Friday, October 7th, 2011
A groundbreaking land acquisition in the Northern Territory by The Nature Conservancy and partners will see a former cattle station handed back to Traditional Owners and managed for conservation.

It is the first time that conservation non-government organisations in Australia have been involved in purchasing land that will be handed back to its Indigenous Traditional Owners, taking The Nature Conservancy to a new and exciting phase of its work in northern Australia.

The purchase of Fish River Station, around 180,000 hectares of savannah woodlands, rainforest and important flood plains for the Daly River, was funded by The Nature Conservancy in partnership with the Australian Government, the Indigenous Land Corporation (ILC) and Pew Environment Group at a cost of $13 million.

Dr Michael Looker, Director of The Nature Conservancy in Australia, said the partnership was groundbreaking.

“The acquisition is a remarkable step forward for conservation in Australia. We’re conserving crucial biodiversity, providing sustainable livelihoods to Indigenous Australians, handing land back to the Traditional Owners and catalysing further conservation” he said.

“This is a great alliance to build long-term conservation in some of our most remote country,” Australian Environment Minister Tony Burke said.

“It’s an exciting new model for Australia’s National Reserve System, our most secure way of protecting native plants and animals for future generations. It’s also a significant contribution to our conservation corridor right through central Australia which will give native species room to adapt to a changing climate, fire and drought.

“By working with partners, we’ve achieved a big win for nature conservation and a new model for reconnecting Indigenous people with their land.”

The acquisition will see about 400 species of plants protected as well as four nationally threatened animals: the Northern Masked Owl, the Northern Quoll, the Freshwater Sawfish and the Gouldian Finch.

The Daly River lays claim to more freshwater turtle species than anywhere else in Australia. Fish River Station also contains at least 19 species of mammals, including the Northern Brown Bandicoot, Agile Wallaby, Sugar Glider and Red-cheeked Dunnart.

The ILC will initially hold Fish River Station on behalf of local communities who owned the land before Western settlement; the ILC plans to then transfer the land back to an Indigenous organisation representative of Traditional Owners.

The ILC and The Nature Conservancy have already completed interim management guidelines for the property, purchased equipment needed to undertake conservation and hired and begun training Indigenous Rangers in land management and habitat restoration.

“Employing Indigenous Rangers is a critical step to ensure traditional knowledge and the best modern science are combined for lasting results” said Dr Looker.

The cultural, social, economic and environmental outcomes that will flow from the purchase of Fish River Station will not only benefit local Traditional Owners; they will also be important for all of Australia.

Shirley McPherson, chairperson of the ILC, said: “Traditional Owners will be able to renew and strengthen their connection to country and Fish River can again become a teaching place for passing on cultural knowledge about land and lore to their children.”

She said that Indigenous Rangers will be able to generate income through programs such as fencing, cultural site protection, weed eradication, plant and animal surveys, feral animal eradication, soil conservation, regeneration of threatened flora and fauna species and a host of other work to protect this ecosystem ark for future generations of all Australians.

According to Dr Looker, the protection of Fish River Station has prompted new protected area declarations in areas adjacent to the station and could result in a protected area network spanning over 800,000 hectares.

The purchase also augments the burgeoning Trans-Australia Eco-Link, a governmental effort to link more than 3,500 kilometers of protected areas from South Australia to the Arafura Sea in Australia’s Northern Territory.

The 3M Foundation and individual donors provided vital seed money that was matched by the Pew Environment Group through its partnership with the Conservancy, as well as by the National Reserve System and the ILC.

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The Nature Conservancy Australia

The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is a leading conservation organisation working around the world to protect ecologically important land and water for nature and people. TNC plays a critical conservation leadership role in Australia: convening stakeholders; enabling the capacity of key partners; providing scientific, conservation planning, policy and management expertise; and driving and leveraging successful large-scale conservation results.
Penny Underwood
P: 03 9818 8540


The Nature Conservancy, Fish River purchase, groundbreaking, cattle station



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