Protecting NSW’s ‘Biodiversity Highway’

Catherine Merchant, member of National Parks Association of NSW

The controlled movement of stock across Australia via a “veritable maze”[1] of public stock routes is a uniquely Australian phenomenon. This “maze” is particularly evident in NSW where some droving continues. What remains of the Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves network (TSR network) in NSW[2] is a valuable public asset that must be preserved. Its enduring protection has been an important aspect of NPA’s 60 years of conservation advocacy work.

The historic use of the TSR network for droving, and more recently grazing, meant it was not cleared and fertilized for crop production, and the remaining native vegetation mosaic, especially within NSW’s highly-cleared wheat and sheep farming belt, provides vital refuge and habitat connectivity for declining and threatened species.

The vegetation and habitats on TSRs are often the best remnants of woodland ecosystems that are not well represented in the National Parks estate. The network also provides a unique opportunity for large-scale, connectivity-based conservation, which may mitigate the effects of climate change on native species.

In 2012, the NSW government commenced an independent review of all Crown land. The recommendations in the Review Report provided the direction for the Crown Lands Management Act 2016.  This new Act in a general way affects all TSRs.

In parallel with the development of the new Act there has been a series of initiatives to guide the implementation of NSW’s changed Crown land management regime. Two of these directly affect the TSR network.

Firstly, through the NSW Travelling Stock Reserves State Planning Framework 2016–21, developed by Local Land Services (LLS) in consultation with the Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH); and secondly through a recent collaborative review project undertaken by LLS and Department of Industry – Lands (DoI – Lands).

As well, OEH and LLS continue to collaborate to identify TSR network conservation values, with support from Environmental Trust funding. It is imperative that there is a thorough and transparent assessment of the wide ranging values of the entire TSR network prior to decisions by DoI – Lands in relation to any fragmentation of the TSR network and its future ownership and management.

For further information about changes to Crown land management, including the TSR network and the various environmental assessment projects which are underway across NSW, please refer to EDO submission/ web page.

[1] Tom McKnight “The long paddock: Australia’s travelling stock routes.” 1977, Armidale N.S.W. University of New England, Dept. of Geography.

[2] Based on recent LLS documentation, the current TSR network comprises 1,979,715 hectares of Crown land reserves in NSW. Of this land area, DoI -Lands controls 73%, mostly within the environmentally fragile Western Division though 3% of these TSRs under Lands are in Central Division. The other 27% of the TSR area is under the care and control of Local Land Services (LLS) with 72% of this area in Central and Eastern Division and the remainder covering the stock water places in Western Division.

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