Source: Richie Southerton


The main findings of the 2023 State of the Environment report provide a summary of the current condition and trends for a range of natural and sustainability issues in the ACT. This page contains collected findings from all seven environmental themes.

To explore the full analysis of condition and trends, see Themes.

Climate trends

  • Over the reporting period (2019–20 to 2022–23), the ACT’s climate experienced wide variation from the extremely hot and dry conditions of 2019–20, to the above average rainfall and cooler maximum temperatures that followed.
  • Long-term trends show that the ACT’s climate is getting warmer. Observations include:[1]
    • annual mean maximum temperatures increased by 1.8°C from 1914 to 2022
    • the number of days above 35°C increased by around six more days per year from 1914 to 2022
    • six of the nine years from 2013 to 2022 experienced days above 40°C, compared to just six years from 1926 to 2012
    • nine out of the ten hottest years in the ACT have occurred since 2006
    • the ACT’s hottest day on record occurred on 4 January 2020 when the temperature reached 44°C
    • 2019 was the hottest year on record for the ACT and had 33 days over 35°C and six over 40°C
    • annual mean minimum temperatures have increased by around 2.2°C from 1914 to 2022
    • with the exception of 2022, annual mean maximum temperatures have been above the 1961 to 1990 average every year since 1997
    • six of the ten warmest mean minimum years have occurred since 2007, and
    • the annual number of nights below 0°C has decreased by around 28 — a 30% decrease from 1914 to 2022.
  • Rainfall is variable in the ACT region, with no long-term trend. Three La Niña years from 2020 to 2022 resulted in above average rainfall across the ACT.

Projected climate trends

  • Regional climate modelling suggests the following projections: reduced rainfall, particularly for winter and spring; more frequent and prolonged drought; increased average temperatures (day and night) in all seasons; days above 35°C will increase with up to an additional five hot days per year by 2030 and 20 more by 2070; more frequent and severe storms with flash flooding, violent winds and thunderstorms; and an increase in severe fire weather and fire risk.

Observed impacts of climate change

  • There is a significant increase in climate impacts and risks to ACT’s community, economy and the natural environment.
  • The severity of the ACT’s 2020 bushfires has been linked to the warmer temperatures and periods of below average rainfall associated with climate change.
  • The number of consecutive fire seasons with elevated fire severity risk is increasing and fire seasons are starting earlier and lasting longer.
  • There is an increase in tree dieback and mortality across the ACT, including urban trees. This may suggest that climate conditions in the ACT region are no longer suitable for some tree species.
  • The loss of ground cover vegetation caused by heat and drought, combined with more severe storms, is increasing the severity of soil erosion and degrading soil health. Such conditions are also increasing the occurrence of dust storms.
  • Despite the increased rainfall during the La Niña years from 2020 to 2022, inflows to water storages were below the long-term average for all but two years between 2001–02 and 2019–20. The occurrence of El Niño conditions is likely to reduce water resources in the future.
  • There are increasing impacts on water quality and aquatic ecosystems through elevated water temperatures, nutrients and sedimentation. This has led to more frequent cyanobacterial blooms in Canberra’s lakes and has also impacted on the ecosystem health of other waterways including urban and non-urban rivers and creeks.

Total and per capita greenhouse gas emissions

  • In 2021–22, the ACT’s total emissions were 1,647 thousand tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e), a reduction of 47% since 1990.
  • The ACT’s total and per capita emissions dropped by 55% between 2018–19 and 2019–20 in response to the ACT reaching its 100% renewable electricity supply target.
  • With the elimination of electricity emissions, the ACT met its legislated 2020 target to reduce emissions to 40% of 1990 levels.
  • The ACT has nearly achieved its 2025 emissions target of a 50%–60% reduction from 1990 levels.
  • The annual per capita emissions were 3.6 tonnes of CO2-e in 2021–22, a 67% decrease from 1990. From 2019–20 to 2021–22, per capita emissions fell by nearly 8%.
  • The ACT’s 2021–22 per capita greenhouse gas emissions were over 80% lower than the national per capita average (21.5 tonnes CO2-e in 2018–19). Only Tasmania has lower per capita emissions.

Sources of greenhouse gas emissions

  • Although not reported for the ACT’s greenhouse gas targets, scope 3 emissions were responsible for 94% of the Territory’s total carbon footprint in 2020. For the ACT to achieve, or at least approach, a true net zero emissions scenario, the ACT Government must consider scope 3 emissions.
  • Since achieving the 100% renewable electricity supply target in 2020, transport and the phasing out of natural gas have become the ACT Government’s focus for future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.
  • In 2021–22, 58% of the ACT’s greenhouse gas emissions came from transport and 24% from stationary energy (mostly natural gas combustion, does not include electricity). These account for around 82% of the ACT’s total emissions. The remaining emissions were from industrial processes and product use (9%), waste processing and decomposition (8%), aviation (2%) and agriculture (less than 1%).
  • In 2021–22, total emissions were reduced by 10% due to carbon sequestration from land use change (change in land vegetation cover) and forestry. 
  • Since 2012–13, there have been no significant reductions in emissions for either transport or stationary energy (mostly natural gas combustion). Consequently, the ACT still has many challenges to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to meet legislated future emissions targets.
  • In 2021–22, emissions from diesel vehicles contributed 40% of total transport emissions, compared to 23% in 2012–13. This has significantly increased the proportional contribution of diesel to total transport emissions and means that diesel-powered vehicles are contributing disproportionally higher emissions compared to petrol vehicles.
  • Around 85% of stationary energy emissions (which does not include electricity) come from natural gas combustion. Per capita emissions from natural gas have declined due to preferences for electricity, improvements in gas appliance efficiency and limited gas connections in new dwellings. However, this decrease in per capita gas use appears to be slowing and total natural gas use has increased in recent years.
  • Emissions from waste were greater in 2020–21 and 2021–22 compared to previous years, with 2020–21 having the highest emissions in the 2012–13 to 2021–22 period.


  • In 2022, the ACT’s population was approximately 457,000.
  • The population is projected to grow to around 696,000 people by 2050, an increase of 239,000 people living in the ACT.
  • In the ten-year period between 2013 and 2022, the population grew by over 70,000 people, an average annual increase of 7,000 or 1.8% per year.
  • Population growth will increase pressures on the ACT’s environment and requires effective sustainability and land use measures to minimise the impacts of such growth.

