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By Jane Lennon December 15, 2019


In this issue we will consider the need to develop legal protection and policy frameworks to protect the heritage values of rural landscapes. In Australia this protection varies. Public lands like national parks and conservation reserves are usually managed through their own legislation which sets out the management objectives and values that must be protected. Privately owned rural lands might be zoned rural, rural residential or conservation in local government planning schemes and this entails a range of policies enabling uses. ‘Rural zone’ land has the least constraints and is generally farming land -agriculture, horticulture, grazing, cropping. However, the suite of policies varies in different regions and States.

B.1 Legal and policy frameworks 

Windmills, fences, homesteads, shearing sheds, bores, stock yards, travelling stock routes, bush roads and railheads all changed the appearance of the original country. These historic features form an important part of our rural heritage but are not readily discernible to those without social connections to the countryside. Some of the iconic homesteads and woolsheds are listed on State government heritage registers and legally protected. Most of Australia’s rural heritage which is protected is designed colonial farms and estates, where before 1850 many convicts cleared trees, built fences and yards, and many are now relict landscape features. The associated agricultural landscapes are not protected under heritage controls as they continue to evolve as productive farms. Each State and the Commonwealth maintain heritage registers developed since 1974 in response to the growing recognition of the value of heritage to the community.

Lake Mungo woodshed No 2017 (J. Lennon)

Waterloo Station Homestead, Matheson via Glen Innes NSW (J. Lennon May 2017)

States have the power in the Australian Constitution to regulate land use and heritage listed places are protected through provisions of the local government planning schemes. Some States have Local Environment Plans (LEPs) with Heritage Overlays which identify heritage items, mostly buildings, and aim to protect the visual character of distinctive farming areas. The rural zoning in the LEPs aims to encourage sustainable primary industry production by maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base, while minimising the fragmentation and alienation of resource lands and conflicts between land uses within the zone and land uses within adjoining zones. There is rural landscape zone which aims to encourage sustainable primary industry production by maintaining and enhancing the natural resource base, maintaining the rural landscape character of the land, providing for a range of compatible land uses, including extensive agriculture, while encourage the retention, management or restoration of native vegetation. There strict laws to protect native vegetation which has caused conflict with farmers wanting to clear mature regrowth.

The Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act) is the Australian Government’s environmental legislation. It covers environmental assessment and approvals, protects significant biodiversity and integrates the management of important natural and cultural places.

If a new project on rural land is likely to have a significant impact on a matter of National Environmental Significance (such as a threatened native grassland, marine park or threatened species) the matter is referred to the Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy.

  B.2 Implement policies

In November 2019, Australian Environment Ministers endorsed a new approach to biodiversity conservation through Australia’s Strategy for Nature 2019-2030. The Strategy is supported by a dedicated website, Australia’s Nature Hub. They bring together existing work across the country to guide the development of new and innovative approaches to biodiversity conservation. The Strategy goals support healthy and functioning biological systems by promoting a stronger connection between people and nature, improving the way we care for nature, and building and sharing knowledge. It provides an adaptive approach allowing each jurisdiction the flexibility to establish targets appropriate to the variety of environments across Australia and to change these as knowledge is built during the life of the strategy.

Eradication of pest plants and animals in the rural landscape requires many partners. This case study shows one group at work:

The Tarrangower Cactus Control Group was formed in 2005 specifically to tackle the infestations of Wheel Cactus (Opuntia robusta) invading our rural landscapes. It is a well organised group of volunteers and landowners dedicated to destroying and controlling these infestations of Wheel Cactus on private and public land. This noxious weed is now a Weed of National Significance because it is extremely invasive and difficult to kill. The group encourages participation by demonstrating best-practice management and providing incentives. They hold several community field days each year and produce and distribute information brochures and media releases. 

Tarrangower cactus control group at work

Policies to protect biodiversity in rural landscapes of all scales are being implemented by private groups as well as government nature conservation agencies. 

