Special wildlife reserves

The Nature Conservation Act 1992 (the Act) provides the framework for creating and managing protected areas in Queensland. Special wildlife reserves are a newly created class of protected area under the Act, that aim to protect in perpetuity, exceptional natural and cultural values occurring on private land. Queensland is the first jurisdiction in Australia to create this level of protection on private land.

Special wildlife reserves also provide a very high level of investment confidence in private land conservation in Australia. This will encourage greater philanthropic investment and involvement of conservation organisations in our protected area system to conserve our natural biodiversity.

What is a special wildlife reserve?

A special wildlife reserve is a voluntary, binding and perpetual class of protected area, for application on privately managed land in Queensland. It can apply to freehold and leasehold tenures, with ownership and management responsibilities remaining unaffected.

‘Private protected areas’ are internationally recognised as an important part of protected area systems, and in Queensland are formally represented by special wildlife reserves and nature refuges. Protected areas are the most significant and visible means by which Queenslanders can seek to safeguard our internationally recognised and iconic biological diversity.

The special wildlife reserve class of protected area provides a national park level of protection to private land that contains exceptional natural and/or cultural values and that is managed in a way that focuses on conserving those values. Land declared as a special wildlife reserve receives statutory protection in perpetuity from incompatible land uses such as mining and native timber harvesting. Commercial grazing is also not permitted on special wildlife reserves. A nature refuge—unlike a special wildlife reserve— allows for the continuation of a range of other land uses. For example, grazing, forestry and mining are permitted on a nature refuge.

While the contribution of nature refuges and their landholders to our protected area estate is unquestionable, some parts of our unique landscape need a level of protection that recognises their exceptional natural and cultural values. Special wildlife reserves provide a mechanism to deliver a high level of protection for areas of private land with outstanding conservation values. This allows for the protection of any area based on its inherent natural and cultural values and future conservation management, rather than its ownership by the state.

Further information on the legislation is available on the Queensland legislation website.

Benefits of a special wildlife reserve

Privately protected areas complement Queensland’s national park estate by conserving unique and threatened plant and animal species and ecosystems and by maintaining linkages and corridors across the landscape. Special wildlife reserves provide an opportunity for private lands containing exceptional natural and cultural values to be protected and conserved now and into the future.

Benefits of a special wildlife reserve include:

  • the equivalent level of statutory protection to a national park, in perpetuity
  • statutory protection from other incompatible land uses such as mining
  • best practice private land management to achieve conservation outcomes
  • increased confidence for investment in private land conservation
  • improved outcomes for biodiversity conservation in Queensland

Is my property suitable for a special wildlife reserve?

Identification, negotiation and declaration of special wildlife reserves form an important part of a targeted program, led by the Queensland Government. The State’s initial assessment process for land with the potential to be considered as a special wildlife reserve is two-fold. It considers not only the broad set of values of, and interests in the land, but also the landholder’s capacity to undertake an on-going, high standard of conservation management in perpetuity. The expectation is that special wildlife reserves would have conservation values equivalent to those that the State looks for when considering land for national park dedication, along with a management regime that is similar to that applied to national parks.

A special wildlife reserve assessment may consider, but is not limited to:

  • the exceptional natural and cultural resources and values of the land
  • the land’s connectivity and landscape values
  • long term viability of the land’s exceptional values
  • the land’s overall contribution to the protected area network
  • potential and active threats to the natural and cultural values
  • capacity of the landholder to provide an ongoing professional, well-resourced high standard of conservation management

After this assessment, the State evaluates the alternative uses for the land as early as practicable to consider the relative merits of all potential alternate land uses. Amongst other things, the land’s current and future suitability for agricultural production, timber harvesting and resource extraction is evaluated and considered in relation to the land’s exceptional natural and cultural values. This process includes extensive inter-agency consultation within government.

Landholder suitability, including expertise, capacity and governance structure is assessed to provide confidence to the State that the land can be managed to a high standard over the long term.

