Connecting Habitat for Biodiversity

I recently sat down (virtually!) to chat with Lori Gould from GrassRoots Environmental about her work with Land for Wildlife and Rivers of Carbon. Lori has over 20 years of experience in Natural Resource Management in Australia, specialising in riparian restoration, and she works to engage communities in biodiversity conservation.

Biodiversity

Biodiversity simply means the variety of life on Earth. Humanity is highly dependent on biodiversity, because a diversity of flora and fauna supports healthy ecosystems, which provides humanity with services such as fresh water, soil health, pollination, and food, fibre and fuel production. The loss of biodiversity through global and local extinctions can compromise the provisions of these services. Unfortunately, global biodiversity loss is already occurring at unprecedented rates resulting from significant human alteration of the natural environment. The current rates of biodiversity loss are at least 10-100 times greater than historic averages, with around 1 million species already facing extinction.

Habitat for wildlife is essential to biodiversity

For terrestrial species, habitat loss and fragmentation represent the primary threats to biodiversity. In Australia, the loss of biodiversity is particularly prominent since European colonisation, with dramatic land clearing occurring since the late 1980’s for development, including agricultural use. One of the most effective ways to conserve biodiversity is to protect habitat for wildlife such as through National Reserve Systems (NRS). Considering that Australia’s NRS is inadequate to properly protect biodiversity and that current global resourcing for biodiversity protection falls grossly short, there is a clear need for alternative means of biodiversity conservation. Organisations such as Bush Heritage Australia are taking this problem into their own hands by buying land for conservation purposes. These investments are typically pursued in areas containing species or ecological communities that are under-represented in the NRS.

Lori’s work with Land for Wildlife achieves a similar goal of improving biodiversity on non-NRS land. However, Lori partners with existing landholders who volunteer to improve the biodiversity values of their land without legally committing to exclusive conservation land uses. An important aim of the program is to connect existing habitats like remnant vegetation patches, roadside vegetation and shelterbelts by adding features like wildlife corridors and stepping stones to the landscape, and revegetating riparian zones. These agri-environment schemes represent an effective and important way to conserve biodiversity, whilst allowing the productivity values of a landscape to be maintained.

Image 1. Source: The Nature Conservancy. Restoring habitat connectivity is important for aiding species’ abilities to adapt to changes in their ecological niches, especially in light of climate change pressures. The image shows how species can move between patches that are connected.

Humans are not just the cause of biodiversity loss, they are also part of the solution

In discussions with Lori, I was struck by the importance of the social dimension of biodiversity conservation. Engaging with landowners to blend their business with biodiversity outcomes by finding win-win solutions is key. At the most basic level, Lori said that sustainable agriculture is all about “being able to produce from your land as well as being able to look after it”. Farming systems are diverse, and each farm has different biodiversity values and land management priorities, so environmental conservation can be undertaken in a variety of ways. That’s why Lori’s approach is to equip farmers with a ‘toolbox’ of information and resources they can draw upon to implement conservation efforts according to which sustainability issues are most relevant and pressing to them.

Image 2. Source: Richard Snashal. Lori is involved in restoring degraded rivers like this, so that they can become a biodiverse corridor that can support habitat for aquatic and terrestrial wildlife.

At the end of the interview, I asked Lori “Why do you do what you do?” and her response was rather moving.

“Apart from enjoying my work, I hate the thought of losing it. People ask me ‘why would you save that little fish?’. It’s because I am not willing to lose it. It’s about not accepting the loss of things just because I can’t be bothered to save it. It’s about giving the environment equal value.”

With people like Lori working on biodiversity conservation, there’s certainly hope for our future.

Montana de Meillon; U6403620

Word Count: 539

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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