Welcome to the Summer edition of Protected, and my first as President. Let me introduce myself: I have been an NPAQ Councillor for the past three years, and an active member of the Advocacy Committee during that time. My professional experience has been with natural resources and environmental planning at the site and regional scale, including catchments, rivers, wetlands, national and conservation parks and World Heritage areas. The last decade I was focused on designing sustainability into infrastructure projects and organisations.
I grew up feeling very connected with nature with a family who were always immersed in the outdoors. This early passion plus my work experience developed a deep commitment for protecting our natural environment and the unique biodiversity it supports. I believe that healthy, resilient ecosystems are fundamental to our continued life on the planet – if they deteriorate and die then so do we.
This edition features a review of the new Protected Area Strategy, research on the economic importance of national parks, an article about Queensland’s First Special Wildlife reserve, St Helena Island National Park (a great day trip during school holidays) and more.
An area of interest over the COVID experience of the past nine months has been the role of national parks in people’s health and sense of well-being, and of dispelling the blues brought on by the constraints of coronavirus on ‘normal’ life. The need to connect with nature and the outdoors has resulted in unprecedented numbers of visitors travelling to national parks – both within close proximity to major urban centres, and those in more remote regional settings.
A few figures give a more informed picture:
- In NSW, NPWS reports overnight stays at campgrounds across the state were up by more than a third in July compared to the same month last year.
Among sites near Sydney, visitor numbers also recorded a similar jump. West Head, at the Ku-Ring-Gai Chase National Park, and Barrenjoey notched up gains of almost 60 per cent for the June quarter.
- In Queensland, figures show a spike in the number of people visiting parks since June. Camping and vehicle permits rose by 40 per cent to 194,818 across the four months between June and September, compared with the same months last year.
- The number of individual campers rose 23 per cent from 216,591 in June-September 2019 to 266,547 in June-September 2020.
One positive interpretation from these trends reinforces the fundamental role nature and national parks play in our health and sense of well-being, and ‘restoring our soul’. Interestingly, during the lock down period when visits to parks were not permitted, rangers across Australia and internationally described how this respite from visitors and human disturbance resulted in the return of wildlife in and around quiet, empty camp sites. On Fraser Island, rangers noted the absence of dingoes around the coastal campgrounds that are usually busy with campers and day visitors. Lack of visitors meant no food scraps, so the dingoes withdrew to the more hilly areas they traditionally occupied.
In the iconic Yosemite National Park USA, deer, bobcats, coyotes and black bears have congregated around the deserted buildings, along roadways and other parts of the park that were previously teeming with the annual four million visitors.
On this interesting note, I hope these positive trends continue, and you are able to enjoy some wonderful experiences our national parks offer over the summer period.