What’s the point of National Parks and Reserves?

What’s the point of National Parks and Reserves?

Royal National Park, Heath and sandstone cliffs
Royal National Park, Heath and sandstone cliffs, Curracarrang

The point? Briefly . . .

  1. We are part of nature, and depend on healthy environments to give us the air we breathe, the water we drink and all the food we eat;
  2. For most of human existence we have been hunter-gatherers and intimate with nature;
  3. We need a meaningful connection to nature, which is our source of life and health;
  4. Nature exists everywhere, in the weeds on a city pavement, but natural landscapes and environments provide joy and relaxation, improving psychological wellbeing.
    “It’s physically and psychologically valuable to escape the noise and intrusion of city and urban life. It results in reduced blood pressure, increased mental performance and reduced anxiety. This is something we all know to be true but it affects us in some ways that are difficult to measure – we just ‘feel’ better.” [i]
  5. Reserves protect fauna and flora under stress from human actions;
  6. Being in a natural environment uses all one’s senses with a superabundance of aesthetic opportunities;
  7. Reserves reserve natural ecoprocesses and ecosystems which are much too valuable to lose
  8. In the last few years the world’s population has shifted to urban. We have become cut off from where we get our food and water from, from the night sky and birdsong. Recent research has linked the declining number of National Park visits in the United States with the increasing consumption of electronic media by children.

[i] Erica Popplewell of the the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), quoted by Jonathan Brown,  ‘Kielder Mires: If I can’t relax here… a journey to England’s quietest spot’, Independent, 10 January 2014

Royal National Park,  sandstone sculpture1
Sandstone sculpture
Royal National Park,
Sandstone sculpture

The reserve system

The Australian Government has made a number of international and national agreements to establish an Australian national reserve system covering the full range of ecosystems.

The IUCN reserve categories depend on the priority assigned to the relevant management objectives.

Cat I. Protected areas managed mainly for: (Ia) science or (Ib) wilderness protection (Strict Nature Reserves and Wilderness Areas);

Cat II. Protected area managed mainly for ecosystem protection and recreation (National Parks); but recreation as compatible with conservation values.

The main three principles guiding the development of a contemporary Protected Area system are (CAR) :

Comprehensiveness – the system encompasses the full range of biological/biophysical diversity.

Adequacy – the system is capable of maintaining biodiversity and associated ecological patterns and processes and other values through natural and human-induced disturbances.

Representativeness – the areas selected for inclusion in the reserve system sample known biological/biophysical diversity and other values.

Reserves have developed ad hoc, usually on crown land not wanted by agriculture or other development activity. The CAR principles, as outlined above, are designed to ensure that all known important environmental attributes, including habitats and ecosystems, are protected.

The 2009 Strategy for the National Reserve System identifies priority actions for the ongoing development of a national system of protected areas and reserves for the next 20 years. The problems of biodiversity conservation are now viewed as much more urgent than before and the major gaps are now seen as biodiversity value based.  In just over 200 years we have lost so much mainly through extensive clearing of native vegetation. Since settlement, hundreds of species have become extinct in Australia, including at least 50 bird and mammal, 4 frog and more than 60 plant species. It is likely that other species have disappeared too, without our knowledge.

But to conserve what we have left is a battle – our systems of government and economics insist on development at almost any cost. This continent has lost over 40% of its forests in just over 200 years – what will the country look like in another 200 years?

Wyn, Royal National Park
Wyn, Royal National Park


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