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State of the Parks 2004

A milestone in park management

Cover: State of the Parks 2004 - Summary and future management responses
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In June 2005, the Department of Environment and Conservation produced State of the Parks 2004, a 93-page report based on a rigorous survey of all aspects of management of the NSW park system. The report is part of an ongoing State of the Parks program to better understand and respond to the condition of the park system and the pressures it faces.

It is essential that public agencies charged with the responsibility for managing such valuable, often unique and irreplaceable, natural and cultural assets do so in a way that is accountable.

This is the aim of the State of the Parks 2004 report. The report also fulfils the commitment given in the first State of the Parks report in 2001 to improve the detail of information provided in such reports and to build on efforts at measuring and improving management effectiveness.

We believe that, overall, the report demonstrates that we are doing a good job. But there are areas where improvements can be made. This brochure outlines the actions we will take to ensure that, in the next State of the Parks report, we can demonstrate continuing improvements in managing the park system for the people of NSW.

Since compiling the data for the report there have been additions to the park system including a major addition of 348,000 hectares in the Brigalow Belt South and Nandewar bioregions, taking the percentage of lands under formal protection in the NSW reserve system from 7.4% to almost 8% of total lands.

Over six million hectares is now managed in the NSW park system. This is an increase of two million hectares and a doubling of the number of parks since 1995. Over the same time, funding for parks has more than tripled.

We are serious about our commitment to continually build the park system and improve the way we manage parks. To help us do this the Government is spending record amounts on the environment: $506 million has been allocated in the 2005-06 State Budget. This includes $305 million to manage the State's park system with special targeting for the following projects:

  • $32 million for capital works to maintain historic heritage and upgrade visitor facilities, including the construction of a new wharf and maintenance of historic buildings on Goat Island, upgrading walking tracks and visitor access in the Blue Mountains National Park, and upgrading the nationally important landing place of Captain Cook in Botany Bay National Park
  • $38.5 million to build new infrastructure and employ 69 workers over the next five years to manage new conservation areas in the Brigalow Belt South and Nandewar bioregions. From 2009, $8 million annual funding will be provided for ongoing management of these new areas
  • $18 million for feral animal and weed control programs across the state - an increase of $1 million on 2004-05. This includes implementation of threat abatement plans for foxes and bitou bush, a comprehensive wild dog control program, and research into the effectiveness of control techniques and their impacts on threatened species
  • an additional $15.6 million over 4 years for park management.

Overall, State of the Parks 2004 shows that, while managing such a large and diverse park system is challenging, quite a good job is being done.
Hon Bob Debus, NSW Minister for the Environment
11 May 2005

How well are our parks being managed?

It is not easy to answer this question without detailed explanations. For those interested in the detail please refer to the State of the Parks 2004 report. While the results show we are doing a good job, we must continue to focus effort on pests, weeds, fire, visitor and cultural heritage management.

We need to:

  • clearly define what we plan to do in continuing to build the park system
  • implement measures to reach our goal of achieving excellence in managing parks including systems to evaluate our success
  • work closely with the community
  • invest in our staff to ensure they have access to the resources and opportunities they need to make good decisions.

Dear Minister

I commend your commitment to this open evaluation of the state of your protected areas … Your openness, if not courage, to reveal areas where improvement is needed alongside your significant successes is a testament to your recognition of the value of transparency, a fundamental tenet of stakeholder consultation … The report sets a world wide standard in the comprehensiveness of the issues examined and for the systematic analysis of the best available information … It is an excellent report that will be copied world wide.
Nikita Lopoukhine
Chair, IUCN World Commission Protected Areas
11 May 2005

Continuing to build the park system

The report shows that the NSW park system has undergone significant growth in the last ten years. Our park system is important for a number of reasons. It protects our native plants, animals, landforms and cultural histories as well as creating jobs for local and regional communities.

The park system also provides places for recreational and natural experiences and generally helps make a cleaner and healthier environment for us to enjoy.
We want to continue to create an outstanding park system for NSW by:

  • adding under-represented ecosystems and habitats
  • establishing landscape corridors for wildlife through links between reserves
  • working with Aboriginal communities to protect places of indigenous cultural significance
  • protecting sites of historic heritage significance
  • working with private landholders.