The ACT’s ecological and carbon footprint

Ecological footprint

  • In 2021–22, the total ecological footprint for the ACT was around 2.21 million hectares. This is over nine times the size of the ACT. The current resource use is unsustainable, with consequences for areas of Australia and overseas that provide the resources, goods and services consumed by the ACT community.
  • The total ecological footprint has been increasing since 2017–18 and grew by 3% in 2021–22.
  • Between 2009–10 and 2021–22, theper capita ecological footprint fell by nearly 30% and the total ecological footprint decreased by nearly 11%.
  • The ACT’s per capita ecological footprint was 6% lower than the Australian average in 2021–22.
  • Household consumption of goods and services was responsible for 70% of the ecological footprint in 2021–22.
  • The 2021–22 ecological footprint was dominated by the pasture required for animal products which accounted for around 74% of the per capita ecological footprint.
  • The second highest component of the ecological footprint in 2021–22 was greenhouse gas emissions at around 14% of the per capita ecological footprint.
  • Impacts from food expenditure accounted for 53% of the ACT’s total ecological footprint in 2021–22.

Carbon footprint

  • The total carbon footprint was approximately 4.65 million tonnes carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2-e) in 2021–22.
  • Between 2009–10 and 2021–22, the total carbon footprint for the ACT decreased by 41% and the per capita carbon footprint fell by 54%.
  • The ACT’s 2021–22 per capita carbon footprint was 21% lower than the Australian average after being 9% higher in 2009–10.
  • The reduction in the ACT’s total and per capita carbon footprint is from the uptake of renewable electricity generation.


  • Data on the ACT’s energy use is not sufficient to enable a comprehensive assessment of energy generation and consumption. This includes a lack of data on ACT-only energy consumption for fuel types other than electricity, and the consumption of energy by sector.
  • Electricity demand in the ACT is stable, despite population growth.
  • Electricity consumption per capita decreased by 16% between 2012–13 and 2021–22.
  • The ACT reached its 100% renewable electricity supply target in 2020.
  • In 2021–22, wind farms supplied around 68% of the ACT’s renewable electricity.
  • Rooftop solar generation contributes around 7% of renewable electricity and has increased annually, nearly tripling between 2015–16 and 2021–22.
  • Natural gas use (data includes Queanbeyan) remained stable between 2012–13 and 2021–22 with little sign of a significant future decrease. This is due to annual increases in gas customers since 2012–13, although the rate of annual increase has fallen since 2020–21. These figures are concerning given the ACT Government target to cease the supply of natural gas by 2045.

Waste (data includes Queanbeyan but excludes material from the Mr Fluffy asbestos disposal)

  • On 26 December 2022, a fire caused extensive and irreparable damage to the ACT Materials Recovery Facility. This required alternative recycling arrangements for the ACT including diverting recyclable waste interstate. A replacement facility will be built with better sorting capabilities that will generate higher quality outputs and an increased processing capacity.
  • Total waste generation, waste to landfill and resources recovered are highly variable with changes mostly occurring in response to specific activity from the construction and demolition sector, as well as increases in garden waste.
  • The annual total waste generated between 2013–14 and 2022–23 ranged from around 844,000 tonnes to 1.21 million tonnes, with total waste levels higher from 2018–19 to 2022–23 than the previous five years.
  • Between 2013–14 and 2022–23, waste to landfill ranged from 20% to 37% of the total waste generated.
  • For most years, the rate of resources recovered was around 75% to 80% with recovery rates higher from 2018–19 to 2022–23 than the previous five years.
  • In 2021–22, nearly 73,800 tonnes were sent to landfill interstate and 71,500 tonnes in 2022–23. This was around 6%–7% of the total waste generated in each year. The interstate disposal of waste is conducted by private businesses within the ACT and this is not controlled by the ACT Government.
  • Between 2013–14 and 2022–23, total per capita waste ranged from 1.87 tonnes per person to 2.56 tonnes per person.
  • The per capita percentage of resources recovered ranged from 63% to 80%. Per capita resource recovery was also higher from 2018–19 to 2022–23 than for the previous five years.
  • Municipal solid waste (including household waste) accounts for the highest proportion of the waste sent to landfill, followed by commercial and industrial waste.
  • From 2017–18 to 2022–23, municipal solid waste contributed between 47% and 59% of the total waste sent to landfill.
  • The amount of municipal solid waste increased in 2020–21 and 2021–22, before falling again in 2022–23. This increase is likely because of COVID-19 restrictions and working from home arrangements.
  • Up to and including 2022–23, the ACT was found to comply with the two National Environment Protection Measures (NEPM) relating to the ACT’s waste including the Movement of Controlled Waste between States and Territories, and the Used Packaging Materials NEPMs.


Private vehicle use

  • The ACT community is highly dependent on cars which were used for 75% of all trips in 2022. Walking accounted for 18% of the total trips taken, public transport was only used for 3% of trips and cycling only 2%.
  • Cars were used for over 86% of travel to and from work in 2022, with most commuting by a sole vehicle occupant. Public transport was used for only 7% of travel to work, and cycling and walking 3% each. 
  • There was a 5% increase in commuting to work by car between 2017 and 2022. Public transport decreased by 1% and cycling 2% over the same period. These changes show the lack of community uptake for public transport and cycling in favour of increased car use.
  • The number of registered vehicles in the ACT increased by over 30% from 2010 to 2023. Between 2020 and 2023, registered vehicles increased by more than 20,300, a 7% increase over three years.
  • Light commercial vehicles, which include some types of sports utility vehicles, are being increasingly used by the community for non-work purposes. These large vehicles are more damaging to the environment, with increased emissions of air pollutants due to higher fuel usage.
  • In 2020, passenger vehicles were responsible for over 80% of the total kilometres travelled, with light commercial vehicles accounting for nearly 16%.
  • Modelling of traffic flows have estimated that between 2021 and 2031 the ACT’s morning and afternoon peak hour traffic will see a 13% increase in the number of car trips, a 10% increase in vehicle kilometres travelled and a 19% increase in vehicle hours travelled.
  • The number of diesel-powered vehicles continues to grow in the ACT. In 2010, diesel vehicles accounted for 6% of registered passenger vehicles in the ACT. This increased to 20% in June 2023. The rise in diesel vehicles may reflect a consumer choice for larger models such as sports utility vehicles and four-wheel drives.
  • In 2023, electric vehicles accounted for less than 2% of the total registered passenger vehicles in the ACT, with hybrid cars accounting for 3%.
  • There has been a greater uptake of electric and hybrid passenger vehicles in recent years in the ACT. Between January 2019 and June 2023, electric vehicle registrations increased from 184 to 4,737, and hybrid vehicles from 2,802 to 9,741. Since 2019, electric vehicle numbers have roughly doubled annually and in the first half of 2023 one in five newly registered vehicles were electric.

