Source: Raw Shorty



This section provides an assessment of biodiversity in the ACT, including threatened and important species, conservation of ecosystems and species, native vegetation, and invasive plants and animals. The following indicators are assessed:

For background information on biodiversity in the ACT see Background: Biodiversity

Biodiversity is also discussed in Climate change, Water, and Fire. The impacts of the Orroral Valley bushfire on the ACT’s biodiversity is also discussed in 4. Bushfires in the ACT.

That the ACT Government: 


Publicly report annually on the loss of mature and hollow-bearing trees in urban areas, including greenfield developments.


Continue monitoring to evaluate the effectiveness of environmental offset conservation outcomes and the condition of conservation areas.


Increase data collection and reporting on changes in vegetation extent and condition from land use change and chronic degradation such as dieback.


Continue revegetation programs to improve native vegetation extent and connectivity.


Ensure tolerable fire intervals of vegetation communities are considered in prescribed burn decision frameworks.


Continue to undertake invasive and pest species management and ongoing control to minimise the impacts of established populations and to eradicate new outbreaks.


Ensure adequate funding and resourcing for biodiversity management on private land, and provide incentives to rural landholders to protect paddock trees.


Ensure adequate funding for citizen science groups that significantly contribute to the ACT’s biodiversity knowledge.

B1: Threatened species and ecological communities




In 2023, there were eight critically endangered, 21 endangered, 28 vulnerable and one regionally conservation dependent species in the ACT. During the reporting period (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 classed as threatened and two key threatening processes listed in the ACT with the Unnatural Fragmentation of Habitats listed in December 2019. While changes in listings do not necessarily represent a decline, it is clear that the future of some species and communities in the ACT is threatened without management intervention.

B2: Extent and condition of conservation areas




Extent: Conservation areas protect 60% of the total ACT area. From 2019–20 to 2022–23, around 670 hectares were added to nature conservation areas in the ACT.




Condition: At the time of reporting, it was not possible to determine the condition of conservation areas in the ACT. It is also not currently possible to assess whether offsets have ensured no net loss of biodiversity as a result of land development. Assessments of the effectiveness of offsets will likely take many years.

B3: Representation of threatened species and ecological communities in conservation areas




While many of the ACT’s threatened species and ecological communities are well represented in conservation areas (particularly upland species and communities), some flora and fauna species and ecological communities remain poorly represented. The least protected ecosystems and biodiversity in the ACT are the woodland, grassland and open forest communities, and the species that depend on them.

B4: Extent and condition of native vegetation




Extent: Due to the large area of conservation reserves, the ACT has extensive areas of native vegetation. However, there continues to be vegetation losses, including the loss of mature trees, from urban development and environmental pressures such as climate change, bushfires and dieback. There are ongoing efforts to restore native vegetation and connectivity through substantial revegetation programs.




Condition: It was not possible to determine an overall assessment of vegetation condition for the ACT, or changes over the reporting period (2019–20 to 2022–23). In response to the 2003 and 2020 bushfires in the ACT, only 18% of assessed native vegetation was found to be within the required tolerable fire interval in 2023. Bushfires have also meant that 62% of the ACT’s vegetation is dominated by the younger Juvenile and Adolescent growth stages which has significant implications for biodiversity. Tree dieback is an increasing occurrence in the ACT, most likely in response to climate change.

B5: Distribution and abundance of terrestrial invasive plants and animals




Invasive plants and animals continue to have a significant impact on native species and ecosystem health. Invasive species also represent a significant management burden. In areas where invasive species are controlled, outcomes clearly demonstrate the value of well-resourced and ongoing invasive species management to reduce established populations and to eradicate new outbreaks where possible.


Environmental condition is healthy across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have negligible impact on environmental condition/human health.

Environmental condition is neither positive or negative and may be variable across the ACT, OR pressure likely to have limited impact on environmental condition/human health.

Environmental condition is under significant stress, OR pressure likely to have significant impact on environmental condition/ human health.

Data is insufficient to make an assessment of status and trends.



