An interesting article appeared in the Australian Farm Institute's February “Ag Forum”, expressing farmers’ frustration over the on-going biodiversity protection laws that prevent them doing whatever they want on their properties. Nevertheless, the author, Mick Keogh, does accept that retention of biodiversity is, "an outcome which is unquestionably a ‘public good’ – the benefits of which are enjoyed by the entire community".
I was surprised however, at his subsequent claim that, “environmental groups have never acknowledged the glaring inequity associated with imposing these bans (and their associated cost) on privately owned farmland”. I admit that consideration of who bears the cost of maintaining biodiversity levels is probably not a top priority for the average conservationist. However, as a local environmentalist, I'd like it on record that I have frequently advocated for stewardship payments to be made to landowners for protection of native vegetation, and also for more support from governments to prevent exploitation by powerful retail chains. After all a cash-strapped landowner is less inclined to adopt more expensive beneficial environmental practices.
Environment groups have also urged Government to introduce carbon trading, providing landowners with an additional income stream by retaining native vegetation.
In compiling submissions on biodiversity matters, both to State and Federal Governments, I have repeatedly proposed that farmers, who find themselves owning land that is no longer viable because of a changing climate, be offered the opportunity to manage their properties for biodiversity and carbon storage, thus assisting government to meet its international commitment to emissions reduction.
Many farmers are already receiving drought relief, and other tax-payer funded support and many will never be able to recover financially. Therefore paying them to remove livestock, and instead manage pest animals and weeds while nature recovers, would not only benefit the planet, but provide those landowners with a renewed sense of purpose as well as an income.
Finally, it should be stressed that mankind is dependent on biodiversity for our very existence. So with much of that biodiversity occurring on private land, if we need to pay to protect it, so be it.
- John Edwards
This post originally appeared in the VOICES FOR THE EARTH column in The Daily Examiner on 7th March, 2016.