The Nature Refuges Program

The Nature Refuges Program is the Queensland Government’s primary voluntary conservation covenanting program. National parks alone cannot maintain the amazing diversity of plants, animals and ecosystems found in Queensland. Landholders can play a vital role in protecting the state’s biodiversity by establishing a nature refuge on their property. A nature refuge is a class of protected area under the Nature Conservation Act 1992.

The department's priority for the Nature Refuges Program is delivery of NatureAssist. Only properties deemed to be of outstanding conservation significance will be considered outside of this program.

In general, the Nature Refuges Program targets suitable properties and works with the landholders of those properties where there is a mutual conservation interest. To determine whether an area of land may be suitable for targeting as a nature refuge, the department assesses the land's biodiversity values against the Nature Refuges Program objectives and conservation priorities. This assessment considers the significance of the potential nature refuge at a property, landscape and strategic level. Potential nature refuges are those that:

  • at a property level, contain significant conservation values that are of a sufficient size, condition and placement in the landscape to remain viable in the long-term;
  • at a landscape level, increase representation of the state's biodiversity and establish or maintain landscape linkages and corridors;
  • at a strategic level, possess exceptional values or circumstances that contribute to improved conservation in Queensland; and/or
  • deliver on the objectives of NatureAssist.
    Wallabies at Oakview Wildlife Nature Refuge  - Ann-Maree Dineen

    Wallabies at Oakview Wildlife Nature Refuge  - Ann-Maree Dineen

    Coastal vegetation at Australian Prawn Farms Nature Refuge

    Coastal vegetation at Australian Prawn Farms Nature Refuge

    What is a nature refuge?

    A nature refuge is a voluntary agreement between a landholder and the Queensland Government. A nature refuge agreement acknowledges a commitment to protect land with significant conservation value, while allowing compatible and sustainable land uses to continue. Landholders with a nature refuge continue to own and manage their land for enjoyment and/or to generate an income. Each nature refuge is negotiated directly with the landholder through a nature refuge agreement.

    Nature refuge agreements

    A nature refuge agreement is:

    • negotiated between the department and the landholder, and provides a framework for sustainably managing a nature refuge and protecting its significant values
    • tailored to suit the landholder’s management needs
    • able to be negotiated with owners of freehold land, leaseholders of State land, government corporations that are separate legal entities from the Queensland Government, local governments, private companies and nature conservancies
    • able to be negotiated over the whole or a portion of the property, depending on the conservation values and the landholder’s wishes
    • perpetual, registrable on title and binds successive owners or lessees of the land. A nature refuge is the best way landholders can ensure the good land management practices and conservation works they have initiated will be continued when future generations or new owners take over. So, if a property changes hands, responsibility for the nature refuge rests with the new owners or lessees.
    Staghorn fern on rock face at Mount Kanigan Nature Refuge

    Staghorn fern on rock face at Mount Kanigan Nature Refuge

    The process

    The department primarily works with landholders who have been targeted through its priority programs. An area is generally targeted for a nature refuge based on an assessment by a nature refuge officer that will take into account the condition of the land, current land uses and management practices, and proposed future uses. The nature refuge officer will also determine whether a property is consistent with current conservation priorities of the Nature Refuges Program.

    If suitable, the nature refuge officer will explain the process of developing a nature refuge agreement and declaring a nature refuge and will discuss any concerns the landholder may have. If the landholder and the department wish to proceed, a draft nature refuge agreement is developed in consultation with the landholder.

    Each nature refuge agreement is negotiated directly with the landholder and tailored to suit the management needs of the property, the needs of the landholder and the outcomes that the Queensland Government considers important. Once both parties are satisfied with the contents of the agreement, the landholder and Minister for Environment and the Great Barrier Reef or their delegate sign the agreement.

    Feel free to contact us for more information.

    Winter wildflowers cover the sand dunes fringing the floodplain at Bulloo Downs Nature Refuge

    Winter wildflowers cover the sand dunes fringing the floodplain at Bulloo Downs Nature Refuge

    Is my property suitable for a nature refuge?

    If your property contains significant conservation values and aligns with the Nature Refuges Program’s priority (i.e. NatureAssist); you may be contacted to seek your voluntary participation. Consideration will be given to:

    • areas containing, or providing habitat for, threatened species of plants and animals (including areas that contain koala values within nominated South East Queensland local government areas)
    • habitats or vegetation types that are threatened, such as endangered and of concern regional ecosystems
    • habitats and ecosystems that are poorly represented in existing protected areas
    • remnant vegetation
    • movement corridors for native animals, especially those linking areas of remnant vegetation or existing reserves and/or
    • significant wetlands.
    Birds eye view of Avoid Island Nature Refuge

    Birds eye view of Avoid Island Nature Refuge

    Benefits of a nature refuge

    Nature refuges not only reflect the significant values on your land but also your effective management to maintain them over time. In this way, a nature refuge declaration is commending you for your good land management.

    The legacy that can be created through the perpetuity of a nature refuge agreement is often attractive to landholders who have invested significant effort in good management, particularly those with a historical or family association with their property.

    You do not have to choose between productivity and conservation because a nature refuge agreement can be negotiated to allow for continuing use of the land resulting in both ecological and economic sustainability.

    When a landholder signs a nature refuge agreement they are supported by nature refuge officers located in key locations across the state. These officers support landholders through one-on-one specialist advice on how to best protect the conservation values on their nature refuge.

    If you decide to sell your property and with it the nature refuge, be sure to contact your nature refuge officer. The nature refuge officer will ensure the new owners have a copy of the nature refuge agreement and visit them on-site to look at the individual aspects of their new place and ensure the legacy you have created is well managed into the future.

    Establishing a nature refuge may also provide access to community groups and other programs that may provide additional support. This may include access to expertise, volunteers and specialist activities, such as revegetation programs and pest plant control.

    The NatureAssist program also provides funding for projects that deliver conservation outcomes for landholders interested in establishing or extending a nature refuge. There are specific areas of the state targeted by NatureAssist, selected for their predicted future conservation resilience in the landscape. Targeted landholders will be directly contacted and asked if they would like to participate.

    From time to time, small grants may be offered to existing nature refuge landholders for upkeep and enhancement of their Nature Refuge. This financial assistance is for landholders to undertake on-ground projects within their nature refuge that improve the sustainable use of the property and manage any threats to the natural values. An example of this is the pilot Nature Refuge Landholder Grant program.