National Feral Cat Management Survey

Photo by Fredy MercayDid you know?

Australia has the highest extinction rate of native species on earth. The impact of feral cats has been recognised as one of the major threats to Australia’s native and endangered wildlife. In many cases, feral cats could be the final threat that causes a species to become extinct.

This is the first study of its kind.

Researchers from RMIT University are looking for volunteers to participate in a survey that asks questions about feral cat management in Australia. The information collected will help to generate a better understanding of feral cat management across the nation, including how to make improvements.

You can help by participating in this survey.

The survey should take around 5 mins. There are no identifying questions asked – you will remain anonymous. You will be asked a couple of non-identifying demographic questions (e.g., age range, occupation and State/Territory of residence). You are under no obligation to answer any questions.

If you would like to participate in this survey and help with this research please visit the following link: National Feral Cat Management Survey

Beyond Advocacy – a new take on the advocacy debate

Georgia will be presenting this work at the North American Congress for Conservation Biology next week in Madison, Wisconsin (Tuesday, 19th July, 8AM, Hall of Ideas Room E), please come along if you’re going to the conference.

James Kenyon Cartoon_signedLate last year, we published (in collaboration with colleagues from The University of Melbourne) an article in Conservation Letters, which we hope will open up a little more space for conservation scientists and ecologists to engage in public debates without the fear of being labelled an advocate and, by association, having their scientific credibility questioned.

We were motivated to write the paper by what we considered to be a general reluctance by conservation scientists to join public debates about conservation issues and policy.  Without the voices of scientists, public conversations about conservation are dominated by vested interest groups – business and industry on the one hand, and NGOs and lobby groups on the other.  As a result, public debate about these important issues is impoverished.

However, we believe that the reasons conservation scientists choose not to engage are in large part based on misconceptions about the relationship between scientific integrity and objectivity.  In our paper, we set out to unpack this relationship a little bit.  Our key point is that values have a role and a place in science. It is not possible nor advisable for an individual scientist to be value-free.

But thankfully, objectivity isn’t maintained by individuals. It is an emergent property of a collective.  And greater diversity in the scientific community helps to ensure scrutiny and self-correction.  So, in other words, objectivity is maintained by the whole community of scientists, not individual scientists or established statistical thresholds.

Once you accept this, many of the common arguments against advocacy by scientists (ie. that advocacy will damage your credibility, or that advocacy is outside the scope of science) simply don’t make sense.

Of course, it is not the case that ‘anything goes’ when it comes to advocacy by scientists.  There are some value judgements (eg. what is a tolerable level of extinction risk?) that can and should be disentangled from judgements that are more factual in nature (eg. what is the probability of extinction?).  And scientists should aim to avoid inadvertent advocacy (which occurs when a scientist presents personal preference as a scientific judgement) or advocacy by stealth (in which values are deliberately dressed up as facts).

Drawing on precedents in medicine and the social sciences, we provide some guidance for scientists and science in general for responsible advocacy in order to reclaim some space for scientists to engage in informed public debate about conservation issues, in a way that does not deny their value-system.

What is the fate of Victoria’s flower-strewn plains?

ISCRG’s Georgia Garrard and Sarah Bekessy discuss the fate of Victoria’s native grasslands as part of The Conversation’s Ecocheck series.


The native grasslands of the Victorian Volcanic Plain are one of Australia’s most endangered ecosystems. Productive and fertile, these grasslands were quickly converted to grazing pastures by early European settlers, and a notable degradation in their quality was documented by the beginning of the 20th century.  Since then, the addition of fertilisers, and clearing for cropping and development have led to further losses. Now, less than 1% of the original extent of these native grasslands remains.

Native grasslands are intriguing ecosystems. Historically, they provided habitat for a wide array of native animals, including rufous bettongs and eastern barred bandicoots, and were an important food source for Aboriginal people. Today, native grasslands are still home to fascinating native species, such as the grassland earless dragon and striped legless lizard, and native wildflowers continue produce a dazzling array of colour during spring (although you might have to get up close to see them!).