Public transport and active travel

  • Because of COVID-19 restrictions and the significant increase in working from home arrangements, public transport use decreased significantly from 2019–20 to 2021–22 and was the lowest on record since 1983–84. Public transport use recovered in 2022–23 and was almost as high as pre COVID-19 years.
  • Annual light rail boardings have ranged from 2.3 million to 3.7 million since commencing in 2019.
  • The light rail has proven to be a successful public transport addition to the ACT, with increased public transport boardings for the services operating along the Gungahlin Town Centre route.
  • Current public transport use remains significantly lower than previous decades despite population growth. This suggests that the ACT currently has a greatly reduced patronage of public transport services, particularly when combined with the preference for car use in the Territory.
  • Cycling is highly variable across the ACT with the inner city area having a significantly higher uptake of cycling, likely due to a flatter terrain and shorter distances to work and study centres.
  • Between 2011 and 2021, cycling participation in the ACT was higher than the national average for weekly, monthly and annual participation.
  • Given the high level of cycling infrastructure in the ACT, there is much scope for improving cycling participation, including across gender and age groups.

Water resources and consumption

Water resources

  • From June 2019 to June 2023, storage volumes were highly variable for all ACT reservoirs in response to annual changes to inflows and water use. The variation in water storage volumes is consistent with a long-term trend in the ACT of extended periods of reduced storage inflows punctuated by years of high rainfall.
  • Following a period of lower storage volumes when the ACT’s four reservoirs were holding just 55% of the total ACT storage capacity in June 2020, very high annual rainfall resulted in full, or close to full, storage capacity for all reservoirs from 2021 to 2023.
  • From 2001–02 to 2019–20, all but two years (2010–11 and 2011-12) had total inflows to storages that were below the long-term average. The wetter years from 2020–21 to 2022–23 provided inflows that were much higher than the long-term average, with inflows in 2021–22 over two and a half times above the long-term average.
  • The long-term trends in the ACT’s storage volumes and inflows show that although recent years have provided above average water resources, the region is prone to long periods of dry conditions.

Potable water consumption (data includes Queanbeyan)

  • Potable water consumption remained fairly consistent between 2013–14 and 2022–23, ranging from around 46,000 to 56,000 megalitres per year, despite increases in the population serviced.
  • Water usage in 2019–20 (around 56,000 megalitres), was the highest volume for over a decade. This increase was driven by three years of hotter and drier weather conditions. Water use decreased sharply in 2020–21 and 2021–22 in response to much wetter years.
  • Per capita water use has been fairly consistent during the decade 2013–14 to 2022–23, ranging from 66 to 83 kilolitres per person annually. This is far lower than the per capita water use in the early 2000s of around 120 kilolitres per person.
  • Residential supply is responsible for most water use in the ACT, accounting for around 60% to 66% of the total supplied annually. Consequently, it is important to maintain and improve water use efficiency at the household level.

2019–20 bushfire season

  • The 2019–20 bushfires in NSW and the ACT severely impacted Canberra’s air quality. Pollution levels exceeded the national standards for health on 56 days, including 42 days with air pollution above the hazardous to health rating.
  • On 1 January 2020, particulate matter (PM2.5) pollution was around 25 times higher than hazardous levels.
  • The 2019–20 bushfires meant that the levels of many air pollutants were extremely high and exceeded National Environment Protection (Ambient Air Quality) Measure (AAQ NEPM) standards in 2019 and 2020. This included 48 daily PM2.5 exceedances, 45 daily PM10 exceedances, six ozone exceedances, three carbon monoxide exceedances (the first since air quality monitoring began in the ACT) and two nitrogen dioxide exceedances, also the first time since monitoring began.

Air quality (excluding impacts from the 201920 bushfires)

Particulate matter less than 2.5 micrometres in size (PM2.5)

  • PM2.5 is the most serious air quality issue for the ACT. Periods of elevated PM2.5 levels are likely to have health implications for sensitive community members even on days which do not exceed the daily AAQ NEPM standard.
  • The majority of the ACT’s PM2.5 pollution comes from wood heater smoke in cooler months. This pollution can enter residences through the movement of external air into homes.
  • The replacement of wood heaters with energy-efficient electric heating is critical to improve air quality in the ACT, particularly in the Tuggeranong Valley.
  • The time of increased daily PM2.5 levels from wood heater use means that the community can be exposed to high PM2.5 levels during many outdoor activities such as commuting to and from work, commuting to school in the morning, evening sports training and evening activities such as exercising and dog walking. Exposure to wood smoke is dependent on topography, weather (wind speed and direction), and how many wood heaters are operating in a particular area.
  • From 2015 to 2022, there were 67 exceedances of the daily standard for PM2.5 at the Monash and Florey Stations, 36 of these occurred over the reporting period (2019 to 2022).
  • For non-bushfire pollution, wood heaters were responsible for 48 (72%) of daily exceedances from 2015 to 2022, 11 (16%) were caused by controlled burns, and eight (12%) caused by dust storms.
  • PM2.5 pollution is far more likely in the Tuggeranong Valley. The Monash station in Tuggeranong accounted for 51 of the 67 exceedances of the daily PM2.5 standard from 2015 to 2022, with exceedances occurring in every year except for 2022. Wood heater smoke was responsible for nearly 80% of the exceedances at Monash Station.
  • There are far fewer exceedances of the daily PM2.5 standard at the Florey Station, with 16 occurring from 2015 to 2022. Wood heater smoke was responsible for eight (50%) of these.
  • 2020 had the highest number of daily PM2.5 exceedances from 2015 to 2022, with 13 at Monash and six at Florey. All but one of the exceedances were caused by wood heater smoke. PM2.5 exceedances in 2020 may have been affected by increased wood heater use due to people spending more time at home during the 2020 COVID-19 restrictions and working from home arrangements.
  • The 2020 daily PM2.5 exceedances, combined with air pollution from bushfire smoke, make 2020 one of the worst years on record for Canberra’s air quality.
  • Annual average PM2.5 levels for the Monash Station were between approximately 85% and 96% of the standard from 2015 to 2021. This means that PM2.5 levels are closer to exceeding the annual standard than for other monitored pollutants.

Other air pollutants

  • Excluding exceptional events (bushfires and dust storms), there were no exceedances of AAQ NEPM standards for carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in size (PM10) from 2015 to 2022.
  • There was only one exceedance for ozone levels in January 2019 caused by hot weather increasing the conversion of vehicle emissions to ozone.
  • Climate change is likely to increase the frequency and severity of smoke and dust impacts on air quality, and increased ozone formation.

Health impacts of air pollution

  • The Office of the Commissioner for Sustainability and the Environment was unable to obtain data on the impacts of air pollution on human health in the ACT nor the associated costs to the health system and the economy.
  • There is some data available on the impacts of the 2019–20 bushfires with smoke causing an estimated 31 excess deaths in the ACT and 318 hospital admissions for health conditions.
  • Current expert and research consensus suggests that air pollution, even at concentrations that meet current air quality standards, is associated with adverse health effects.
  • In recognition of health impact evidence, national standards are moving towards the position that there is no safe concentration for sensitive people, especially for particles (PM10, PM2.5).
  • Any reduction in air pollution will result in health benefits, even where pollutant concentrations are within the air quality standards.

