Why is vegetation condition important to government? A case study from Queensland. John Neldner (Queensland Herbarium, Environmental Protection Agency, Brisbane Botanic Gardens, Mt Coot-tha Road, Toowong Qld 4066, Australia. Tel.: 07 38969322. Fax: 07 38969624. Email:

Key words: BioCondition, legislation; NRM policy; vegetation condition.

Introduction.  The assessment and monitoring of vegetation condition is a vital tool used by governments to administer the landscapes and biodiversity entrusted to them. Using the Queensland Government as an example, this note discusses the major drivers for the use of vegetation condition in government.

The Queensland Government identifies ‘the protection of environment for a sustainable future’ as one of its seven priorities. The Queensland legislation that depends on the notion of vegetation/biodiversity condition for their implementation is listed in Table 1.

Table 1.  Queensland legislation referring to vegetation condition
Nature Conservation Act 1992Enables the establishment of conservation agreements and nature refuges; and regulates the harvest and cultivation of plants and plant parts and fauna
Land Act 1994Lessees, licensees and permittees using state land have a duty of care for the land;
Environmental Protection Act 1994Responsibilities of individuals and companies for general environmental duty; also management and regulation of the performance of the mining industry by setting conditions and ensuring adequate rehabilitation
Coastal Protection & Management Act 1995Protection, conservation, rehabilitation and management of the coast, including its biological diversity
Vegetation Management Act 1999Triggered by the presence of remnant vegetation

In Queensland, ‘remnant vegetation’ is a distinct condition state under the Vegetation Management Act based primarily on the canopy characteristics of the vegetation. It is defined as vegetation with a canopy that is >70% of normal canopy height and >50% of normal canopy cover and composed of species characteristic of the canopy for the relevant regional ecosystem.

The key drivers for improved information on vegetation condition information in Queensland are:

The proposed State Rural Leasehold Land Strategy  (SRLLS) is a potential major driver for vegetation condition assessment across Queensland. Sixty-three per cent of Queensland (109 million ha) is pastoral, perpetual or special leases. Pastoral leases cover 85 million ha and within the next 5 years, 60% of these will be up for renewal. Through the proposed SRLLS, the government is interested in adding strategic areas to the Protected Areas estate, expanding off-park nature conservation areas through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Nature Refuge program, and incorporating a duty of care across the majority of Queensland's rural lands. The duty of care applies to the protection of the natural values pertaining to land, soil, water and vegetation. To assess the quality of land management being currently provided by lessees, and to monitor the landholder's compliance with providing a duty of care in the future, efficient indicators of vegetation condition need to be implemented. It is recognized that the condition of vegetation is often used as a surrogate for the total biodiversity present at a site. It is important that the condition maps and assessments used in any such indicator are scientifically robust to be accepted by landholders and withstand legal scrutiny in litigation cases.

Locating strategic areas for reserve or off-park conservation.   EPA Biodiversity Planning Assessments (EPA 2005) indicate strategic areas based primarily on remnant vegetation, but do not adequately assess the condition of the remnant vegetation or take into account non-remnant/regrowth vegetation. Condition assessment and mapping is needed to show where the best condition areas are, and provide condition ratings (biodiversity values) for non-remnant areas that might be important to be included.

Reporting on vegetation condition and trend is an obligation on governments at all levels.  State of Environment reporting is a legal requirement for the Commonwealth and State governments. The National NRM Monitoring and Evaluation Framework draft indicator for vegetation condition is the percentage of each native vegetation type in each Interim Biogeographical Regionalization of Australia (IBRA) subregion that is estimated to be in specified condition classes based on a selected set of attributes (Australian Government 2005). State and Regional NRM bodies may use this indicator or a slightly modified indicator to report on the extent and condition of native vegetation of their region.

