsically giving space for other species with which we share the planet, benefiting the physical and mental health of visitors, providing opportunities for Traditional Owners to participate in stewardship and boosting the local economy by attracting tourists and supporting business.
These benefits were recognised by the State government when a goal to ensure 17% of Queensland’s land area would be protected. This is reinforced in the objectives in the Queensland Protected Area Strategy released in October 2021, which is in place until 2029. Recently the government announced the addition of ‘The Lakes’ (some 35,000ha of high value land/wetlands) is being added to the Protected Area Estate. Obtaining Wyss foundation support for the purchase of ‘The Lakes’ is an innovative approach given the contest for land across the state and the cost of achieving 17% well managed protected lands. While this addition is highly valuable, Queensland’s current protected land area percentage sits around 9%. As such, there is still some way to go.
NPAQ has been partnering with the Granite Belt Sustainable Action Network and the Protect the Bush Alliance in proposing an expansion of the Protected Area Estate in the Granite Belt which will contribute to the 17% target, and, increase economic returns for the region through nature-based tourism. Increasingly it is being recognised that natural areas appeal to the modern tourist and long term management of natural values can support a long term nature-based tourism industry. Nature-based tourism is central to the Queensland tourism industry going forward with a new focus on “travel for good”, (Tourism and Events Queensland, 2021). As such, long-term sustainable tourism requires well-managed/well-presented national parks. This proposal is seen as a pilot that could be replicated in other parts of the state.
A Resource document and Business Case have been drafted and shared with local government, state government, DES and the tourism industry, and they have given positive feedback. Below is a summary of the values of the Granite Belt, the opportunity to enhance its protected areas, and the potential tourism benefits to the region.
Values of the Granite Belt
The region has significant conservation value and its proximity to Brisbane and other regional centres makes the Granite Belt a popular location for nature-based tourism. Girraween, Main Range and to a lesser extent Sundown National Parks are major tourism draw cards. Further, nature-based tourism is a rapidly growing industry, and the Southeast Queensland population is seeking new, authentic experiences and activities.
Values of the Granite Belt Region are summarised below:
- 80% of the region’s land is considered to have state biodiversity significance.
- It has a high level of nature connectivity value with 2 corridors of state significance and several of regional significance.
- It supports 4 endangered regional ecosystems.
- 240 bird species have been recorded.
- It provides habitat for several endemic species with limited distribution e.g. the Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus) and Cunningham’s Skink (Egernia cunninghami), As well as several threatened plants including Boronia granitica, Boronia repanda, Grevillea scortechinii subsp scortechiniiand the Dalveen blue box (Eucalyptus dalveenica).
- It supports at least 66 species considered Critically Endangered, Endangered, Vulnerable and Near Threatened and under the Queensland Nature Conservation Act 1992 or the Commonwealth Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Act 1999.
- It has the ability to provide climate change refugia and provides ecosystem services.
- The granite and traprock characteristic of the region provide an appealing setting with spectacular outcrops, cliff and erosion resistant boulders.
- The region can provide a diverse range of nature-based activities.
- Nature-based Tourism ADD SDRC Strategic Plan reference
In addition to visiting vineyards and enjoying the scenery visitors to the Granite Belt enjoy bushwalking, camping, birding, bouldering, orienteering, cycling and photography. The existing national parks in and near the Granite Belt are at times at capacity, especially during spring and school holiday periods, and the reduction in visitors to Girraween following the 2019 fires demonstrates how the presentation of Parks can affect visitation. As such, the connection between well-presented and managed protected areas and a strong long-term tourism industry must be made. These goals are in line with the objectives of the 2017 Southern Downs Regional Tourism Strategy which aims to increase tourism visitation by 25% by 2027 (984,000 visitor p.a. By 2027). % targets were set to achieve this one of which is to develop quality product, event and experiences.
This region is an ideal location to pilot a collaborative approach to strengthen nature-based tourism and enhance the resilience and security of protected areas.
The Proposal (anticipated timeframe 2027-2029)
The proposed actions to be taken for this proposal include:
- Ensuring long term connection of Girraween and Sundown National Parks by protecting the Roberts Range area.
- Transitioning Broadwater and areas of Passchendaele State Forests to conservation and recreational tenures.
- Rehabilitating logged areas in Passchendaele State Forests with native vegetation and operation of an associated carbon credits scheme.
- Establishing three new ranger positions to ensure quality of protected areas is maintained.
- Rescinding the Resource Reserve in Sundown and include it within the national park.
- Planning an optimisation of future nature conservation and tourism potential, with
traditional owners and the local community.
- Establishing a border walking trail along the easement of the NSW/QLD border.
Our research suggests that a capital investment for this proposal of around $6.6 million and an additional operating budget of $792,000 per year would deliver at a minimum an additional tourist spend of around $1.7-2.6 million per year in the region and may attract similar capital co-investments.
In addition, the overall concept of this proposal is supported by the Granite Belt Sustainability Action Network, Southern Downs Regional Council and Granite Belt Wine and Tourism.
The proposed increase in the Protected Area estate will not only increase biodiversity protection in the area but also economic income.
Implementing such a pilot would support the Southern Down’s Regional Council Strategic Plan which places an emphasis on increasing tourism and strengthening the conservation estate of the region. It would also provide learnings for other Queensland regions.