Emissions of air pollutants

  • With the exception of a recent ACT Health study on PM2.5, data on the sources and emissions of diffuse source air pollution has not been updated since 1999, therefore, it is not possible to assess changes in air pollution emissions over the reporting period.
  • Diffuse sources of air pollutants such as from transport and wood heaters are known to be the main contributors to air pollution in the ACT.
  • For the period January 2017 to September 2018, ACT Health estimated that around 50% of the total PM2.5 pollution came from wood heaters, bushfires, and planned burns, 21% was from coal-fired power stations (outside of the ACT) and local industry, and 14% was from motor vehicles.
  • Wood heaters are the main source of PM2.5 from smoke and are estimated to account for up to 75% of total PM2.5 in cooler months. Whereas coal-fired power stations and local industry are estimated to account for nearly 80% of PM2.5 in hot months.
  • Motor vehicle emissions are estimated to account up to 20% of PM2.5 with emissions higher in colder months due to fuel combustion being less efficient.
  • The monitoring and reporting of point source emissions is required under the National Environment Protection National Pollutant Inventory Measure (NPI NEPM). The ACT’s monitoring and reporting activities complied with the NPI NEPM during the reporting period (up to and including 2022–23).


  • Between 2018 and 2022, 14,388 complaints were received by the EPA regarding environmental conditions.
  • Noise was responsible for 80% (11,500) of the total complaints and is clearly a significant concern in the ACT.
  • Air pollution was responsible for 13% (1,853) of the total complaints. Smoke concerns (wood heaters and controlled burns) accounted for 68% of the total air pollution complaints between 2015 and 2022.

Land use and land use change 2019–20 to 202223

  • It is currently not possible to accurately determine the actual changes in land use over time. This is a significant limitation for land assessments in the ACT.
  • Nearly 75% of ACT Government land is zoned for natural ecosystems (conservation) and greenspace.
  • Highly modified urban land uses account for 10% of the ACT, with highly modified rural and broadacre land accounting for 15%.
  • In 2023, there were 8,300 hectares of pine plantations in the ACT. In 2022–23, 195 hectares were harvested with a value of nearly $7.4 million. Pine forests are also extensively used and managed for recreational activities.
  • The ACT has a relatively small agricultural sector with livestock farms accounting for the majority of rural land. In 2021–22, the ACT’s agricultural production was worth around $26 million.

Urban expansion

  • Land development driven by population growth continues to be an environmental challenge for the ACT.
  • Between 2006 and 2022, the ACT’s urban area increased from around 22,230 hectares to 24,990 hectares, a growth of 9% or 2,260 hectares (this includes commercial and industrial areas). From 2018 to 2022, the urban area grew by 500 hectares.
  • It is estimated that the ACT will need 100,000 new dwellings, along with the construction of associated infrastructure, to accommodate the projected population growth. Estimates suggest there is potential for approximately 28,000 new homes in existing greenfield areas zoned as future urban areas.
  • The ACT’s projected future urban growth does not support a compact and efficient city.
  • The ratio between the area of urban development and population growth has declined. Between 2016 and 2021 the ACT’s urban area grew by 5.5%, whereas the population grew by 13%.
  • In 2021, Canberra had a population density of 1,154 people per square kilometre, the second lowest of the major Australian capital cities (excluding Hobart and Darwin).
  • Low density single dwellings remain the dominant form of housing in the ACT, although its proportionate share decreased from 65% of total dwellings in 2016, to 61% in 2021 — a significant drop from 1991 when single dwellings accounted for 80% of total housing.
  • High density housing accounted for 21% of the total dwellings in 2021, compared to 17% in 2016. Medium density housing remained unchanged between 2016 and 2021 at 18% of the total dwellings.
  • High density and medium density housing are becoming popular housing choices with 13,388 built between 2016 and 2021.
  • The average number of people living in each ACT household has decreased from 2.9 people in 1991 to 2.5 in 2021.
  • Nearly 45% of ACT dwellings have two or more spare bedrooms and 14% have three or more spare bedrooms.
  • There has been a 22% increase in single person households between 2016 and 2021, making single person dwellings the fastest growing household type.

Greenfield versus infill development

  • The ACT Planning Strategy 2018 sets a target for up to 70% of new housing to be provided as infill development within the existing urban footprint.
  • Between 2015–16 and 2021–22, new housing development met, or was close to meeting, the 70% infill target with annual rates of infill varying from 68% to 81% (average infill rate of 74%).
  • However, current calculations of greenfield and infill urban development are only done for the number of dwellings built, including apartments — they do not consider the actual area of land used. Consequently, apartments and other housing that provide a large number of dwellings on a small footprint heavily influence the achievement toward the ACT’s 70% infill target.
  • If land area was used, the ACT would not be meeting its 70% infill target because the land required for greenfield developments is much greater than for that used for infill developments.

Land health

  • There is a general lack of knowledge about land health in the ACT, both for long-term changes and current conditions. This lack of information does not enable an assessment of land and soil health and remains a critical gap in our understanding of environmental condition.
  • Apart from climate change, vegetation loss, urban development in greenfield areas, and agriculture on rural lands, the biggest impact on land health in the ACT has come from the 2020 Orroral Valley bushfire and post-fire severe storms and high rainfall.
  • The impacts of the fires on land health in Namadgi National Park include extreme levels of erosion and other soil health issues such as the loss of ground cover. These have led to a range of environmental impacts such as degraded aquatic ecosystems and damage to infrastructure.
  • Land health will take many years to recover in areas severely impacted by bushfire. Improvements will be greatly dependent on the recovery of vegetation. Until vegetation cover improves, the land will still be prone to erosion and degraded soil health.
  • Up to and including 2022–23, monitoring and reporting activities for the ACT’s contaminated sites were found to comply with the National Environment Protection (Assessment of Site Contamination) Measure.


  • The main pressures on biodiversity in the ACT are climate change, invasive plants and animals, vegetation loss, habitat fragmentation, changes to the frequency and intensity of fire, and land use change (particularly greenfield development).

Threatened species and ecological communities

  • In 2023, a total of 58 species of fauna and flora (terrestrial and aquatic) were listed as threatened under the Nature Conservation Act 2014.
  • These species include eight critically endangered, 21 endangered, 28 vulnerable and one regionally conservation dependent.
  • From 2019–20 to 2022–23, six additional species were listed as threatened, three species were given a higher threat status and only one species was given a lower threat status.
  • There are three ecological communities listed as threatened in the ACT: Natural Temperate Grassland (Critically Endangered), Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland (Critically Endangered), and High Country Bogs and Associated Fens (Endangered).
  • There are two key threatening processes listed in the ACT: the Loss of Mature Native Trees (including hollow-bearing trees) and the Unnatural Fragmentation of Habitats which was listed in December 2019.


