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Managing habitat in a changing climate on a time poor planet

Two fundamental conservation objectives for every patch of protected bush are to maximise the ecological health of the different ecosystems, and to give the native plants and animals the best possible chance of surviving to reproductive maturity.

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Two fundamental conservation objectives for every patch of protected bush are to maximise the ecological health of the different ecosystems, and to give the native plants and animals the best possible chance of surviving to reproductive maturity.

Climate change is making it more difficult to achieve these goals, due to reduced moisture, warmer temperatures, higher evaporation rates and altered seasonal patterns of rainfall.  All of these factors mean that each year the window for plant growth or for successful reproduction is shrinking. So, how do we respond as conservationists?  Firstly, by ensuring we’re protecting precious patches of habitat forever.  
According to a 2012 CSIRO study, the scientific approach developed by the National Reserve System program to build a comprehensive, adequate and representative reserve system across Australia remains a robust and sensible approach to biodiversity conservation in the face of climate change.  
Trust for Nature uses these guiding objectives for assessing the conservation significance of proposed covenant sites, and focuses on ecosystems and bioregions which are not sufficiently protected in public land.  In this way, with willing landowners, we help to bolster the network of protected habitats across Victoria and provide additional, long-term opportunities for survival of their ecosystems, plants and animals.

Secondly, we can assist the capacity of ecosystems and wildlife populations to survive and flourish on covenants and reserves by doing the following:

maximising the availability of food, water and shelter as essential resources for native plants and animals.  Think about each layer of vegetation or other habitat features: what is absent or rare; is it healthy or unhealthy; what are the most transformative and achievable actions to improve its health (for example nest boxes, more fallen wood, re-establish a grassy ground layer)

prioritising the protection and improvement of habitat, especially irreplaceable habitat such as large old trees, wetlands, and high-quality understorey  

reducing other pressures on the local environment and native wildlife as much as possible, for example control or exclude over-abundant herbivores, feral bees or Noisy Miners or apply ecological thinning to dense regrowth patches

targeting the most fertile parts of the local environment where there are the highest chance of maintaining food resources and successful growth and reproduction, for example fence out or enhance creek lines and wetlands, focus on gullies and lower slopes for restoration and focus on areas with the largest trees

considering how your local actions can best contribute to conservation of habitats and wildlife across the district, for example add tree or shrub species which are locally rare but provide important food resources, or establish corridors to link between different habitat types.

Keep an eye out for Trust for Nature’s field days about managing for conservation in climate change on our website www.trustfornature.org.au/events.