Adequate high-quality evidence and high level of consensus.

Limited evidence or limited consensus.

Evidence and consensus too low to make an assessment.

Assessments of status, trends and data quality are not appropriate for the indicator.


Threatened species and ecological communities


Extent of conservation areas

Condition of conservation areas

Representation of threatened fauna in conservation areas

Representation of threatened flora in conservation areas

Representation of threatened ecological communities in conservation areas

Representation of vegetation classes and communities in conservation areas

Native vegetation



A large mound of Sphagnum in the middle of a bog burnt two years previously. Source: ACT Government

Invasive plants and animals

Invasive plants

Invasive animals


The ACT has a large body of policies, strategies and plans whose explicit aim is nature conservation. These include well over 100 action and management plans for species and communities, conservation strategies and advice, reserve management plans and Activities Declarations. In spite of this substantial effort, threatened species and habitats continue to decline and new species are being listed as threatened (six new species have been declared threatened in the ACT in this reporting period).

However, rather than being an area of policy failure, this dispiriting result is largely due to broader anthropogenic pressures which are beyond the scope of conservation management. These pressures include climate change, bushfires, urban development and invasive species. This situation illustrates the fact that nature conservation policy cannot be the sole mechanism for preserving the ACT’s biodiversity when there are other policies actively working in conflict with its outcomes.

While this section specifically considers policies and legislation which seek to protect the ACT’s natural biodiversity, it must be recognised that a raft of other policy areas, such as planning, regulation and management of land use, have a direct impact — typically a detrimental one — on the achievement of conservation outcomes at the local and regional level. National and international inaction on climate change also makes it difficult for ACT conservation policies to accomplish their objectives.

Policy framework

The primary piece of legislation for biodiversity conservation in the ACT is the Nature Conservation Act 2014, which legislates the protection of native flora and fauna in the ACT and allows for the declaration of threatened ecological communities and species and preparation of reserve management plans for conservation areas. It covers a number of strategies, plans and other statutory instruments, some of which are outlined below.

The Nature Conservation Strategy 2013–23 sits beneath the Act and aims to guide a coordinated and integrated approach to nature conservation. Its vision for nature conservation in the ACT is “biodiversity rich, resilient landscapes stretching from the inner city to the mountains, where well-functioning ecosystems can meet the needs of people and the environment”. It aims to strengthen connectivity, resilience and community capability to build the adaptive capacity of natural ecosystems and people to a changing climate. It identifies both key environmental values and the major threats they are facing. The Nature Conservation Strategy 2013–23 has been delivered through successive five-year implementation plans which provide an effective way of building ongoing adaptation into delivery.

The Aquatic and Riparian Conservation Strategy and Action Plans 2018 provides guidance on the conservation of aquatic and riparian areas and component species. It focuses on reserved areas, particularly where threatened species occur, and therefore does not apply to urban waterways. The Aquatic and Riparian Conservation Strategy and Action Plans 2018 includes recommendations to address a range of key threats to aquatic and riparian species and ecosystems as well as action plans for threatened aquatic species. The management and enhancement strategies identified within it aim to increase the resilience of aquatic and riparian areas to threats such as climate change.

The Invasive Plants Operations Plan 2020–25 guides the management of weeds in the ACT. Its goals are to prevent invasive plant entry into the ACT; quickly find, contain, and eradicate any new incursions; and effectively minimise the impacts of widespread invasive plants. It provides a framework for prioritising species and areas for targeted management, and explicitly acknowledges the limited resources available for effective management. In addition, the Invasive Plants Operations Plan 2020–25 recognises the varying impacts of different weeds and the different management approaches required to successfully manage each species.

The ACT Pest Animal Management Strategy 2012–2022 has set the framework and approach for managing the undesirable social, environmental, and economic impacts of pest animals across conservation, rural and urban lands in the ACT. The ACT Pest Animal Management Strategy 2012-22 aims to prevent incursions by new animal species, reduce impact on native animals, and ensure the community is engaged in pest animal management.