Extent of conservation areas

  • In 2023, there were around 146,800 hectares of conservation areas in the ACT, protecting over 60% of the total ACT area. This not only represents a significant proportion of the ACT’s natural environment but is also a much higher proportion than any other jurisdiction in Australia.
  • Namadgi National Park and Bimberi Wilderness Area account for over 75% of the conservation area and around 47% of the total area of the ACT. Nature reserves (including Canberra Nature Park) account for around 14% of the conservation estate, water supply 4% and special purpose reserves around 6%.
  • From 2019–20 to 2022–23, around 670 hectares were added to nature conservation areas in the ACT.
  • No new offset areas were created from 2019–20 to 2022–23 with the area remaining at around 1,865 hectares, including 870 hectares protected by nature reserve.

Condition of conservation areas

  • It is not currently possible to determine the condition of conservation areas in the ACT.
  • Assessments have been undertaken for selected ecosystem types as part of the ACT Government’s Conservation Effectiveness Monitoring Program. Results show that aquatic and riparian ecosystems, bogs and fens, and lowland grasslands are in poor condition compared to a reference (or pre-European) state, but in moderate condition compared to management goals. Upland grasslands were found to be in good condition.
  • It is also not currently possible to assess whether offsets have ensured no net loss of biodiversity following land development. Assessments for offsets will likely take many years, particularly given that management interventions need to be undertaken over long periods of time to attain the desired ecosystem and biodiversity outcomes.
  • Climate change will continue to threaten conservation areas, especially where changes to temperature and rainfall, and the occurrence of fire, exceed the tolerances of ecosystems.

Representation of threatened fauna in conservation areas

  • Species that have all, or close to all, of their known and potential habitat in ACT reserve areas include the Northern Corroboree Frog (Pseudophryne pengilleyi), Broad-toothed Rat (Mastacomys fuscus mordicus), Smoky Mouse (Pseudomys fumeus) and Southern Greater Glider (Petauroides volans). The Pink-tailed Worm-lizard (Aprasia parapulchella) also has around 82% of its known and potential habitat in reserve areas.
  • Around a third of Key’s Matchstick Grasshopper (Keyacris scurra) and Spotted-tailed Quoll (Dasyurus maculatus maculatus) habitat is not reserved. The Golden Sun Moth (Synemon plana) and Perunga Grasshopper (Perunga ochracea) also have around 20% of their habitats outside of reserve areas.
  • Several species have large areas of habitat on National Land including 50% for the Grey-headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus), 42% for the Grassland Earless Dragon (Tympanocryptis lineata), 28% for the Golden Sun Moth, 28% for the Perunga Grasshopper and 22% for the Striped Legless Lizard (Delma impar).
  • For species with large proportions of non-reserved habitat, this is due to their dependence on grassland and woodland habitats which are not as well protected in conservation areas as other ecosystems such as forests.
  • Some of the ACT’s threatened species only occur in managed sanctuaries, including: the Eastern Quoll (Dasyurus viverrinus), New Holland Mouse (Pseudomys novaehollandiae), Eastern Bettong (Bettongia gaimardi), Southern Brown Bandicoot (Isoodon obesulus obesulus), Brush-tailed Rock-wallaby (Petrogale penicillate), and Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus). This means that 100% of their known habitats are in managed reserves.
  • Four of the ACT’s threatened aquatic species have around 90% to 100% of their potential distribution in ACT conservation areas, including the Two-spined Blackfish (Gadopsis bispinosus), Trout Cod (Maccullochella macquariensis), Macquarie Perch (Macquaria australasica) and the Murray River Crayfish (Euastacus armatus). Silver Perch (Bidyanus bidyanus) has no wild distribution in the ACT.

Representation of threatened flora in conservation areas

  • Over 60% of the known threatened plant sites in the ACT are located in reserves or on other land managed by the ACT Parks and Conservation Service. An additional 13% occur on national land, which is managed by the National Capital Authority, and 22% occur on non-reserved lands in areas such as urban open space, road reserves, railway reserves and cemeteries.
  • Seven of the ACT’s 13 threatened flora species have all or most of their locations in reserves. However, there are five species with a substantial proportion of known locations outside ACT reserve areas, including Black Gum (Eucalyptus aggregata), Small Purple Pea (Swainsona recta), Canberra Spider Orchid (Caladenia actensis), Button Wrinklewort (Rutidosis leptorrhynchoides) and Murrumbidgee Bossiaea (Bossaiea grayi). The Tarengo Leek Orchid (Prasophyllum petilum) only occurs at Hall cemetery.

Representation of threatened ecological communities in conservation areas

  • Of the three ecological communities listed as endangered in the ACT, the High Country Bogs and Associated Fens community is the most fully protected in ACT reserve areas.
  • For Natural Temperate Grassland, whilst 100% of upland grasslands are within reserve areas, only 60% of lowland grasslands are in ACT conservation areas with another 28% on National Land and around 11% on non-reserved land.
  • Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland has 77% of its representation on ACT reserved land. This has increased significantly since 2019 due to the inclusion of secondary grassland in area assessments, rather than actual changes in reserve extent. Another 22% of Yellow Box/Red Gum Grassy Woodland are on National Land.

Representation of vegetation classes and communities in conservation areas

  • The vegetation class most underrepresented in the reserve system is Southern Tableland Grassy Woodlands which only has 36% of its extent protected — a 5% increase from 2019 due to the creation of additional reserve areas.
  • Other vegetation classes underrepresented in the reserve system include Upper Riverina Dry Sclerophyll Forests (63% protected in reserves) and Tableland Clay Grassy Woodlands (69% protected in reserves).
  • The least protected vegetation communities in the ACT are woodland, grassland and open forest communities.
  • There were increases in the reserved area for four of the least protected vegetation communities between 2019 and 2023, including Red Box tall grass-shrub woodlands (increase from 21% to 41% reserved), native grassland (21% to 37%), Yellow Box – Apple Box tall grassy woodland (30% to 39%) and Snow Gum grassy mid-high woodland (23% to 30%). Although the increases were mostly small and still leave much of these communities unprotected, they are important to help protect these vegetation communities in the future.