Another case study revolves around volunteer conservation works: BirdLife Australia’s Gluepot Reserve is Australia’s largest community managed and operated conservation reserve. It is located in South Australia’s Riverland, and managed and operated entirely by volunteers. Some 54,000 hectares in size, it is home to 22 nationally threatened species of birds, 53 species of reptiles and 12 species of bats, some of which are nationally threatened. Volunteers conduct many programs including feral control, bird counts and environmental education courses [].

Gluepot Reserve (Photo: Chris Dunn)

B 3. Define strategies and actions of dynamic conservation, repair, innovation, adaptive transformation, maintenance, and long-term management

The Landcare approach supports farmers and pastoralists in developing robust and resilient businesses incorporating sustainable food and fibre production and natural resource conservation. It also supports engagement and participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Indigenous land management, people involved in sustainable resource management on public and private land and activities by young people through educational institutions.

The following case study is typical of many involving small holders along waterways. The project involved restoring degraded creek banks on a small holding following overgrazing and clearing along Bottle Creek, a tributary of the Clarence River in northern NSW. A small grant of $14,000 for materials and tube stock with planting by volunteer labour was used to restore the degraded or missing riparian vegetation The restoration process involved obtaining Landcare funding to fence out grazing stock; collecting and germinating native plant seed, planting tube stock into ground sprayed to eradicate grass and controlling grass as the plants grew. The result was mature trees in three years, reintroducing river side native vegetation which has increased habitat for birds and enabled connectivity to forested higher ridges.

Bottle Creek restoration, 2015 [photos: J. Lennon]

Jane Lennon

Dec 2019


WORLD RURAL LANDSCAPE PRINCIPLES: Understand Rural Landscapes and their Heritage Values

By Jane Lennon October 31, 2019
Namaliwiri billabong 2016. Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

As the introduction to the Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage recognizes, these landscapes are a vital component of the heritage of humanity. While they are the most common type of  continuing cultural landscapes, they are also some of the most  diverse representing a  wide variety of cultures and cultural tradition.  For this reason, one of the important implementing actions in the World Landscape Principles is to better understand rural landscapes and their heritage values.

This article examines these foundational implementing actions with specific refence to two case studies in Australia:


Recognise that all rural landscapes have heritage values. These values will vary with scale and character (shapes, materials, uses and functions, time periods, changes). They may then be assessed as having ordinary or outstanding values worthy of inclusion in national or World Heritage registers 

Document the heritage values of rural landscapes.This is an essential requirement for effective planning, decision-making, and management. Inventories and catalogues from public agencies like Departments of Agriculture or Geological Survey departments, atlases and maps, all provide basic knowledge of rural landscapes for spatial planning, environmental and heritage protection and management tools, landscape design and monitoring. 

Develop base-line knowledge of the physical and cultural characteristics of rural landscapes. The status of the rural landscape today; its historical transformations and expressions of tangible and intangible heritage; historic, inherited, and contemporary socio-cultural perceptions of the landscape; past and present links (spatial, cultural, social, productive, and functional) between all elements (natural and human-made, material and immaterial) of rural landscape systems; and the stakeholders involved in both their past and present. Inventorying and cataloguing aim to describe rural landscapes in the current state but also to identify changes over time. 

Central Murrumbidgee Valley, New South Wales Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

CASE STUDY: Cross Property Planning Project, Murrumbidgee region, New South Wales

The Cross Property Planning project has connected 74 landowners across 56,000 hectares in NSW’s central Murrumbidgee region in a bid to implement more sustainable land practices. The six-year project evaluated biodiversity attributes across each property to come up with a tailor-made plan for every farm.

Enlisting all 74 landowners to implement more sustainable land practices was challenging because the project needed to work across fence lines to preserve and link scattered native vegetation and the properties varied in size, land condition, and management. The Project partnered with 25 organisations to deliver workshops and field days on landholder properties (over 60 attended by 1,100 landholders) demonstrating techniques such as pasture cropping, low-cost erosion control, low-input pasture management, paddock subdivision and weed containment via native species. Plans were drawn up based on each property’s needs, with incentive funding provided to put them into practice. 

