Evaluating park management

We assess how we manage our national parks system through State of the Parks.

Western Ridge Walking Track, also known as Sunset Ridge trail western plains desert Mutawintji National Park

The New South Wales national parks system is made up of over 870 parks, covering more than 7.2 million hectares.

We manage our parks for:

  • the conservation of natural heritage, Aboriginal cultural heritage, and historic heritage
  • visitation opportunities that foster public appreciation for natural and cultural heritage conservation.

State of the Parks

State of the Parks is the assessment framework we use to evaluate management effectiveness across our park system. It is based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) best-practice guidelines Evaluating effectiveness: A framework for for assessing management effectiveness of protected areas.

Circular diagram of management effectiveness cycle showing the best-practice  process to follow for evaluating management of parks. Three main phases include: Design and planning, Adequacy/Appropriateness, and Delivery.

Assessment results are used to evaluate how we are tracking against planned objectives and outcomes. We analyse results to inform evidenced-based decision-making at all levels of management within the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS). We also assess progress toward international targets, such as the Convention on Biological Diversity’s Aichi Biodiversity Targets, and to raise the profile of NSW national parks through programs such as the IUCN Green List. Three of our parks are recognised on the green list of protected and conserved areas

NPWS has collected standardised park management information through State of the Parks every 3 to 5 years since 2005, the most recent assessment was completed in 2018. State of the Parks results were published in 2001, 2004 and 2007. Since 2010 State of the Parks results have been publicly reported via NSW State of the Environment.

Through the State of the Park program we assess each park for:

  • condition of park values such as natural, Aboriginal and historic heritage
  • severity and extent of threats, such as overuse, fire, pests and weeds
  • effectiveness of management, including threatened species and pest and weed programs
  • extent of planning applied to management approach
  • sufficiency of park management information.

State of the Parks assessments are completed by staff familiar with conditions on the ground. Assessments are:

  • informed by research, monitoring, surveys and expert advice
  • reviewed by park managers
  • subject to additional quality control for consistency and completeness.

State of the Parks data is used widely within NPWS and for external reporting. Examples of use include:

Park values

The NSW national park system protects a diverse range of natural, cultural and social values. These values play an important role in determining how a park is used and managed.

Barrington Tops walking trail, Barrington Tops National Park

Conserving nature is a fundamental legislative requirement for NPWS. This includes protecting biological diversity, habitats, ecosystems and significant landforms and landscapes across our national park system.

Natural assets are important for maintaining healthy, functioning ecosystems. Our natural park assets have intrinsic value as a part of Australia’s environmental fabric, and provide important ecosystem services beyond our park system, such as catchment stability and carbon sequestration.

We report on the management effectiveness and condition of these natural assets through State of the Parks. The ecological significance of many of our national parks is recognised through state, national and international heritage listings, including 38 individual reserves that are part of 3 different World Heritage properties. For example, 84% of the World Heritage listed Gondwana Rainforests of Australia is in NSW. Gondwana is recognised for its range of ancient plant and animal lineages and communities, many of which are restricted largely or entirely to the property, providing habitat for many threatened species. State of the Parks helps inform international reporting requirements on this unique World Heritage property.

The Walls of China are dramatic formations of sand and silt deposited over tens of thousands of years and sculpted by wind and erosion in Mungo National Park.

State of the Parks is an important tool for reporting on the condition and management effectiveness of Aboriginal heritage and historic heritage within NSW national parks. The national parks system stretches across the lands of many different Aboriginal people, with evidence of connection to Country dating back around 50,000 years. We acknowledge that we stand on Aboriginal land and support continuing connection to Country for Aboriginal people through joint management of parks and protecting Aboriginal heritage on park. NPWS protects many significant Aboriginal areas, including the internationally significant Mungo Woman cremation site in the World Heritage Willandra Lakes Region, which at 42,000 years old, is the oldest known cremation site in the world.

We also manage and protect colonial and post-colonial historical assets within national parks, such as the convict-built Old Great North Road and gold rush heritage sites at Hill End. We report on Aboriginal and historic heritage values through State of the Parks and conduct risk assessments for threats to these values to better manage this important heritage.

Granite Tors, Gulaga National Park

National parks play an important role in improving human health. The connection between being in nature and human health and wellbeing is well documented. Our parks and reserves also enhance awareness and appreciation of natural and cultural conservation.

NPWS provides a diversity of experiences for NSW residents and visitors who come to our parks. For example, we maintain extensive networks of walking trails, conduct education programs and guided tours, provide maps and other information to support people to get out and experience nature.

We also support inclusive access to our park system to ensure everyone has the opportunity to experience our parks. We assess visitor management and impact, and whether we are meeting visitor needs and expectations through our State of the Park assessment framework.

Australian Government Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council 2005, Directions for the National Reserve System statement – A partnership approach.

Cook CN, Carter RW, Fuller RA and Hockings M 2012, Managers consider multiple lines of evidence important for biodiversity management decisions, Journal of Environmental Management, 13: 341–346.

Cook CN, Carter RW and Hockings M 2014, Measuring the accuracy of management effectiveness evaluations of protected areas, Journal of Environmental Management, 139: 164–171.

Cook CN, Wardell–Johnson G, Carter RW, and Hockings M 2014, How accurate is the local ecological knowledge of protected area practitioners? Ecology and Society 19(2): 32.

Growcock A, Sutherland EF and Stathis PT 2009, Challenges and experiences in implementing a management effectiveness evaluation program in a protected area system, Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 16 (4): 218–226.

Hockings M, Stolton S, Leverington F, Dudley N and Courrau J 2008, Evaluating Effectiveness – A framework for assessing management effectiveness of protected areas. 2nd Edition, includes a case study of the NSW State of the Parks program.

Hockings M, Cook C, Carter RW and James R 2009, Accountability, reporting, or management improvement? Development of a State of the Parks assessment system in New South Wales, Australia, Environmental Management 43: 1013–25.

Jacobson C, Carter RW and Hockings M 2008, The status of protected area evaluation in Australia and implications for its future. Australasian Journal of Environmental Management 15: 202–10.

Stathis P and Jacobson C 2009, Institutionalising adaptive management: creating a culture of learning in New South Wales Parks and Wildlife Service, in: Allan C and Stankey G (eds), Adaptive environmental management: A practical guide, Springer, United Kingdom, pp. 329–47.

Stathis P, Sutherland E and Growcock A 2008, Effectively managing management effectiveness, Australian Protected Areas Congress, Queensland, November 2008.