Native vegetation


  • It was not possible to determine changes in the extent of native vegetation over the reporting period. This was also found to be the case for the 2015 and 2019 ACT State of the Environment reports which noted the lack of comprehensive documented information on vegetation loss. The cumulative impact of approved vegetation clearing has also not been documented or assessed.
  • Most of the ACT’s current native vegetation losses are from urban development and from environmental pressures such as climate change, bushfires and dieback.
  • Between 2015 and 2020, 14,455 mature native trees were lost across urban Canberra, a 6.2% decrease. These trees are critical for many fauna species.
  • Between 2019 and 2023, revegetation in the ACT included 28,000 trees and shrubs planted in the Lower Cotter Catchment, a further 2,940 planted in the Stony Creek Nature Reserve, and 3,500 planted in the Murrumbidgee River Corridor. In addition, 40 hectares of revegetation was undertaken on rural land in 2022.


  • It was not possible to determine changes in the condition of all native vegetation over the reporting period. This was also found to be the case for the 2015 and 2019 ACT State of the Environment reports which noted a lack of comprehensive documented information on the condition of vegetation in the ACT.
  • As a result of the 2003 and 2020 bushfires in the ACT, only 18% of assessed native vegetation in 2023 was found to be within the required tolerable fire interval, 62% was below minimum tolerable fire interval (fire interval too short to maintain vegetation in its optimal state), 14% above the maximum tolerable fire interval (fire interval too long) and 6% was classed as long unburnt.
  • Bushfires have also meant that the Juvenile growth stage is the most common for the ACT’s native vegetation, accounting for 35% of the total assessed communities. The Adolescent growth stage accounted for 27% of assessed native vegetation, with Mature at 18% and the Senescent growth stage at 20%. While all growth stages are represented across the ACT, 62% of assessed vegetation is dominated by the younger Juvenile and Adolescent growth stages.
  • The dominance of early and young growth stages in the ACT has significant implications for biodiversity, especially for fauna that require the habitat features of older growth stages including established overstorey canopies, deep litter layers and tree hollows.
  • Climate change has led to an increased occurrence of tree dieback in the ACT, particularly for Blakely’s Red Gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi) and subalpine snow gums (Eucalyptus debeuzevillei and Eucalyptus niphophila) in the Brindabellas.
  • The Unnatural Fragmentation of Habitats was listed in 2019 as a key threatening process in the ACT. Despite this, comprehensive information on the status and trends of vegetation and habitat fragmentation in the ACT was not available for this report.

Invasive plants and animals

  • Invasive plant and animal species continue to pose a major threat to biodiversity, ecosystem health, primary production, social amenity and human health.
  • Data on management outcomes clearly demonstrates the value of invasive species management to control established populations and to eradicate new outbreaks where possible.
  • Management results also show the risk of invasive plant and animal populations re-establishing themselves in the absence of ongoing control.

Invasive plants

  • In 2019, there were an estimated 700 introduced plant species in the ACT, 79 of which were introduced from elsewhere in Australia. In 2022–23, there were 28 new and emerging invasive plants identified as posing a threat to native ecosystems.
  • From 2019–20 to 2022–23, nearly 35,000 hectares of invasive plant control was undertaken in the ACT for the ten most extensively managed invasive plant species. African Lovegrass accounted for the largest area treated at over 7,000 hectares, followed by Serrated Tussock (over 6,500 hectares), and St. John’s Wort (5,800 hectares).

Invasive animals

  • It was not possible to comprehensively determine the distribution and abundance of invasive animals in the ACT for this report.
  • There are an estimated 64 introduced vertebrate animal species in the ACT including 17 mammals, 33 birds, two lizards, one frog and 11 fish.
  • The invasive animal species of most concern for the protection of the ACT’s native ecosystems and biodiversity are feral pigs, deer, foxes, rabbits and horses.
  • Rabbit control is the most common management undertaken, occurring in all but one of the ACT’s reserves. Ongoing control has been effective in reducing the densities of rabbits by around 90% in areas of Canberra Nature Park and Namadgi National Park.
  • Annual Eastern Grey Kangaroo culls are undertaken to protect the ACT’s grassy ecosystems from overgrazing. Between 2009 and 2022, over 24,000 kangaroos were culled.
  • From 2019–20 to 2022–23, kangaroo culling numbers reduced across many sites. This is because of the effectiveness of previous kangaroo management and in response to higher sustainable kangaroo densities due to increased rainfall since 2020.
  • The use of fertility control was incorporated into the kangaroo management program for the first time in 2022 with the aim of limiting population growth and reducing the need for future culling.


  • The Orroral Valley bushfire had severe impacts on the ACT’s aquatic ecosystems, including significantly degraded water quality, mortality of aquatic species and the loss of riparian vegetation.
  • The reporting period saw extremes in weather conditions across the ACT, from the hot and dry conditions in 2019 and early 2020, to the very wet conditions from mid-2020 to 2022. These extremes have impacted on the ACT’s aquatic ecosystems and biodiversity.

Aquatic ecosystem health Catchment Health Indicator Program

This is the second ACT State of the Environment Report to use data from the Catchment Health Indicator Program. The program assessed 71 reaches in the Ginninderra, Molonglo and Southern ACT catchments. Main findings for the 2019 to 2022 period (averaged scores) are below.

  • 41% of the 71 reaches assessed were in good condition across the three catchments, and 52% were in fair condition. Four reaches were found to be in excellent condition and only one was assessed as poor.
  • The 2019 to 2022 period had slightly improved overall aquatic ecosystem condition scores compared to the 2015 to 2018 period with a higher percentage of reaches in good to excellent condition (47% compared to 42%) and a lower percentage of reaches in fair to poor condition (53% compared to 58%). The small difference between the two periods is likely related to the increased rainfall and waterway flows over the 2020 to 2022 period.
  • The main pressures on aquatic ecosystem condition in the ACT are land use impacts, modified river flows and climate change.
  • The presence of some good condition reaches in urban areas shows that healthy aquatic ecosystems can be supported with effective management and water sensitive urban design.

Macroinvertebrate condition Catchment Health Indicator Program

  • 37% of the 71 reaches assessed were found to have good to excellent macroinvertebrate condition, 17% were found to be in poor to degraded condition, with 46% classed as fair.
  • The Southern ACT and Molonglo catchments had the most reaches with healthy macroinvertebrate communities. Only one reach in the Ginninderra catchment had good macroinvertebrate condition.
  • The 2019 to 2022 period saw improved macroinvertebrate condition scores compared to the 2015 to 2018 period with a higher percentage of reaches in good to excellent condition (36% compared to 25%) and a lower percentage of reaches in fair to poor condition (61% compared to 72%). The difference between the two periods is likely in response to the increased rainfall and waterway flows over the 2020 to 2022 period.