Vegetation condition assessment and monitoring is essential for guiding and regulating biodiversity incentives programs  that may be run by the state (e.g. EPA Biodiversity Tender, Department of Natural Resources, Mines and Water Vegetation Incentive Package (VIP), local government or regional NRM bodies). In schemes where landholders bid for funds on the basis of the environmental services provided, condition assessment and mapping is needed to value the vegetation for biodiversity and also as a means to monitor landholder management for maintaining or improving biodiversity.

Vegetation restoration  is being practised to ameliorate environmental issues such as dryland salinity or improve landscape functioning. Under the Vegetation Management Act, restoration is also a requirement for illegally cleared vegetation, and in some offset situations, cleared or non-remnant vegetation is required to be restored to replace the vegetation lost through development. Similarly, restoration of cleared vegetation may be a condition of a mining permit. For effective ecological restoration to occur, appropriate benchmarks need to be described to allow restoration to be directed and monitored.

The market for produce from sustainable farming systems  is seen as potentially expanding in the future. There is a heightened awareness by rural industries that producers will need to be able to demonstrate that they are meeting general environmental duty under the Environmental Protection Act. Hence, rural industry bodies are active in developing farm management systems that demonstrate that landholders are meeting their general environmental duty, and producing in a sustainable environmentally friendly manner. Vegetation condition assessment can be one measure to show that landholders are meeting these obligations.

The Queensland Farmers Federation (QFF) and Queensland government are working together on the voluntary Farm Management System (FMS) for property level Natural Resource Management and regulatory compliance. By following an approved industry code of practice (currently there are codes for six industries in Queensland) or having an adequate and certified FMS, landholders would be able to demonstrate that they are meeting their general environmental duty.

On grazing lands, the Grazing Land Management (GLM) education package (Chilcott et al. 2003) is gaining a wide acceptance in developing landholder skills in assessing land condition from a production perspective for their local bioregion. There is a need to ensure the biodiversity values are also considered and assessed. The EPA BioCondition toolkit (T. Eyre pers. comm. 2005) is a proposed additional module to complement GLM packages and provide an assessment of how well a terrestrial ecosystem is functioning for the maintenance of biodiversity values. BioCondition is based on the Habitat Hectares approach (Parkes et al. 2003) and BioMetric (Gibbons et al. 2005).

Accountability for park estate management.  The management of the protected area estate is frequently under public scrutiny, particularly with regard to weeds and feral pests. Accountable agencies must demonstrate the responsible management of their reserves, and monitoring the condition of the vegetation is one way that they can do this.

Conclusions.  The ability to assess and monitor vegetation condition is essential for governments to administer legislation relating to the landscapes and biodiversity covered by their jurisdiction. Current drivers include the obligation of government and landholders to report on the condition of the assets under their stewardship, and the future market demands for and advantages of demonstrating sustainable production. Toolkits such as BioCondition (Eyre pers comm. 2005) are being developed to assess and monitor vegetation condition for these purposes.


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  2. References
  • Australian Government (2005) Natural Resource Management Monitoring and Evaluation and Standards and Targets. Natural Resource Management Ministerial Council, October 2002. Available from URL:
  • Chilcott C. R., McCallum B. S., Quirk M. F. and Paton C. J. (2003) Grazing Land Management Education Package Workshop Notes – Burdekin. Meat and Livestock Australia Limited, Sydney.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (2005) Planning assessments. Available from URL:
  • Eyre T. J., Kelly A., Neldner V. J., McCosker J. and Kutt A. (2005) BioCondition: A Terrestrial Vegetation Condition Assessment Tool for Biodiversity in Queensland, Version 1.3. Environmental Protection Agency Biodiversity Sciences unit, Brisbane.
  • Gibbons P., Ayers D., Seddon J., Doyle S. and Briggs S. (2005) BioMetric Version 1.8. A Terrestrial Biodiversity Assessment Tool for the NSW Property Vegetation Plan Developer Operational Manual. Department of Environment and Conservation (NSW), Canberra. Available from URL:
  • Parkes D., Newell G. and Cheal D. (2003) Assessing the quality of native vegetation: The ‘habitat hectares’ approach. Ecological Management & Restoration 4, S29S38.