THE federal government has been urged to tap into the environmental passion and knowhow of farmers to more than double the amount of land under private conservation.
Farmers, landholders and conservation groups have come together to call for increased government investment to support landholders who choose to permanently set aside parts of their land for nature.
Led by the Australian Land Conservation Alliance, the broad coalition wants to increase privately-owned land set aside for conservation from 2 per cent to 5pc by 2030.
Currently, private land conservation is supported by state governments, with varying degrees of funding - NSW's Biodiversity Conservation Trust is well funded and actively growing a network of private conservation landholders, while up until recently South Australia had no funding program and the funding it does have runs out in June.
But with 60pc of the continent privately owned, ALCA chief executive Jody Gunn said it was clearly an issue that deserved federal government leadership and investment.
"Across the country there are already tens of thousands of landholders who have chosen to make space for nature - voluntarily committing to permanently protect wildlife habitat and iconic natural places on our land," Dr Gunn said.
"These people are proud to protect and manage these precious places. They want to play their part in ensuring the survival of threatened native species and the health of our rivers, forests and farmland, for the benefit of all Australians."
Victorian beef farmer Drew Gailey backs increased support for private conservation. He's been working to restore biodiversity on his property, collecting seeds and planting endangered species.
"Here in Victoria, we have less than one per cent of native grasslands left.... these grasslands are often home to a great number of plants and animals - it's possible to find more than 25 species in a square metre," Mr Gailey said.
"Protecting what's left of these once abundant grasslands has never been more important. Species such as the critically endangered Golden Sun Moth survive on a specific type of grass found in the native grasslands - today many of these ecosystems are fragmented and isolated."
Mr Gailey has placed a conservation covenant on certain parts of his property with threatened biodiversity and receives money to manage it, but he's still able to graze cattle and use the land.
"But it means the area is protected for nature - even if the land is sold," he said.
"Knowing that it will be protected into the future gives me confidence that this unique environment will survive."
Support methods for private land conservation vary from state to state, ranging from grants, payments in perpetuity for lost land use income or a fixed payment based on the land's value.
Pew Charitable Trusts national director Michelle Grady said many farmers were passionate conservationists with a love of the land they own, and private conservation worked hand-in-hand with agriculture.
"Investing in permanently protected private land enables landholders to diversify their income, fosters practical land management, creates local employment and supports the long-term productivity and resilience of Australia's thriving rural landscapes," Ms Grady said.
"With greater investment and support, we can build on the practical hard work of thousands of passionate and dedicated people who have a direct connection to their land and want to ensure its protection. Together we can increase the amount of privately owned land that is permanently protected."
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