A Centenary of Conservation: What does it mean to live in the ‘Bush Capital’ 100 years on?

Canberra gets an almost universally bad rap, often even from the people who live here. Frequent complaints are that it is boring, sterile and that a politician seems to pop out from behind every controversial piece of street art.

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One of the more controversial examples of Canberra’s recent embracement of public art.

However, those of us who love it (and there are more of us than you might think), love its sense of community, its greenery, its open spaces and the fact that our gardens are visited by parrots and kangaroos. In short, we love it because we live in a ‘bush capital’.

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At the ANU’s recent Sustainability Day, the Conservation Council got an overwhelming response to the question “What do you love about Canberra’s Environment”. The most popular responses were “birds”, “trees” and “green!”.

This year we are celebrating 100 years of life in the ‘bush capital’, but how many of us have stopped to think about what that means? It is a unique situation where a city can feel so connected with its environment, but this connection comes at a cost. Canberra’s increasing urbanisation affects the viability of local biodiversity through changes to connectivity, water flows, fire regimes and the impacts of pets, weeds, waste dumping and recreational activities. This means that Canberra’s community is directly impacting on local biodiversity conservation

Canberran's visit natural areas more than do residents of any other state or territory http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-tops-with-fauna-and-flora-its-a-walk-in-the-park-20130326-2gsma.html

Canberrans visit natural areas more than do residents of any other state or territory http://www.canberratimes.com.au/act-news/canberra-tops-with-fauna-and-flora-its-a-walk-in-the-park-20130326-2gsma.html

However, the situation is not all bad! Many Canberrans feel strongly about their local environment and are passionately involved in making positive change. Canberra is home to an abundance of community environment groups, full of dedicated staff and volunteers. These groups are integral to biodiversity monitoring, on the ground conservation and advocating for better bushcare.

Community volunteers work hard at events like 'Clean up Australia Day' to protect their local biodiversity

Community volunteers work hard at events like ‘Clean up Australia Day’ to protect their local biodiversity

The integrated nature of urban biodiversity begs for serious consideration of the importance of community participation in conservation. Participation theory has long believed that communities should be involved in the decisions that affect them. We can take this even further by considering the idea that communities should be involved in the decisions which they affect. Canberrans are not only affecting biodiversity management by creating problems, they are also trying hard to solve them.

The International Association of Public Participation believes that communities should be involved in the decisions which affect them on principle. See their core values at www.iap2.org.au

The International Association of Public Participation believes that communities should be involved in the decisions which affect them on principle. See their core values at http://www.iap2.org.au

If Canberra is to remain the beautiful ‘bush capital’ that we (well, most of us) love, we need to embrace the role of communities in actively and passionately participating in biodiversity conservation.

Rebecca Palmer-Brodie is a Masters Student at the Australian National University – examining the role of public participation in environmental management, and the Bush on the Boundary Coordinator at the Conservation Council – investigating the impacts of the urban edge on ecological values.

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About Biodiversity Conservation Blog

I am an Associate Professor at The Australian National University and convene a (very awesome) course called Biodiversity Conservation. Myself and students in the course contribute to this blog.
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3 Responses to A Centenary of Conservation: What does it mean to live in the ‘Bush Capital’ 100 years on?

  1. Great read Rebecca. I viewed Canberra as a place to study and then leave. That was 21 years ago. This place has grown on me partly because of the attitude by the community to environmental issues. However, this doesn’t necessarily translate into practice: we are the heaviest CO2 polluters per capita in Australia.

  2. Kien says:

    I agree with the point that ACT is by far one of the highest CO2 polluters per capitat in Australia and if looking at Australia as a country itself also has relatively high CO2 emission per capita. I come and go, currently is status as a temporal visitor to this city but I do love Canberra and ANU so much. They are already a part of my life. There are much more needed to be done amongst the urban residents to bridge the policy and practice gaps. Just take the supermarket as an example – its almost crazy with products and look at TV shows with advertisement – always MORE. The Farmers’ Market is an interesting shift in the attitude (consumerism, green/clean and homegrown produce etc). The logic is, from my point of view, to reduce CO2 emissions urban residents should consume much LESS and engage more with nature and biodiversity for instance through urban gardens. The article is very interesting though Rebecca and great to see you up there doing something 🙂 and with love.

  3. Bec says:

    I agree, Canberra has a phenomenal footprint and we have a very long way to go. I firmly believe that the only way we will achieve change is if we not only have the community on board, but involve them in actively making that change. This is especially true for things like consumption which are so strongly tied to culture and personal choice.

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