How do we define ‘exceptional natural and cultural resources and values’ for a special wildlife reserve?

In considering an area’s suitability for declaration as a special wildlife reserve, information is collected and evaluated to determine whether the area meets the criteria to be declared as a special wildlife reserve, including whether the area contains exceptional natural and cultural resources and values. These values are identified and assessed for their significance using a range of information sources.

The assessment of Indigenous cultural resources and values is founded on the intent and principles of the Nature Conservation Act 1992, the Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Act 2003 and the Torres Strait Islander Cultural Heritage Act 2003, which recognise that First Nations Peoples are the primary guardians, keepers and knowledge-holders of their cultural heritage. First Nations Peoples are actively engaged in cultural heritage assessments on proposed special wildlife reserves, and facilitate the identification of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural heritage, including the exceptional cultural resources and values of the area.

The assessment of non-Indigenous cultural resources and values is guided by the provisions of the Nature Conservation Act 1992, the Queensland Heritage Act 1992, and the knowledge and expertise of cultural heritage specialists within the Queensland Government.

To be considered as an area with exceptional natural resources and values, a proposed special wildlife reserve must be considered as one of the most important places in the landscape for conserving a particular natural resource or value. This may include a species, a group of species, a population, a regional ecosystem, a group of regional ecosystems, a vegetation community, an ecological community, a habitat, or an ecological interaction. Natural resources and values are assessed at the property, landscape and strategic level to take into account the state-wide, national and global context of the resource or value and the importance of the proposed special wildlife reserve in protecting and conserving that natural resource or value.

What is involved?

Once the initial assessment is complete, the Queensland Government may invite suitable proposals to continue through to the next stage. This second stage involves drafting the statutory documents that outline the terms, conditions and management regime the special wildlife reserve will be governed by, while subsequently assessing the current and future land uses and, where necessary, gaining consent from those with an existing interest in the land.

Current and future land uses and interests may include:

  • state interests, such as rail, roads, telecommunication and electricity infrastructure
  • native title rights
  • interests on title, such as leaseholders and mortgage providers
  • individuals and organisations that hold a permit or authority over the land
  • other interests in the land.

The two key statutory documents governing a special wildlife reserve, outside of those requirements stipulated by legislation, are the conservation agreement and the management program.

A conservation agreement is a perpetually binding contract that applies over the land, negotiated between the landholder and the Minister for the State. The conservation agreement outlines the framework for protection of the land’s exceptional values and is binding on future landholders (successors in title).

The management program outlines in detail the exceptional natural and cultural values that exist on the special wildlife reserve and the related conservation management actions, monitoring and required outcomes specific to the protection of those values.. A management program may also provide statutory authorisations so that appropriate activities can be carried out on the land for conservation management purposes.

The endorsement of these documents and subsequent declaration of the special wildlife reserve by the Queensland Government ensures enduring protection of each special wildlife reserve’s natural and cultural values.

What impact will a special wildlife reserve have on native title?

Special wildlife reserves do not impact on native title.

The Queensland Government has ensured there will be no obligations or restrictions placed on native title parties that would interfere with the exercise of native title rights.

Where the interests of Traditional Owners or native title holders are materially affected by a special wildlife reserve conservation agreement, their written consent is required before the agreement can go ahead. This consent could take the form of an Indigenous Land Use Agreement (ILUA).

There are also special conditions for special wildlife reserves in the Cape York Peninsula region. A conservation agreement for a special wildlife reserve in the Cape York Peninsula region will be entered into only if an Indigenous Land Use Agreement for the reserve exists. This provision is applied to areas where native title has not been extinguished.

Can a special wildlife reserve be revoked?

The intention of special wildlife reserve declarations is that they are ‘perpetual’, and revocation cannot occur simply due to a landholder’s wishes. Revocation of a special wildlife reserve can only occur upon a resolution of the Legislative Assembly, following the same process as required for national park revocations.

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