In 2014 I had the privilege of sitting on a rocky “jump-up” (or mesa) at the end of a long and hot day on what is now Pullen Pullen Reserve.
It’s a remote and vast landscape in the Channel Country of central-west Queensland dominated by long unburnt spinifex, Mitchell grass downs and stony gibber plains. It’s also home to the Night Parrot and other endangered and vulnerable birds such as the Plains-wanderer, Painted Honeyeater, and Grey Falcon plus small marsupials such as the Kowari and Dusky hopping-mouse.
To experience the sunset after a long day’s work is a special time of day. Watching the colours of the sky deepen and change in sympathy for the setting sun, and the landscape around you reflecting its glow is awe inspiring.
The realisation that this landscape was one of the few remaining strongholds for our endangered wildlife, allowed me to fully comprehend just how fragile this landscape is. A landscape where just one rogue feral animal could tip the delicate balance in the wrong direction. While feral animals lurking in the shadows are a constant threat, there was another more sinister threat in plain sight. It was the very real threat from other authorised land uses, such as mining, that could have far greater impacts than any feral animal, and simply could not be ignored.
Up until last year, the highest level of protection within Queensland for a private conservation area was a Nature Refuge Agreement (NRA). This is a voluntary agreement between the landholder and the Government. Unfortunately a NRA doesn’t always offer the protections required of these critically important landscapes. They often remain threatened from incompatible land uses and threatening activities, such as mining and timber harvesting.
Many landholders and conservation organisations have advocated for many years about the importance of an increased level of protection for privately protected areas.
There was a collective cheer when the Queensland Government legislated a new class of protected area, Special Wildlife Reserves, in March 2019. This is an Australian first and something for all Queenslanders to be immensely proud of. No longer are National Parks the only highest level of protection for our important conservation areas. Special Wildlife Reserves are a new class of protected area that provides national park level protections to privately owned land.
Queensland remains the only state in Australia to provide this national park level protection for privately owned land.
Fast forward to this year and Bush Heritage Australia’s Pullen Pullen Reserve in western Queensland was declared the first ever special wildlife reserve.
Pullen Pullen was purchased by Bush Heritage Australia to protect critical habitat of one of the world’s most elusive and endangered birds – the night parrot. The added level of protection that comes with the special wildlife reserve status will ensure all of Pullen Pullen’s species are permanently protected from possible incompatible land uses such as mining, timber harvesting and grazing.
Pullen Pullen will continue to be managed by Bush Heritage Australia who work to conserve this important species and landscapes.
The declaration of this Special Wildlife Reserve is also of immense importance to the land’s Traditional Owners, the Maiawali First Nations People, who have been working closely with Bush Heritage Australia to identify and protect the reserve’s ecologically and culturally important values.
As a progressive society we cannot and should not sit back expecting our governments to be able to protect all of our critical landscapes, while also juggling the myriad of competing priorities. This is our collective responsibility. Private investment in conservation on both public and private lands is a key feature in many countries worldwide. Special Wildlife Reserves now provide philanthropists with certainty that their donations can be used on privately managed land that is legally protected from threatening processes in perpetuity.
Many Governments and conservation organisations have long recognised that privately protected areas are an integral part of any protected area network. It’s for this reason that privately owned lands remain a critical part of ensuring the conservation of Queensland’s natural and cultural values in perpetuity.
This new category of protected area is the most progressive conservation reform in Australia in recent times, and Bush Heritage Australia is proud to have been part of its inception. Bush Heritage Australia hopes that Pullen Pullen is the first of many Special Wildlife Reserves to be declared, and hope that NPAQ members will continue to embrace and support this new form of protected area.
Last month, I was once again at Pullen Pullen Reserve and was able to sit on the same jump-up as I had 6 years prior. It was here that I was able to reflect on this journey and what we have collectively been able to achieve. And while I fully recognise that there are still many other threats facing our important species and landscapes, I hope that like me, you can all celebrate the fact that the conservation community have been successful in eliminating threatening land uses from another critically important landscape. Bush Heritage Australia continues to work toward more of our critically important places achieving Special Wildlife Reserve status.