The Eastern Grey Kangaroo: Controlled Native Species Management Plan 2017 sets out the approach for maintaining wild populations of eastern grey kangaroos in the ACT while managing their environmental, economic, and social impacts and ensuring their welfare.

Reserve management plans are prepared for reserves in the ACT under the Nature Conservation Act 2014. The Canberra Nature Park Reserve Management Plan 2021 encompasses management for the 39 nature reserves within Canberra which contain distinctive threatened ecosystems and species, landscapes and cultural heritage. This plan highlights the significant values present in the reserves and provides guidance on appropriate reserve use for various activities as well as the goals, objectives, policies and actions for management over 10 years to 2031.

Management plans for other nature reserves, and action plans for each of the ACT’s threatened species and communities, are also in place. All of the strategies and plans described above are within the purview of the Nature Conservation Act 2014.

The Water Resources Act 2007 aims to ensure that management and use of the water resources of the Territory sustain the physical, economic and social wellbeing of the people of the ACT while protecting the ecosystems that depend on those resources. It also aims to protect aquatic ecosystems and aquifers from damage and, if practicable, to reverse existing damage. The Water Resources Act 2007 enshrines the Environmental Flow Guidelines 2019, which set out the flow requirements needed to maintain aquatic ecosystems. Other water related policy in the ACT includes the ACT Water Strategy 2014–2044 and the ACT and Region Catchment Strategy 2016–2046.

Other pieces of legislation, notably the Planning Act 2023, Heritage Act 2004 and Environment Protection Act 1997, also contain elements which relate to the conservation of biodiversity in the ACT.

Policy effectiveness

Measuring changes in the environment or in the population of a particular species over time is challenging. The resources required to develop a reliable monitoring program can be prohibitive, particularly for rare and cryptic species. A full understanding of population changes also requires a substantial dataset to demonstrate trends over the long term, rather than showing short-term responses to particularly favourable or unfavourable conditions or to extreme events such as fire, flood and drought. Even when positive trends are detected (e.g. increase in threatened species or decrease in feral pests), it is often not possible to tell whether this is due to management activities or to broader environmental factors. Because of this, it is very difficult to determine whether changes in ecosystem health and species abundance are attributable to conservation policy in the ACT.

This section will provide commentary on shortcomings of the ACT’s policy framework to manage specific issues within the nature conservation policy suite based in part on the findings of the Alluvium Policy Review. The planned 2024 review of the Nature Conservation Act 2014 should afford some opportunity to address identified anomalies, but changes will also need to be made to other Acts to ensure that nature conservation legislation in the ACT is truly effective.

Protected areas

As noted above, a central premise of biodiversity protection is the allocation of areas for nature conservation and rehabilitation through land planning frameworks. The ACT has an impressive reserve network with over 60% of its land area in reserves of some kind. While reserved lands are likely to play a critical role in nature conservation in the ACT, the Policy Review highlighted that the ecological condition of most reserves in the ACT is unknown. It is therefore not possible to determine how effective the reserve network is in fulfilling its conservation objectives.

In Australia, European settlement has introduced a range of invasive animals and plants that significantly weaken the protection offered by a reserve. These invasive species, together with a range of other human disturbances, are likely to be exacerbated by urban expansion and population growth (refer to Urban Boundary). In addition to this, changes in vegetation and disturbance regimes (fire, drought and flood) associated with climate change mean that significant management and policy interventions are needed to control threats within the reserve network.

In the ACT, a number of legislative and practical aspects of reserve management make it challenging for threats to the natural values of protected areas to be managed effectively.

