Nature conservation

Protected areas

Wilderness

What is wilderness?

The term 'wilderness' is used to describe large, natural areas of land that, together with their native plant and animal communities, remain essentially unchanged by modern human activity.

Wilderness areas represent the largest, most pristine areas in the state's reserve system. The Wilderness Act 1987 affords declared wilderness the most secure level of protection, requiring it to be managed in a way that will maintain its wilderness values and pristine condition by limiting activities likely to damage flora, fauna and cultural heritage.

Nearly all declared wilderness is within national parks and nature reserves and it is actively managed for fire, pests and weeds, consistent with management practices applied elsewhere throughout the reserve system.

Wilderness worldwide is a scarce and diminishing resource which needs protecting to ensure it will be available for the benefit and enjoyment of future generations. The declaration of wilderness not only acknowledges the conservation significance of these areas but also their aesthetic and spiritual significance. These are Australia's last wild, untamed places.

NSW is one of the few developed places in the world where wilderness still exists and is among the first Australian states to legislate for wilderness protection.

Why do we have wilderness?

Wilderness is important because it provides a range of ecological, cultural and human benefits to society.

Wilderness areas represent the most intact and undisturbed expanses of natural landscape. They allow the natural processes of evolution to continue with minimal interference, which protects the existing biodiversity in a functioning natural system. This is important because the loss of species can have adverse impacts on the entire system.

These large, pristine areas are an essential component of a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recognises that large, interconnected reserves, which are highly intact, may be a key factor in ameliorating the impacts of climate change on biodiversity.

Wilderness areas can also have great cultural significance. They often contain sites that are important to Aboriginal people, and their landscapes can be a reminder of the Australian environment before colonisation.

Wilderness areas provide many other benefits to human society. These large, natural areas:

  • provide clean air and water
  • are a storehouse of genetic material from which future generations may obtain new food crops, drugs, clothing and other valuable natural products
  • allow scientists to compare less modified natural landscapes with those areas that have been changed by modern human activity
  • provide places of inspiration which offer solitude as well as opportunities for self-reliant recreation activities

Wilderness is part of our national identity. The 'bush' and the 'outback', landscapes so typified by wilderness, continue to hold a central place in Australian culture.

Page last updated: 18 May 2011