Nature Refuges

Nature refuges are a form of private protected area. They’re a voluntary agreement between the Queensland Government and a private landholder, designed to protect the natural values of private land. Under a nature refuge agreement, the landholder commits to protecting the significant conservation values of their land, but compatible and sustainable use of the land is able to continue.

The landholder can access modest funding for agreed conservation projects, such as fencing off sensitive areas from stock, management of feral animals and weeds or to install water infrastructure. The Nature Refuges Program is a highly-successful program and the fastest growing part of Queensland’s protected area network. Over the past decade, more than 500 Queensland landholders have chosen to dedicate part of their land for conservation, covering a total area of more than four million hectares.

Among those are large pastoral stations, which account for more than 70 percent of Queensland’s private protected lands. Three of the largest nature refuges are on stations— Holroyd, Bulloo Downs, and Rutland Plains—and protect more than 728,000 hectares of tropical savanna, woodlands and native grasslands.

Third-generation property owners Barry and Tammy Hughes run North Head station in North Queensland. Their property is 75,800 hectares – 18,573 hectares of which is a declared nature refuge.

“For us, getting the nature refuge on our property has been a big achievement.

But as you can imagine, important work like managing weeds, feral animals or simply maintaining fences to keep stock away from sensitive areas is a huge and costly job on an Outback nature refuge.

After signing up to the program, Tammy and I were initially able to access some modest funding that helped us improve management at North Head.

We constructed fencing and managed ecologically-sensitive areas of the property, and we installed new watering points to keep both cattle and feral animals away from the natural springs and waterholes.

However, since that first round, there’s been no more funding made available – leaving us limited in what we can achieve for conservation.”

Funding for Queensland’s Nature Refuge program hasn’t kept pace with the rapid growth rate, and there is now not enough funding to provide support for landholders to manage their lands or to encourage new landholders to enter the program.

The limited investment in recent years presents a threat to the program’s sustainability and future growth. Increased investment in this successful program is vital to support landholders to care for their land, and expanding Queensland’s protected areas.

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