Riparian condition Catchment Health Indicator Program

  • Riparian condition scores are the worst of all the CHIP assessment components (macroinvertebrates, riparian and water quality).
  • Of the 68 reaches assessed, over half (53%) were assessed as having poor to degraded riparian condition. Only 13% of reaches were assessed as having good to excellent riparian condition and 34% were found to be in fair condition.
  • The Ginninderra catchment had no reaches with good riparian condition.
  • The 2019 to 2022 period saw a further decline in riparian condition compared to the 2015 to 2018 period with a higher percentage of reaches in poor to degraded condition (53% compared to 48%). Changes may reflect the stress on riparian vegetation caused by the drought period prior to 2020.
  • Urban and rural areas generally had fair to degraded riparian condition due to vegetation clearing. However, there were also some fair and poor reaches in conservation and protected areas.
  • The replanting of native species in cleared riparian zones and the removal of weed species would greatly improve aquatic health and the amenity of aquatic ecosystems for the ACT community.

Native fish

  • Native fish in the Cotter River have been significantly impacted by the 2019 drought and especially by the 2020 bushfires. These impacts are greatest upstream of Corin Dam where native fish abundance and biomass has decreased since 2019. In 2023, native species accounted for just 17% of the total fish abundance and 7% of the total fish biomass above Corin Dam.
  • A combination of sediment and ash from the burnt catchment and high flows from above average rainfall since 2020 have decreased the abundance of Two-spined Blackfish (Gadopsis bispinosus) above Corin Dam to the lowest numbers since surveying began in 2000.
  • The population of the alien fish Rainbow Trout has increased since the fire and has dominated fish abundance and biomass in the Cotter River above Corin Dam from 2021.
  • Fish surveys in the Murrumbidgee River from 2011 to 2023 show that native fish account for around just 20% to 35% of total fish abundance with alien species (mainly European Carp) accounting for the majority of fish in the river. The biomass of native fish was similar, accounting for between 20% and 40% of total fish biomass.
  • There were increased numbers and size classes for Golden Perch (Macquaria ambigua) which is benefited by high flows that increase regional connectivity.
  • Although alien fish abundance and biomass is higher in the Murrumbidgee River compared to the Cotter River, results for both rivers demonstrate that alien species can dominate fish populations and impact on native fish when river systems are disturbed or degraded by pressures such as poor water quality and regulated flows.
  • The presence of Murray Cod and Golden Perch in Canberra’s urban lakes and ponds is dependent on stocking. Between 2015 and 2023, nearly 222,000 Golden Perch and 230,000 Murray Cod were stocked to Canberra’s lakes and larger ponds.

River flows

  • The ACT’s annual river flows are highly variable, characterised by generally dry conditions punctuated by wet years which replenish water storages and river systems.
  • The ACT’s highly variable weather conditions meant that the Murrumbidgee, Molonglo, Cotter and Paddys rivers all experienced flows well below the long-term average from 2017 to 2019, and flows significantly above the long-term average from 2021 to 2022.
  • For the Murrumbidgee River, flows were between three times to nearly five times higher than the long–term average in 2021 and 2022.
  • Annual river flows were lowest in 2019 with the Paddys River flows just 5% of the long-term average, the Molonglo River 8%, the Murrumbidgee River at Lobbs Hole 13%, the Murrumbidgee River at Halls Crossing 16%, and the Cotter River 17%. These extremely low flows impacted on aquatic ecosystem health as well as the amenity of the ACT’s waterways.
  • In 2019, cease-to-flow periods occurred for the Murrumbidgee River at Lobbs Hole, the Cotter River, the Paddys River, and the Molonglo River.
  • Flows in the Murrumbidgee River are significantly impacted by the Tantangra Dam in NSW which releases less than 10% of the waters that flow into the dam.
  • Over the 2015 to 2022 period, annual discharges for the Murrumbidgee River leaving the ACT were much higher than those upstream of the region.
  • Over the reporting period, annual flows downstream of all ACT water supply reservoirs were greater than the environmental flow requirement. Environmental flow requirements were met despite the significantly reduced rainfall and river flows from in 2019 and early 2020.

Water quality Catchment Health Indicator Program

Main findings for the 2019 to 2022 period (averaged scores) include:

  • Water quality was found to be excellent for 41% of the 71 reaches assessed and good for 55%, with only three reaches assessed as fair condition.
  • The 2019 to 2022 period saw improved water quality scores with a higher percentage of reaches in excellent condition (41% compared to 35% from 2015 to 2018). This may reflect the increased waterway flows over the 2020 to 2022 period.
  • Despite the added pressures imposed by urban and rural land uses, water quality was still good in these areas, with some reaches attaining excellent condition ratings. These assessments demonstrate the effectiveness of water quality management in some urban areas, particularly as a result of constructed wetlands and other water sensitive urban design approaches.
  • Periods of significantly higher nitrogen concentrations were found in the Murrumbidgee River downstream of the Lower Molonglo Water Quality Control Centre (LMWQCC), particularly when the LMWQCC discharge contributes a higher proportion of the total river flows during drought conditions.

Water quality in the ACT’s urban waterways

  • Of the water quality variables monitored in the ACT, increased turbidity and nutrients from urban runoff are the main urban water quality issues impacting on aquatic health and recreational closures.

Lake Tuggeranong

  • Lake Tuggeranong has regularly suffered from cyanobacterial blooms and high levels of faecal contamination. These are often accompanied by odours and highly turbid water, reducing the recreational and aesthetic value of the lake and surrounds.
  • Nutrient concentrations in Lake Tuggeranong were regularly above the acceptable levels for urban lakes. Nitrogen levels are particularly high with over 80% of water samples above the acceptable range for most years.
  • Lake Tuggeranong is not consistently reducing water quality impacts on downstream waters, with periods of higher phosphorus and nitrogen concentrations within and downstream of the lake compared to upstream of the lake.

Lake Ginninderra

  • Current water quality issues in Lake Ginninderra are confined to rare cyanobacterial blooms and regular high enterococci concentrations, with all other water quality parameters typically within the acceptable range.
  • Lake Ginninderra does not appear to be effectively mitigating the effects of urbanisation for the downstream waters with increased nutrient levels found downstream of the lake in some years.

Lake Burley Griffin

  • The main pressures on the Lake Burley Griffin’s water quality and aquatic health are pollutants from the Molonglo River, discharges from the Queanbeyan Sewage Treatment Plant and pollutants from the ACT’s urban runoff.
  • Lake Burley Griffin was found to be effectively mitigating pollutants, especially nitrogen, and protecting the waters downstream of the lake in most years.