Farmers identifying seeds, soil samples and vegetation at a Cross Property Planning Workshop Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

So far 1,761 hectares of farmland has been fenced for the protection of native vegetation, with more than 86,000 native seedlings planted. Dams and other waterways have been fenced to control livestock access, reducing erosion and enhancing water quality. Integrated weed management and coordinated pest management has taken place, while revegetation around gullies has sought to prevent dryland salinity impacts. Remnant vegetation on properties, including scattered mature trees, has also been protected

The participants acknowledged the Indigenous history manifested in artefact scatters along creeks, scar trees and in place names. They also examined the extent of colonial clearing of the original vegetation, fire and flood histories, and previous attempts by some farmers to stabilise soils and limit stocking numbers.This Murrumbidgee Landcare group are proud of their cooperative efforts. In 2018 they were won the Australian Government Excellence in Sustainable Farm Practices Award

Inventory and catalogue rural landscapes at all scales (world, regional, national, local).These cataloguing tools should integrate local, traditional and scientific knowledge and use systematic methods that are readily achievable and suitable for use by both specialists and non-specialists in all countries in order to collect and compare rural landscapes internationally and locally. In order to achieve an effective database, inventorying and cataloguing activities should consider complexity, costs of human resources, timing of data collection and organisation, and involve both experts and local inhabitants. The community of farmers who cooperated to map and plan conservation actions on their farms were described in the previous article.

Develop knowledge to enable comparison of rural landscapes at all levels (world, regional, national, local) It is important to monitor historical changes to rural landscapes and support shared learning and collaboration from local to global scales and among all public and private stakeholders. 

Recognize local populations as knowledge-holders. These are the people who in many cases help to shape and maintain the landscape and should be involved to the building of collective knowledge. 

Promote extensive and ongoing cooperation among public institutions, non-governmental organizations, and universities. Identifying partners for research, information sharing, technical assistance, and coordination of a wide variety of knowledge building activities at all administrative levels.

Namaliwiri billabong 2009 Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

CASE STUDY: Namaliwiri billabong, Ngukurr, Roper River, Northern Territory 

The Ngandi swam among the water lilies in billabongs, collecting bush food and bush medicine and having ceremonies nearby. Over 70 years the landscape was transformed by cane toads, rubbish, pests, weeds, and tree felling. In 2002, Cherry Daniels established a women’s ranger group to help restore the land. Cherry says billabongs are like “supermarkets” for her people —full of plants and animals that can be eaten, or made into useful things: water lilies, sedges and grasses, paperbarks, sweet and bitter yams, fish, freshwater turtles, crabs, mussels, Magpie geese and goannas.

Cherry Daniels, Namaliwriri billabong 2016 Photo Credit: Jane Lennon

Today, the Yugul Mangi rangers consisting of 20 men and women from several different Aboriginal groups care for a combined 20,000 square kilometres of their lands around Ngukurr (Salleh 2016). Greening Australia Inc funded fencing off billabongs to stop feral pigs, horses and buffaloes from trampling the surrounding ground, muddying the waters and eating prized water lilies. Together with Macquarie University scientist Dr Emilie Ens, the rangers studied fenced billabong areas, comparing them to unfenced areas. Two of the billabongs in the fencing study are part of a songline on Cherry’s country and of deep cultural significance (Ems et al. 2016). The study showed that four years of fencing saw an increase in lily cover at Namaliwiri billabong from 10 to 60 per cent. Good water lily cover is a measure of success from both a western scientific and Indigenous perspective.

More than a third of Australia is recognized as Aboriginal owned and managed land and Indigenous people living on these lands have a key role in conservation. Over the years the Yugul Mangi Rangers have worked with, and received funding from, many sources including:

  • The Atlas of Living Australia
  • The Nature Conservancy
  • Greening Australia
  • Landcare 
  • The Federal Government’s Working on Country Indigenous Ranger program. 
  • Macquarie University
  • Australian National University
  • AQIS


Emms, E.J., C. Daniels, E.Nelson, J.Roy, P.Dixon, 2016. Creating multi-functional landscapes: Using exclusion fences to frame feral ungulate management preferences in remote Aboriginal-owned northern Australia, Biological Conservation, 147 (May): 235-246.

