Australia still carries an image of a largely untamed landscape and extreme wilderness. In that way it still goes hand in hand with our view of the Arctic regions, much of Africa and the Amazon. Maybe it's an 'A' thing? Anyway, unfortunately Australia hasn't avoided the seemingly relentless march of habitat loss, destruction and the problems caused by changing environment.
On the one hand, it's a wilderness paradise with hugely unpopulated areas and extreme habitats for wildlife. It's home to over five percent of world's known plant and animal species, 87 percent of which are found nowhere else on earth. All of that life inhabits a single country that is broadly the same size as the whole of Western Europe. Easy to see why it's such a nature haven.
There's a darker side to wild Australia though, as there is with most of our natural world today. Deforestation and habitat loss have been almost epidemic for decades due to the expansion of human settlements and ever increasing demand for land and resources. Since Europeans first arrived in Australia, roughly half of all forests and forest habitats have been cut down or severely disturbed with, obviously, a huge knock onto wildlife.
Couple this with a variety of non-native animals, such as Cane Toads, who have become the poster boy for environmental damage down under, which cause their own brand of havoc on Australia's unique species', and the situation could quickly become dire.
As a result, efforts have been picking up steam to retain, regrow and rejuvenate Australia's forests and habitats. In August last year, the federal government held a threatened species summit in Melbourne to look at methods to preserve the country's flora and fauna without slowing down the country's global development or competitiveness. One of the main actions resulting from the summit was the dedication to slow down land clearance and work to regrow Australian forests and habitats. By no means an easy or fast solution, but a step in the right direction.
Aligning with this call to arms, many different conservation projects have picked up speed to tackle the problem, including from ourselves at Frontier, which is making Australia an even more popular gap year and volunteer destination that it already was. Tree planting efforts (or 'afforestation'; the planting of a brand new forest from scratch) are growing in popularity as well as the reforestation of existing areas of forest that have been heavily hit from logging and land clearance in recent decades.
Much of this land clearance has been given over to plantation and ranch owners who are also targeted as potential benefactors of reforestation. The theory being that giving over a small portion of your land to forest and wildlife habitat helps your land on the whole as it improves water supplies, diversifies terrain for livestock and stabilises soil and topsoil, making erosion and the deterioration of that land less potent.
So it's not all bad news, the utter uniqueness of Australia is completely worth preserving, and this is a good reason to visit there too. The momentum is building but there's still a long way to go if Australia is to stem the flow of its natural decline. The country has one of the worst extinction records in the world, having lost over 50 species in the last 200 years, over half of which are mammals. As established, with the mostly unique to Australia selection of wildlife there, that statistic is scary and leaves a huge scope for conservation.
Frontier is heavily involved in the Australian environmental push. The Australia Ethical Conservation Experience is solely dedicated to the re-establishment and preservation of vegetation and habitat all over Australia. For more information on the Australia Ethical Conservation Experience, follow the link.
By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern
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