Urban rivers

  • Nitrogen concentrations are regularly outside of the acceptable range for the upper and lower reaches of the Molonglo River.
  • Turbidity levels were regularly outside of the acceptable range for both the upper and lower Molonglo River, particularly in wetter years. Since 2019, turbidity in the lower Molonglo River has increased notably most likely due to sediment runoff caused by urban development in the Molonglo Valley.
  • Turbidity issues in the lower Molonglo River suggest that sediment contributions from urban development are negating the water quality benefits provided by Lake Burley Griffin and are impacting on the water quality of the Murrumbidgee River.
  • Tuggeranong Creek has high nitrogen and turbidity levels which are also a concern for the ecosystem health of the downstream Murrumbidgee River. Turbidity is also the main cause of the poor recreation and aesthetic values associated with the creek.
  • Turbidity and nitrogen levels in Ginninderra Creek were also consistently outside the acceptable range.
  • Concentrations of total phosphorus, nitrogen, turbidity and dissolved oxygen were consistently outside the acceptable range in Sullivans Creek with some very high concentrations recorded.
  • Periods of high levels of nutrients and turbidity in Sullivans Creek impact on the water quality and amenity of Lake Burley Griffin, particularly during times of high rainfall.

Water quality entering and leaving the ACT

  • Except for turbidity and electrical conductivity, water quality in the Murrumbidgee River is comparable upstream and downstream of the ACT.
  • In the high rainfall years of 2020 to 2022, the number of turbidity exceedances significantly increased and were higher downstream of the ACT. This shows that the ACT contributes additional sediment and other particles that cause turbidity into the Murrumbidgee River via Canberra’s urban waterways.
  • In 2020, turbidity levels downstream of the ACT experienced guideline exceedances for 85% of the days monitored and increased to 100% in 2021. This was caused by both increased rainfall runoff and extreme levels of ash and sediment from the 2020 Orroral Valley bushfire.
  • Canberra’s urban lakes mitigate the downstream levels of turbidity in most years, reducing downstream impacts in the Murrumbidgee River. However, new land developments in the ACT’s western edge have no large lake to reduce potential downstream impacts. This may mean that the ACT will have a greater impact on the Murrumbidgee River in the future.

Recreational water quality 201516 to 202223

  • The 2022–23 recreational season had the highest total closures across the ACT since 2015–16.
  • Lake Tuggeranong has by far the poorest recreational water quality with around 60% or higher of the recreational season closed in most years.
  • In 2022–23, Lake Tuggeranong was closed for nearly 80% of the season, the highest closures since 2015–16, mostly caused by high concentrations of cyanobacteria.
  • The frequent recreational closures in Lake Tuggeranong clearly demonstrate a failure to meet the community’s recreational and aesthetic expectations for the lake.
  • Recreational closures for Lake Ginninderra occur for around 20% or more of each season. The highest number of closures was in 2022–23 when the lake was closed for nearly 60% of the recreational season.
  • High enterococci concentrations have been responsible for most of Lake Ginninderra’s recreational season closures, occurring in every season since 2015–16. This contrasts with recreational closures for Lake Tuggeranong and Lake Burley Griffin which experience more frequent periods of high cyanobacteria concentrations.
  • Lake Burley Griffin generally has the fewest recreational closures. Prior to 2020–21, it was generally open for around 80% to over 90% of the recreation season. From 2020–21 to 2022–23, the lake was closed to primary contact for at least 25% of the recreational season, with 2020–21 closed for more than 30% of the season, the highest recreational closures since 2011–12.
  • All of the monitored river recreation areas for the Murrumbidgee, Cotter and Paddys rivers experienced closures in every recreational season because of high enterococci concentrations.
  • The Paddys River had the highest number of closures from 2015–16 to 2022–23 with five seasons having around 50% or higher of the recreational season closed. Only one season had less than 30% of the recreational season closed.


  • The 2019–20 bushfire season was one of the worst on record for the ACT and across much of South Eastern Australia.
  • In 2020, nearly 90,000 hectares, around 40% of the ACT, were burnt by bushfires. These were the largest and most severe bushfires since the devastating fires of 2003.
  • The most significant 2020 bushfire in the ACT was the Orroral Valley fire which burnt around 80% of Namadgi National Park (82,700 hectares) and 22% (1,450 hectares) of Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
  • Within the ACT, around 75,000 hectares burnt by the 2003 bushfires were re-burnt in 2020. Large areas of the ACT’s natural environment have now experienced severe and widespread burning twice in just 17 years. This will affect native vegetation, biodiversity and ecosystem health for decades to come.
  • A large fire also occurred in Namadgi National Park in January 1983 burning around 34,700 hectares. Nearly all of the area burnt by the 1983 fires was burnt again in 2003, and again in 2020. This means that a large area of Namadgi National Park has been burnt three times in 37 years.
  • In addition to the Orroral Valley bushfire, the Beard bushfire burnt around 424 hectares, threatening properties in Beard, Oaks Estate and West Queanbeyan.
  • For the years between the 2003 and 2020, the annual area burnt by bushfires was mostly under 100 hectares, and there were only five hectares of bushfires in 2021 and 2022. However, the 2003 and 2020 bushfires demonstrate the significant risk of large and severe bushfires in the ACT.

Prescribed burns

  • For the years between the 2003 and 2020 bushfires, prescribed burning accounted for 93% of the 45,000 hectares burnt.
  • For the period 2020 to 2022, only 347 hectares were burnt in prescribed fires. This is much lower than for most years due to the wetter conditions and the extensive burn area of the 2020 bushfires.
  • Between 2009 and 2022, fuel reduction burns accounted for around 98% (around 31,700 hectares) of all prescribed burns, with just 2% undertaken for ecological purposes. However, ecological burns have increased in the ACT since 2016.

Fire ignition causes

  • Between 2004 and 2022, there were 113 non-prescribed burn ignitions in the ACT. Arson accounted for 43% of these ignitions and remains the main cause of fires.

Fire risk

  • Fire severity risk in the ACT varies in response to climate conditions. Periods of drought and hot weather greatly increase the potential severity of fire.
  • Over the reporting period (2019–20 to 2022–23), the fire severity risk conditions were highly variable, from the elevated severity risk occurring in 2019–20 which led to the 2020 bushfires, to the greatly reduced fire severity risk in the wetter years since 2020.
  • The fire severity risk conditions in 2019–20 were particularly elevated in the month leading up to the Orroral Valley fire, and for the first days of the fire. This included two catastrophic and two extreme risk days, seven severe risk days, ten very high risk and nine high risk days. In addition, 2019 saw the highest mean Fire Danger Index anomaly since 1950.
  • There has been an increasing number of consecutive fire seasons with elevated fire severity risk in the ACT.
  • Catastrophic ratings are rare in the ACT with only three days occurring between 1994–95 and 2022–23. However, all of these occurrences are linked to the ACT’s most severe bushfires in 2003 and 2020.
  • Extreme ratings are also rare with only eight days occurring between 1994–95 and 2022–23. Three of these occurrences were in the 2019–20 fire season.
  • Days of increased Fire Danger Rating occur most often in January, followed by December and February. Increased fire severity risk conditions also occur frequently in November and March.