Perhaps most significantly, the Nature Conservation Act 2014 does not have ‘primacy’ in reserves, which is a crucial requirement for the long-term protection and preservation of reserved areas. Primacy in the interests of conservation should require that the relevant park management act serves to exclude other potentially conflicting legislation in reserves, or that the other legislation excludes itself from reserves. For example, in Tasmania the National Parks and Reserves Management Act 2002 explicitly provides for pre-eminence of the Nature Conservation Act 2002 within reserves, stating “A statutory power may not be exercised in relation to any land in a national park, State reserve, nature reserve, historic site or game reserve except where – (a) the exercise of the power is authorised by the management plan for that land; or (b) the power is a power under the Nature Conservation Act 2002”. Conversely, in the ACT several important aspects of land management including fire management, littering and dumping, domestic animal management (including animal/carer behaviour) and erection of structures are covered by a range of legislation that cannot be enforced by Parks and Conservation Service staff. This means that offences in these categories are generally not pursued in reserves, which, perversely, is where they should be most actively pursued in the interests of conservation.

Another area where the ACT’s nature conservation legislation departs from the usual practice in other Australian jurisdictions is in the legislation governing the designation of reserves. The Planning Act 2023 is the instrument which provides for reservation of land for a specific purpose (including wilderness areas, national parks, and nature reserves) and the management objectives for those areas. It also defines the mechanism by which reserve management plans are prepared. Siting of the responsibility for reserve gazettal in the planning area seems less than ideal since this area does not include staff positions where there is a requirement for expertise in nature conservation. While the Planning Act 2023 makes provisions for the Conservator of Flora and Fauna to provide input into decisions relating to reserves, the current administrative arrangements where the Conservator of Flora and Fauna sits within the structure of EPSDD and reports to the Director-General EPSDD (who also holds the position of Chief Planner) means that decision-making in relation to such matters is opaque.

While reserves are generally the preferred mechanism for protecting threatened species and habitats, unreserved land, including in urban areas, is likely to play an increasingly important role in biodiversity conservation. As the ACT moves into a future increasingly affected by climate change it seems unavoidable that some vulnerable species will not be able to survive in the region due to climatic factors wholly outside the control of the ACT Government. This is not a reason to abandon threatened species conservation, but overall biodiversity is very likely to decrease in the near future and protection of all surviving native habitat will be important.

Finally, the focus on human use of reserves — even within plans and policies dedicated to nature conservation — has the potential to engender negative impacts on areas or values that would benefit from restricted human access or which are not recognised as having value by the general public. An example of this is the allowance of dogs in nature reserves; this is prohibited under the Nature Conservation Act 2014 but permitted in many reserves through the relevant Activities Declaration[11]. While there are individual and potentially social benefits to allowing dogs in reserves, it can only have a detrimental effect on nature conservation. Trade-offs among the outcomes need to be described and the risks of trying to balance competing objectives discussed explicitly. In addition, monitoring should be put in place to enable an assessment of policy effectiveness and adjust the management approach if required.

Condition and monitoring

As discussed above, it is not currently possible to determine the condition of conservation areas in the ACT. The introduction of the CEMP in 2018 should address this gap by providing information on ecosystem condition and change over time, but it is still too early for comprehensive data to be available. The condition assessments will integrate the influence of a range of environmental drivers, pressures and the combined effects of management actions. Given the challenges of identifying trends, it is likely that the CEMP may take some time to detect anything except major changes arising from notable climate and weather events.

As discussed elsewhere in this report, adaptive management is critical when considering restoration of degraded systems subject to multiple threats. Condition monitoring is only one step in adaptive management. It is important also to plan evaluation to ensure that there is information on the management activities undertaken, their outputs and contribution to objectives.

This is illustrated by the fact that management activities are currently being undertaken that could be expected to directly improve environmental conditions include revegetation, fish stocking, fish habitat installation, and pest and weed management. Clearly there has been some strategic planning in the detailed design of these activities but they are also activities that have been core business for government agencies for decades. Without clear evaluation of the outcomes from these activities based on reliable data, it is possible that resources are being expended on management interventions which are not producing the desired outcomes. The ongoing declines in condition of ecosystems and threatened species raises the question of whether business as usual is adequate.

The gaps in condition and intervention monitoring are serious deficiencies within the management program that compromise its integrity. It is not possible to design effective interventions without robust information on the condition of the system and the success (or otherwise) of management actions.