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Connecting culture, science and values the key to landscape management

A video released during NAIDOC Week is showing the benefits of on-ground investments in protecting Aboriginal sites and improving the quality of the environment in the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area.

The video, titled Sustaining Willandra: Connecting Country, Culture and Science, highlights the work by scientists from NSW Office of Environment and Heritage who are trialling a collaborative approach to landscape management for Local Land Services Western Region.

The results show that efforts to manage the impacts of rabbits and soil erosion and protect Aboriginal sites within the World Heritage Area are paying off with the landscape recovering well.

Senior Local Land Services Officer (Aboriginal Communities), Ronni O'Donnell of Local Land Services Western Region said the Willandra Lakes Region World Heritage Area was one of the most significant areas in Australia for Indigenous people.

It's also a landscape managed as a blend of National Park and farming land and is valued for including archaeological, cultural heritage, biodiversity, research and pastoral values.

"One of the biggest challenges we have is collecting evidence to prove that investments on the ground, such as pest control, have actually protected Aboriginal sites and improved the quality of the environment," Ms O'Donnell said.

Executive Officer for the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Region Dr Dan Rosendahl said they had been working with traditional owners on pest control and with landholders to install fences and move watering points.

These projects had helped reduce soil erosion and protect Aboriginal sites over the years, but they weren't certain about exactly how much they had improved the landscape.

"The team from OEH has analysed 20 years of Landsat images to show us that ground cover has improved significantly since we've started managing these impacts which has reduced the threat of erosion," Dr Rosendahl said.

The release of the video was timely as this year's NAIDOC celebrations were centred around the theme We all Stand on Sacred Ground: Learn, Respect and Celebrate.

Heritage Officer from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage, Mick Kelly, said the three tribal groups of this country, the Paakantji, Ngyiampaa and Mutthi Mutthi people, had been living and looking after the Willandra Lakes area for more than 50,000 years.

"Our people have so much knowledge about the plants and animals and important sites such as soaks that provided water source for our ancestors and we are happy to share this with the scientists, landholders and the land managers so we can all look after country better," he said.

Dr John Leys from the NSW Office of Environment and Heritage Science Division said his team of environmental and social scientists had delivered a new approach to landscape management that could be used as a best practice model across Australia.

"It's really about collaboration and bringing different groups together to understand what they value about the landscape and getting them involved in managing it," Dr Leys said.

"We know that different people value the Willandra Lakes region for many reasons, including archaeological, cultural heritage, biodiversity, research and pastoral values and we wanted to see how we could capture that information in a map so we could enable better long-term management and investment decisions."

"By connecting country, culture and science we can show that we're protecting culturally significant sites and the environment and also ensuring the government receives a good return on its investments," Dr Leys said.

Visit YouTube to view the video.


Media contact:
Local Land Services:                                      Donna Ambler 0400 258 690
Office of Environment and Heritage:             24 hour Media Line 02 9995 5347