Future directions

  • finalise a plan for establishing protected areas with measurable objectives and reservation targets
  • link this plan with the government's initiatives for conservation on private land so we have a comprehensive approach to conservation across NSW.

Management planning

Plans of management are integral to good management of the park system. Development of these plans leads to better understanding of important natural and cultural values and greater use of that knowledge in planning and decision-making. It leads to better management of fire and visitor impacts and provides frameworks for consultation with Aboriginal groups and the wider community.

Key findings from the report

  • three-quarters of the NSW park system is covered by an approved plan of management or a draft on exhibition
  • planning effort has increased more than ten-fold since 1995
  • having a plan has a positive impact on many aspects of park management

Future directions

  • continue to give priority to preparing management plans and further develop an open process for reporting on their effectiveness
  • ensure all plans have a clear statement of what we want to achieve
  • ensure clear links between visitor, operational and conservation planning.

Park and management information

Parks can be extremely large, remote, steep, wild places that are difficult to access. They can also be places about which not much is known. Good information is the key to managing them effectively. It is important that we make informed decisions on the best available knowledge so we can demonstrate that we are taking the right action.

Key findings from the report

  • although there are some gaps, there is sufficient information on natural values in 70 per cent of the park system for planning and decision-making
  • there is sufficient information about Aboriginal heritage in 45 per cent of the park system, and about historic heritage in 74 per cent of the park system, for planning and decision-making
  • half of our park managers report that information collected about park visitors is sufficient for planning and decision-making

Future directions

  • develop priorities for our science investment plan and improve arrangements for coordination and communication of applied research
  • establish reference groups of scientific experts to help us focus our programs on the major management challenges
  • implement partnerships with other institutions that will help us manage parks.

No other park management agency in the world has attempted what we have sought to achieve in State of the Parks 2004. And that is to assess our entire park system to see what condition it is in, how well we are managing and what improvements or changes we need to make to continue to ensure we are applying the best, most efficient and effective methods to our management of parks.
Dr Tony Fleming, Head National Parks and Wildlife Service
Department of Environment and Conservation

Pests, weeds and fire

Pest, weed and fire management are highly complex. More details on these are contained within the report.

Pest animal and plant populations range across the landscape irrespective of human management boundaries. Where parks have lots of neighbours it is more likely that weed and pest management programs will be in place. We put a lot of importance on managing problems that can affect neighbours and we work with other land managers on cooperative pest and weed programs.

Park management is a complex business. That very complexity means that there are no simple answers, no quick fixes to issues like pest and fire management. State of the Parks 2004 is a candid look at how well we are managing the park system.
Lisa Corbyn, Director General
Department of Environment and Conservation

While our priority for fire management is always the protection of human life and property, inappropriate fire regimes can also have a major impact on the natural and cultural values of parks. Fire has a role in conserving biodiversity and maintaining the structure of some vegetation communities.

Key findings from the report

  • in over two-thirds of the park system most natural values are in good condition and their integrity is not currently at risk
  • most of the park system has pest and weed management programs in place that protect natural and cultural values
  • some 45 per cent of the park system has weed programs that are reducing the weed impacts on parks
  • half the park system has programs to counter pest animals that are reducing the impacts of these pests on parks
  • 89 per cent of park system is covered by fire management programs for natural and cultural values
  • 40 per cent of the park system meets important fire management objectives for the maintenance of ecological and cultural heritage

Future directions

  • expand opportunities to work with our neighbours, other land holders and government agencies to coordinate and improve our pest, weed and fire programs
  • spend more than $18 million a year to develop and strengthen pest and weed programs, focusing on pests such as wild dogs and foxes and weeds like bitou bush
  • accelerate the development of our fire management strategies 
  • use the innovative research and planning tools we have developed to integrate fire management programs across the park system. These help safeguard life and property while also more effectively conserving natural and cultural values.


By understanding the needs and expectations of the many people who visit our parks, we can better direct resources to improve visitor satisfaction and help to protect park values for future generations to enjoy.

Key findings from the report

  • visitor facilities are considered appropriate for both the park type and the legitimate expectations of visitors in two-thirds of parks
  • programs to manage visitor impacts on park values are working well in 53 per cent of parks
  • local Discovery programs are well received by over 90 per cent of participants

Future directions

  • implement our sustainable visitation plan, Living Parks
  • continue to provide diverse and quality visitor experiences
  • roll-out our new asset maintenance system to keep track of all park assets, and the way they are maintained to help us make the right planning decisions.

