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The Private Protected Area Program

‘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 outstanding biological diversity.

National parks alone cannot maintain the outstanding diversity of plants, animals and ecosystems found in Queensland. Landholders can also play a vital role in protecting the state’s biodiversity by establishing a nature refuge on their property.

The Private Protected Area Program is the Queensland Government’s primary voluntary conservation covenanting program. The program encourages landholders to partner with the state to protect the conservation values of their land through the declaration of a nature refuge.

The Private Protected Area Program targets suitable properties and works with landholders with a mutual conservation interest to enter into a conservation agreement. Financial incentives may be offered through the NatureAssist program.

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 program’s objectives and conservation priorities. This assessment considers the significance of the potential nature refuge at a property, landscape and strategic level. Potential nature refuges must meet one of the following criteria:

  • 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
  • deliver on the objectives of NatureAssist.
Wallabies at Oakview Wildlife Nature Refuge

What is a nature refuge?

A nature refuge is a voluntary agreement between a landholder and the Queensland Government to conserve the significant cultural and natural values of privately managed land.

A nature refuge is a class of protected area under the Nature Conservation Act 1992 that, once declared, must be managed to:

  1. conserve the area’s significant cultural and natural resources
  2. provide for the controlled use of the area’s cultural and natural resources
  3. provide for the interest of landholders to be taken into account.

Before a nature refuge can be declared, a conservation agreement is negotiated between the landholder and the Queensland Government, which commits to protecting significant conservation values, 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.

A nature refuge is the best way landholders can ensure their good land management practices and conservation works will be continued when future generations or new owners take over.

Coastal vegetation at Australian Prawn Farms Nature Refuge

Conservation agreements

A conservation 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
  • 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
  • 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 (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

The process

An area is targeted for a nature refuge based on the department’s assessment of the land’s condition, current land uses and management practices, and proposed future uses. The department will also determine whether a property is consistent with current conservation priorities of the Private Protected Area Program.

The department will contact landholders of a suitable property to explain the process of developing a conservation 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 conservation agreement is developed in consultation with the landholder.

Each conservation 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 considered important by the Queensland Government. Once both parties are satisfied with the contents of the agreement, any third parties that may be materially affected by the agreement (such as lessees of leasehold land or financial lenders) are required to consent to the agreement, before the landholder and Minister (or their delegate) sign the agreement.

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 Private Protected Area Program’s priorities; you may be contacted to seek your voluntary participation via the NatureAssist program. Consideration will be given to:

  • areas containing, or providing habitat for, threatened species of plants and animals
  • 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

Benefits of a nature refuge

Nature refuges not only protect the significant conservation values of privately managed land, but also commit to effectively managing those values over time. The legacy that can be created through a perpetual nature refuge is often attractive to landholders who have invested significant effort in sustainable land management, particularly those with a historical or family association with their property.

Nature refuge landholders do not have to choose between productivity and conservation because a conservation agreement can be negotiated to allow for continuing land use for both ecological and economic sustainability.

Support for landholders

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

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

Landholders interested in establishing or extending a nature refuge may be eligible for NatureAssist for on-ground conservation projects.

Small grants may also be offered from time to time to existing nature refuge landholders. For example the Nature Refuge Landholder Grant funds on-ground projects to protect and enhance the conservation values of nature refuges.