Conservation of these systems must occur alongside human-dominated landuses, such as urban development and agriculture. Community engagement is critical. Grasslands in other parts of the world, such as North America’s prairies or the African savannah, are viewed with romanticism and awe. In the Australian consciousness, grasslands take a back seat to the mythical outback. But the future of the grasslands of southeastern Victoria may well depend on our capacity to generate the same public profile for this truly remarkable but critically endangered ecosystem.

New ARC-Linkage Project: Designing green spaces for biodiversity and human well-being

FB view - CourtyardThe health and well-being of urban residents is intrinsically linked to green spaces and their biodiversity. Yet little is known about the mechanisms through which green space design delivers biodiversity and human well-being benefits. Through our recently funded Australian Research Council – Linkage Project ‘Designing green spaces for biodiversity and human well-being’ (LP160100324) we aim to discover those mechanisms, contributing to theoretical knowledge about socio-ecological interactions, and to practical knowledge about effective urban design. We aim to:

1. Investigate the mechanisms linking green space design to biodiversity outcomes;

2. Investigate the mechanisms linking green space to human well-being; and

3. Develop best practice urban design guidelines that reflect these mechanisms and supports biodiversity and human well-being.

The involvement of a major city council (The City of Melbourne), an international consulting agency (Arup), a landscape design firm (Phillip Johnson Landscapes) and an environmental NGO (Greening Australia) as Partner Organisations provides a unique opportunity to ensure the results of our project will have an impact on urban greening practice.

The Chief Investigators in this ARC-Linkage Project are: A/Prof Sarah Bekessy (RMIT University), A/Prof Richard Fuller (University of Queensland), A/Prof Dieter Hochuli (University of Sydney), Dr Fiona Fidler (University of Melbourne), Dr Cecily Maller (RMIT University), Dr Ascelin Gordon (RMIT University), Dr Georgia Garrard (RMIT University), Dr Christopher Ives (Leuphana University), Dr Luis Mata (RMIT University) and A/Prof Adrian Dyer (RMIT University).

Framing Conservation Messages


By Alex Kusmanoff

Myself and a number of esteemed colleagues have recently published a paper, Framing the Private Land Conservation Conversation: Strategic framing of the benefits of conservation participation could increase landholder engagement in Environmental Science and Policy. In it we look at how the benefits of private land conservation are currently being framed.It can be found here:

For those of you who don’t have time to read it, I shall provide a synopsis.

First, some context.

Private land is home to some amazing and important species and ecological communities, some of which are only found on private land. And the success of our efforts to conserve nature on private land is intrinsically linked to the engagement of willing landholder participants.

Despite much research the influences on landholder participation, studies show that only a small proportion of landholders tend to participate in private land conservation (PLC) schemes (these include things like management agreements, conservation covenants and stewardship payments). And although there has been widespread implementation of PLC policy instruments, success at engaging rural landholders in conservation initiatives has been mixed.

Presumably, convincing landholders as to why they should participate in private land conservation is an important part of getting more people involved.

So we looked at how contemporary communications from the sector currently communicate the benefits of participation to landholders to see how this was currently done.

We used a value orientation framework to analyse how the participation benefits of Australian PLC schemes are framed. Value orientation refers to the way that people weigh different interests when making decisions. These consist of egoistic, social-altruistic and biospheric orientations.

Egoistically oriented people tend to weigh the cost and benefits to themselves personally; social-altruistically oriented people tend to weigh the costs and benefits to others; and biospherically oriented people tend to weigh the costs and benefits to the biosphere as a whole. Of course people do not act perfectly according to any particular orientation, but in this case it serves as a useful framework to understand what’s currently happening.

By analysing the way benefits of PLC are framed in communications, we can gain insight into the breadth of the audience likely to be engaged. So we analysed the website content of 20 of the most notable Australian PLC schemes and categorised the benefits mentioned on these websites as being either benefits to the landholder, to society, or to the environment (these categories corresponding to the value orientations described above). Although landholders get their information from a range of sources (neighbours, extensions officers, field days), websites are often visited to get more detailed information about specific programs.

