As more detail emerges on the regulations for the new Biodiversity Act, it seems the old thinking is being applied to the new rules – and it is getting farmers worried.
Two core concerns are the proposed clearing limits on steep land, plus the complete disregard of fully-actioned property vegetation plans.
The codes and settings are in draft form – so it remains to be seen if farmer fears will be realised and new rules based solely on lines on a map. Ideally, a farm by farm, or even catchment by catchment appraisal of biodiversity management will be realised in the final product.
Habitat loss – a big contributor to species extinction – isn’t halted by hobbling farmers. Instead, it needs targeted outcomes and flexible, creative solutions.
The Australian National University is discovering this in research it is doing which puts farmers at the centre of the thinking (see “Growing a bottom line”, The Land, September 29, 2016).
The solutions need to include farmers – the majority land managers – and they need to help them to be profitable and adaptable. Landscapes are ever changing, as are the ways in which we need to use them and manage them.
On page 24, the Future Farmers Network explains the importance of having a farm manager that has the land’s interest at heart. The understanding and knowledge that land managers develop through closely working with the land never seems to have been allowed to enter into this debate.
Government has spruiked new flexibilities offered by the reform. If these do exist, they need to be better explained and championed for the people on farm.
Some very productive and profitable farm businesses are run on steep country in many different parts of the state. Will these farms now be targeted under a one-size-fits-all rule that limits flexibility?
So much time and effort has been put into changing that Act and its regulations, but at the problem’s heart is a need for new thinking. The framework for its implementation exists due to the changed act, but we’re still stuck on the same old discussions.
The new regulations are dense and confusing, and we are at the most critical juncture in all these changes. The government needs to make sure the regulations have the necessary flexibility to allow farmers to be good land managers, not grounds keepers for somebody else’s project.