Riley Rocco, Our Living Outback.  Email:


Thanks to the stewardship of landholders, the Australian rangelands are home to some of the world’s last remaining ecologically intact landscapes. This presents an important environmental conservation opportunity to secure protection for these natural assets while supporting private landowners to manage ecological threats. The Australian rangelands are almost entirely privately owned or managed, primarily through pastoral leases or Aboriginal land ownership. Successful conservation of these globally significant landscapes, and the critical habitat they provide for wildlife, will require leadership from private land managers and the local communities of the rangelands alongside government investment and support. Voluntary private land conservation can deliver significant benefits for nature and for participating landholders if sufficient support is available to landholders to assist actively managing environmental threats to the rangelands such as invasive weeds and animals and destructive fire.

Queensland’s Private Protected Areas Program is an example of a private land conservation initiative that has successfully engaged pastoral landholders in the rangelands. Under the program, landholders voluntarily place all or part of their property under a permanent covenant and enter into an agreement to maintain its environmental values.

To date, more than 500 landholders across the state have entered into an agreement with the Queensland Government to declare a ‘nature refuge’ on their land. The landholder retains ownership of and control of the land within the nature refuge, and low-impact grazing may be permitted within a nature refuge under agreed management conditions. Landholders can also choose to propose a ‘special wildlife reserve’ on their land. Special wildlife reserves are intended for places of particularly high conservation value and provide a level of protection similar to a national park. Nature refuge and special wildlife reserve landholders have access to funding for projects that will help maintain the conservation values on their property such as weed and pest control, implementing off-stream stock watering, or fencing of sensitive areas.

Queensland’s largest contributor to the private protected areas program is family-owned beef producers MDH Pty Ltd, owned and operated by the McDonald family, who have signed agreements with the Queensland Government and had their properties Brightlands, Mt Windsor, and Rutland Plains all declared as nature refuges.

Gulf Cattlemen’s Association President Barry Hughes along with his partner Tammy have dedicated 18,500 hectares of their property ‘North Head’ as a nature refuge. Barry believes that “grazing and conservation are natural partners” and says the nature refuge is a “feather in his cap” proving that good grazing management can coexist with protecting nature.

The participation and contribution of the pastoral industry and other private landholders will be critical in Queensland if the state is to meet its bipartisan commitment of dedicating 17% of the state as protected area in accordance with international targets. Currently, Queensland protects a smaller proportion of its land than any other state or territory, at just 8.2%. Over half of Queensland’s land area is under pastoral tenure. It is on these pastoral stations that a significant share of Queensland’s extraordinary biodiversity, wildlife habitat, and unique natural features can be found. National Parks offer the greatest level of protection and when well-resourced and actively managed they are undoubtedly the “gold standard” of nature conservation. However, National Parks are expensive to acquire, administer, and manage effectively. In contrast, private land conservation agreements do not involve acquisition costs and are significantly more efficient to maintain with landholders undertaking the required land management in accordance with the conservation agreement.

However, for voluntary private land conservation to grow to the desired scale while maintaining conservation standards, greater government investment will be required. Currently, private land conservation programs in Australia receive very modest funding which can limit the amount of available financial support for landholders such as pastoralists who are undertaking important land management activities across large areas. While some landholders have not needed to adjust their management and do not desire financial support, adequate support needs to be available to attract greater numbers of pastoral landholders into private conservation programs and support ongoing conservation land management such as invasive weed and animal control. In addition to direct financial support, indirect support such as readily available technical advice and access to opportunities for alternative income streams that reward conservation efforts will ensure landholders have the capacity to protect and enhance the land’s conservation values over the long term.

Landholders participating in private land conservation agreements are permanently protecting the natural values of their land for future generations. Pastoralists are leading the way in private land conservation in Queensland demonstrating their commitment and meaningful contribution to Queensland’s natural environment. Pastoral private land conservation is a cost-effective and necessary component of increasing Queensland’s protected area estate. Greater government investment is required to support pastoral landholders to dedicate and manage land for conservation, achieving mutual benefits for the people and the environments of the rangelands.


The Our Living Outback Alliance is supported by the Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew Charitable Trusts works in partnership with environmental, agricultural, rural and remote and Aboriginal organisations across the Australian Outback to advocate for conservation outcomes that benefit people and nature. The Our Living Outback Alliance is a Queensland based campaign advocating for increased support for private and public protected area expansion and better management and more land management jobs. If you’d like to know more about our work in land conservation in Queensland, or you are interested in protecting your own property as a nature refuge, please contact Our Living Outback partnerships manager Riley Rocco on 0415 568 247/ To find out more about Pew’s pastoral conservation work nationally, please contact Jack Gough on 0427 713 101/


Editor’s Note:  This paper was presented at the NRM in the Rangelands Conference in Longreach and was volunteered to be included in this issue of the Range Management Newsletter.