Community participation in the management of the Corangamite region is long-standing and substantial and constitutes a major investment in the conservation of our natural resources. Those involved with managing the land and water resources of the region play a key role in maintaining the natural resources that occur here. Private land managers invest a lot of money and resources into the land they manage and play a key role in the delivery of the integrated catchment management outcomes that are identified in this document. They are the stewards of the landscape.
Many private landholders have made, and will continue to make, substantial investments in natural resource management on their land. Without this private investment – sometimes supported by government, corporate or philanthropic sector investment – very little would have been achieved, and little will be achieved in the future without this.
The protection or restoration of natural resources on private land often requires individual landholders to voluntarily provide cash or in-kind resources, and to set aside land or water from their agricultural business to create an environmental benefit for the region, the state, and in some cases, the nation. Although protection of natural resources on private land is sometimes supported by government incentives, the full cost of such stewardship is often borne by the private landholder; even when government incentives or support is applied, the private landholder contribution often far exceeds government assistance.
Volunteers also give up their time and provide resources into ensuring the health of the catchment. Community groups and their volunteers are often the link between natural resource management on private and public land. Many groups are very active and make a significant contribution to the protection of natural resources on public and private land and should continue to be encouraged and supported.
Those directly responsible for the management of land and water can be influenced by and partner with a range of other stakeholders in the delivery of on-ground outcomes.
There are many reasons why the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority and other agencies engage with the community in natural resource management (NRM). These objectives extend beyond implementation of best-practice NRM and include: gathering local knowledge to inform priority setting and program implementation; building the capacity of the community to respond to future threats to environmental assets; establishing a constituency to support investment in NRM; and establishing relationships that demonstrate trustworthiness and build trust in the organization.
Assessment of current condition and trends
There are 152 natural resource management groups across the region with a voluntary membership of over 4,000 people. These groups are mature, with strong community ownership and a demonstrated capacity to initiate, plan, resource and carry out on-ground works in natural resource management at a considerable scale. Surveys indicate that landholders who participate and become involved in groups – such as Landcare or environmental groups – have greater knowledge of natural resource management and this leads to improved land and water management activities.
Community groups and their volunteers are often the link between natural resource management on private and public land. The Corangamite region has one of the best ‘care’ networks in Victoria. Many groups are very active and make a significant contribution to the protection of natural resources on public and private land and should continue to be encouraged and supported. Just as Landcare primarily invests in conservation outcomes on private property, environment groups, ‘friends’ groups, and some Landcare groups also invest in conservation outcomes on public land.
Major threats and drivers of change
Changing land use can have a major impact on rural communities, this is especially the case where properties are purchased by absentee owners, large corporations or are absorbed into adjoining holdings. Such changes have an impact on local populations and subsequently the community. The fabric of the local community being fractured in such ways can have an impact on organisations such as Landcare and environmental groups and their capability, capacity and functionality.
Changing demographics within communities can also have a major impact with populations moving for “tree change” reasons or as mentioned above the purchasing of properties by absentees. In the rural landscape, the age of most full-time farmers is gradually getting older. A reluctance by younger people to inherit or take over the operation often leads to the property being sold upon retirement and in many cases being absorbed into adjoining holdings. An ageing demographic can also impact on the landholder’s ability to manage the land in a sustainable manner or implement the management decisions needed.
Increases in the extent of peri-urban areas (from agricultural land to rural living and new community members), especially within the proximity of major centres such as Geelong and Ballarat, sees many of the issues described above occurring. Larger properties that were previously managed by full-time farmers are split up into smaller holding owned by “hobby farmers” or absentees. This leads to more intensive use of the land which can have adverse effects both on and off site. It also changes the nature of the community and how it functions.
Within the region there are varying levels of community awareness, attitudes to, and knowledge of natural resource management, including climate change. This can be reflected by the demographics of the area, profitability of enterprises and a change in the provision of free services from agencies including the Corangamite CMA. Such lack of knowledge can impact on not only the natural resources of an area, but also the community fabric.
Land prices have also been a major driver of change especially in those areas to the east of the region and in proximity to the coast. The cost of purchasing properties within these areas often makes it prohibitive to continue as agricultural enterprises, leading to the breaking up of these properties into smaller units. This is one of the principal reasons for the Victorian Government to initiate programs around Distinctive Areas and Landscapes (DALs) and Strategic Agricultural Land programs.