Managing cultural heritage

Cultural heritage is the value that people give to items and places through their association with them. It exists across the landscape and is constantly evolving to reflect our values, our aspirations and our relationships with the land. Understanding the significance and condition of our cultural heritage is vital to its protection.

Key findings from the report

  • the condition of Aboriginal heritage is considered to be generally good in 78 per cent of the park system
  • the figure for historic heritage is 52 per cent
  • good management is reducing the negative impacts on Aboriginal heritage in over 41 per cent of the park system
  • the figure for historic heritage is 56 per cent

Future directions

  • improve our understanding and knowledge of cultural heritage and set clear local and regional goals and priorities
  • continue to work with local communities to identify how best to manage their cultural heritage
  • continue to allocate $2 million a year to maintaining historic assets through our historic asset maintenance program (HAMP)
  • undertake major capital works on significant historic heritage assets such as Goat Island, Barrenjoey lighthouse in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park and Bonnie Vale site in Royal National Park - as funded by the Government in its 2005-06 budget.

Work closely with the community

Parks are not islands. They are part of the landscape of the broader community. Partnerships with neighbours and communities are essential for good park management and to improve support for our conservation efforts.

Key findings of the report

  • park managers consider that they have largely positive relationships with the majority of interest groups
  • more than half of our parks provide for community consultation and input into decision-making over and above the plan of management process
  • 39 per cent of parks consult regularly over and above this broad community consultation

Future directions

  • continue to work with neighbours, communities and landholders on cooperative approaches to pest, weed and fire management
  • promote greater community involvement in park management to tap into growing enthusiasm for conservation
  • continue to work with Aboriginal people to reach land management agreements, to maintain their culture and traditions, and to develop new ways to maintain and renew connections to country
  • undertake social and economic research to improve our understanding of how park management can benefit local and regional communities.

Invest in our staff

To realise our commitment to improve the way we manage parks, we recognise the importance of having the right people, with the right skills to manage our parks.

These are the people who have day-to-day contact with park visitors, who manage pests and weeds, who may have to fight fires and people who make the plans and policies that guide efforts on the ground. These are the 'park experts' who will enable us to improve our management effectiveness.

We want our staff to have the necessary information to do the job. We want them to be prepared for the challenges ahead.

Future directions

  • increase the focus of learning and development on core skills like pest and weed management and threatened species conservation
  • improve our information management systems so our staff have better information for park planning and management
  • to recruit new staff through cadetships and entry-level positions
  • continue to employ more Aboriginal people.

Download the State of the Parks 2004 report

Foreword, Context, Audit and Compliance Committee Statement, Summary (PDF 496KB)

Chapter 1. Introduction (PDF 114KB)

Chapter 2. Overview of the NSW Park System (PDF 1.6MB)

Chapter 3. Building the NSW Park System (PDF 6.5MB)

Chapter 4: Planning for Effective Management (PDF 751KB)

Chapter 5. Managing Pressure on the Park System (PDF 189KB)

Chapter 6: Cultural Heritage Management (PDF 1.3MB)

Chapter 7. Opportunities for Public Appreciation and Enjoyment (PDF 745KB)

Chapter 8. Involving the Commnity in Conservation (PDF 720KB)

Chapter 9. Future Directions (PDF 91KB)

Glossary, References, Appendixes, Acknowledgments (PDF 210KB)


Photo: Coastal environments in Eurobodalla National Park. S. Cohen / DECPhoto:
Coastal Environments in Eurobadalla National Park.
S. Cohen / DEC

Photo: Green and gold bell frog, Litoria aurea. R. Kingsford / DECPhoto:
Green and gold bell frog, Litoria aurea.
R. Kingsford / DEC

Photo: Fungi in Gibralter Range National Park. P. Green / DECPhoto:
Fungi in Gibralter Range National Park.
P. Green / DEC

Photo: Tarawi National Park, J. Brown / DECPhoto:
Tarawi Nature Reserve
I. Brown / DEC

Page last updated: 03 February 2015