A new review conducted by the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has identified ways to up-scale grassroots improvements to soil, water and biodiversity under the national Landcare program at the regional and national levels.
It was among seven areas for improvement identified by stakeholders in the review of the second phase of the Landcare program, which also recommended more efficient delivery mechanisms; better monitoring and evaluation systems; improved engagement and mobilisation of stakeholders; more co-design project models; better links with private industry and philanthropy; and integrating Indigenous knowledge and expertise more.
The report endorsed the critical role of grassroots organisations and volunteers in running programs to improve Australia’s unique environment and natural resources. But it also painted a picture of a complex system that lacked an overarching framework to clearly articulate the outcomes and objectives of Landcare’s projects and sub-programs.
“An overarching framework for the NLP can help the NLP and other investments in environmental protection, sustainable agriculture and natural resource management achieve impact at a larger scale,” the report said.
“While the broad nature of the focus areas provide flexibility for the Landcare program to distribute funds towards national priorities, the lack of clearly defined objectives can make it difficult to determine the its impact and communicate national priorities for the program to stakeholders.”
Phase two of the program funded projects that addressed the impacts of feral animals and pests on threatened species, the rehabilitation of the Ramsar Wetlands, created new Indigenous protected areas, and planted more than 29.5 million trees under the 20 Million Trees program.
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Environment minister Sussan Ley said the $1.1 billion program (delivered over five years from 2018-23 and derived from the Natural Heritage Trust) was a government commitment to practical environmental action. The goal was to inspire communities, Traditional Owners and land managers to play a leading role in caring for the environment, she added.
“It is a program that inspires everyday people to do extraordinary things for our environment,” Ley said.
“I would like to thank all who provided their feedback, Landcare groups, volunteers, regional NRM bodies, farmers, researchers and members or the public, for their contribution to the review process.”
The review was overseen by an expert reference panel that included scientists, natural resource management practitioners and farming group representatives. The group consulted with stakeholders over a one-month period from September to October last year and used 449 points of engagement to inform the final report, which was compiled with the assistance of independent consultant group Thinkplace.
Agriculture minister David Littleproud said the review report, released by the government on Monday, showed the Landcare program had good outcomes for the environment and also helped to support sector jobs.
“Continued support for projects that encourage volunteers will be essential for the next phase of the program,” Littleproud said.
“Both agricultural and environmental outcomes will continue to be a key focus.”