Our thinking was if PLC communications are to be relevant and engaging to as broad a range of landholders as possible, these three different kinds of benefits should all be well represented across these websites.

And what did we find?

Our results suggest a heavy reliance on environmentally-themed messages which is unlikely to engage landholders who are more egoistically oriented. This was particularly the case with market-based schemes, that you can imagine ought to appeal to production-focussed landholders and those not already involved in conservation.

So what does this mean, I hear you think.

We argue that perhaps framing the benefits of PLC more broadly (covering the different value orientations) would engage a greater diversity of landholders, aiding PLC recruitment. In particular, increased use of landholder and society benefits may be advantageous in engaging a wider range, and greater number of landholders.

However, we caution that any promised benefits must be achievable; over-promising and under-delivering could be a sure-fire means of permanently deterring the participation of many landholders.

We also need further research about the potential for unintended feedback effects, for example, the potential for motivational crowding in messages that focus on landholder benefits.

This is not a definitive statement on how PLC benefits are framed, or even how they ought to be framed, but a first step in understanding how they might be strategically re-framed for better effect.

As a first step, we simply urge PLC programs to be aware of the value orientation frame implicit in their messages, and to consider whether this is a good match for their audience and their program’s goal. Best practice in any case will be determined by the context.


Kusmanoff, A., M., Fidler, F., Hardy, M., Maffey, G., Raymond, C., Reed, M., Fitzsimons, J., and Bekessy, S. (2016) Framing the Private Land Conservation Conversation: Strategic framing of the benefits of conservation participation could increase landholder engagement. Environmental Science and Policy. 61: 124 – 128.

How permanent are conservation covenants?

Stony Rises 1

Conserving the important biodiversity that exists on private land is a growing part of international conservation efforts. In many countries, including Australia, Canada, Chile, New Zealand, South Africa and the United States, conservation policies often support the implementation of conservation covenants and easements. These are legally binding agreements with private landholders and are registered on the title of the property. These agreements are designed to last forever (‘in perpetuity’), and oblige current and future owners to protect the ecological values on their property. Key to these agreements is that the ecological values be permanent and secure, ensuring that they remain in place through time. For this reason such agreements are designed to be difficult to remove, in most cases requiring authority from multiple parties, including a government Minister. This degree of security is an important element in the formal recognition of conservation covenants and easements as Privately Protected Areas (PPAs) that are counted towards international conservation targets.

However, there are threats to these agreements that could affect their longevity and thus the security of the ecological values they protect. Pressures from mining, changes of property ownership, changing economic conditions and alterations in government policy, raise questions about the permanence of conservation agreements on private land. As a result, some conservation stakeholders view these private conservation areas as less secure than public conservation areas.

Collecting data from all 13 major covenanting programs across Australia, we set out to understand just how permanent these agreements actually are. We looked at instances where covenants had been released (taken off title) or breached (where a landholder had not met their obligations to protect the ecological value, but where the covenant had stayed on title), and the reasons behind these. We found that out of the 6,818 multi-party covenants (those that require authority from multiple parties for removal), only 8 had been removed from title. The data on breaches were less clear, mainly because breaches are very difficult for covenanting organisations to identify. However we did find 71 known cases across Australia where covenant obligations had not been met.

Our study suggests that covenants are an important and enduring mechanism for conserving biodiversity on private land. With a focus on private land conservation policy, we use the results from this case study to highlight the importance of monitoring and reporting on releases and breaches to understand why they are occurring and to ensure that PPAs remain effective in their contribution to international conservation efforts into the long-term. We also provide recommendations for covenanting organisations on how to improve their monitoring programs.

Reference (you can download the full article for free!)
Hardy MJ, Fitzsimons JA, Bekessy SA and A Gordon (2016). Exploring the permanence of conservation covenants. Conservation Letters DOI: 10.1111/conl.12243