Landholders receive financial incentives for bird conservation

25 May 2020

Landholders in the Northern Plains of Victoria can now receive financial incentives for helping fight the extinction of the critically endangered Plains-wanderer bird. 

Conservation organisation Trust for Nature, in partnership with the North Central Catchment Management Authority, is offering $1,000 per hectare to landholders who protect their grassland to provide suitable habitat for the native bird. 

Because of habitat clearing and cultivation there are fewer than 1000 individuals of this unique species left in the wild. 

Greg Rankin is the latest landholder to express interest in receiving the new incentive by applying to put a conservation covenant — a legally-binding agreement permanently protecting native vegetation — on 120 hectares of his property on the Patho Plains.

“The cash incentives are really great and show the value of what we have out here,” Greg said. “And the beauty of our covenant is that we can still selectively graze our land. There’s no negative effect for us.” 

Trust for Nature Senior Conservation Officer Kirsten Hutchison said the opportunity to offer financial incentives to landholders for covenanting their land is a huge win in the urgent fight for the Plains-wanderer. 

“Time is running out and conservation covenants are absolutely critical to the survival of this bird,” Kirsten said. “We still have cases of unauthorised grassland clearance on the Patho Plains even though it’s protected under state and federal legislation and there’s less than one percent of these grasslands left. It’s heartbreaking.

“To have a species that’s so globally significant in our own backyard that’s on the brink of extinction means we need to do something about it.

“Conservation covenants are the only way we can guarantee that nothing happens to this habitat in the future and to ensure the Plains-wanderer doesn’t become extinct.” 

Under a conservation covenant, Trust for Nature works directly with landholders to sensitively manage their land. The northern plains grasslands in Victoria are one of the few areas in the state where selective grazing complements conservation.

“We always support them in their management of a covenant, which generally sits over just one paddock of land,” Kirsten said. “We don’t just tell them what to do.” 

Greg agrees. “I am able to negotiate how we will manage it with Trust for Nature and I won’t lose the right to my land,” he said. “Some people are wary about that but you actually have a lot of autonomy.”

Conservation covenants, however, aren’t just beneficial for endangered species. In addition to the financial incentives, Kirsten said landholders take a lot of pride knowing they have Plains-wanderers on their property. 

“People love being a part of this journey to help save a species,” Kirsten said. “When they realise they have a natural legacy on their property, they understand what a difference they can make.” 

Greg said he feels proud to be leaving a legacy for the future. “It harks back to remembering what the land was like when you were a kid and wanting to give that to the next generation,” he said. “I’m proud to be helping out.” 

This project is supported by the North Central Catchment Management Authority, through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program. 

Main photo courtesy Chris Tzaros


More about the Plains-wanderer: 

Plains-wanderers are small grassland birds standing to about 12 cm tall.

There are estimated to be between 250 and 1,000 Plains-wanderers left in the wild, and 95 percent of native grasslands that Plains-wanderers formerly occupied have been lost to cultivation and urban development.

The main threat to Plains-wanderers is the continued habitat loss due to cultivation throughout Victorian grasslands and eastern New South Wales Riverina grasslands. The grasslands that do remain also have to be managed to have a preferred habitat structure as Plains-wanderers disappear from severely overgrazed, burnt or overgrown paddocks.

Plains-wanderers were once widespread throughout the grasslands of eastern Australia; however due to habitat loss, they are now restricted to a few isolated remnants, mostly in Victoria and New South Wales. They have been found in South Australia and Queensland.

The Plains-wanderer is one of 27 threatened species identified in Zoos Victoria's Wildlife Conservation Master Plan and one of Trust for Nature’s highest priority species to target for permanent habitat protection.

Conservation covenants and the Plains-wanderer Project: 

Conservation covenants are voluntary agreements on property titles that enable private landowners to protect nature forever, even after the property changes hands. They are a way to leave a legacy for future generations and are one of the most important contributions a landowner can make to protect nature.

Trust for Nature and the Northern Plains Conservation Management Network have been working with farmers on the Patho Plains to raise awareness of Plains-wanderers and grassland conservation. 

About 540ha in north-central Victoria has been protected with conservation covenants. 

In 2018-19, 36 conservation covenants, covering 1918ha, were registered by Victorian landholders, bringing the total hectares protected by covenants to 66,827 ha. 

Trust for Nature is part of a National Recovery Team for the bird which has established a captive program to save it from extinction. The Team includes partners such as Zoos Victoria, Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning, catchment management authorities and national partners. 

Photo courtesy David Baker Gabb