Salleh, Anna, 2016. “Way of the water lilies: Where science meets the billabong.h

Jane Lennon

October 2019


WORLD RURAL LANDSCAPE PRINCIPLES: Threats, challenges, benefits, and sustainability

By Jane Lennon September 25, 2019
Abandoned farm house in wheat belt, South Australia -beyond sustainable limits of cropping

The ‘Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage’ (ICOMOS 2017)[i] after defining rural landscapes also briefly develop themes relating to threats, challenges, benefits, and sustainability for rural landscapes from a cultural heritage point of view for today’s society.  These challenges have been examined by scholars, scientific and cultural associations and public administrations, both at international and local levels and you will probably be aware of many of these issue

Importance of rural landscapes

Rural landscapes have been shaped over millennia and represent significant parts of the earth’s human and environmental history, ways of living, and heritage… The diversity of agricultural, forest, animal husbandry, fishery and aquaculture, wild-resource, and other resource practices is essential for the future adaptation and resilience of global human life.’  These multifunctional resources have socio-cultural values giving a strategic character to the rural landscape. Heritage values can be present in all rural areas ‘both outstanding and ordinary, traditional and recently transformed by modernisation activities’ while, depending on the location, ‘heritage can be present in dif­ferent types and degrees and related to many historic periods, as a palimpsest.’ Awareness of these identified values is a necessary step in promoting the sustainable conservation of such rural landscapes and transmission of their associated knowledge and cultural meanings to future generations.


Destruction of rural biodiversity by clearing woodland for grazing, North Queensland, Australia

Rural landscapes in many parts of the world are undergoing radical transformation. ‘Increasing human populations and climate change make rural landscapes vulnerable to risks of loss and/or abandonment or radical change. The threats to rural landscapes reflect three inter-related types of change:

1.Demographic and cultural (population growth in urban areas and depopulation in rural areas, urban expansion, intensive infrastructure works, development pressures, loss of traditional practices, techniques, local knowledge, and cultures.)

2.Structural (globalization, change and growth of trade and relations, economic growth or decline, intensification of agricultural practices and techniques, change of land and loss of native pastures and of domesticated species diversity);

3.Environmental (climate change, pollution and environmental degradation including non-sustainable resource mining, impacts on soil, vegetation, and air quality, and loss of biodiversity and agro-biodiversity).’


‘Heritage should play a significant role in the recognition, protection and promotion of rural landscapes and biocultural diversity due to the significant values it represents.’

To conserve the integrity and authenticity of heritage requires focus on assuring the standard and quality of living of local populations working and living there. Rural heritage is an economic resource and its use should reflect traditional methods while providing vital support for its long-term sustainability.

The multifunctional resources of an Irish rural landscape near Limerick, Ireland


Rural landscapes are critical resources for the future of human society and the world environment’.  In addition to food and raw materials, rural landscapes contribute to land conservation and the transmission of rural cultures to future generations. Rural landscapes often provide distinct economic and tourism benefits when closely associated with the communication and enhancement of their heritage values. Communities as knowledge-holders, or local initiatives and collaboration among stakeholders, rural and urban inhabitants, and professionals have contributed to conservation, awareness, and enhancement of rural landscapes as a valuable shared resource.

A benefit to the rural landscape and local community: restored heritage landscape of water meadows at Castletown, Ireland


Many rural systems have proven to be sustainable and resilient over time. Various aspects of these systems can inform future management of rural activities and support conservation and improvement of biocultural diversity and peoples’ rights to adequate quantities and good quality of food and raw materials.

Landscapes are in continuous natural evolution and often inevitable processes of transformation thanks to their links to farming practices and farmers’ ways of life. ‘Rural landscape policies should focus on managing acceptable and appropriate changes over time, dealing with conserving, respecting, and enhancing heritage values.’ What changes are appropriate will be the subject of future articles in LLO. These articles will discuss in detail the criteria that will in­spire action.

[i] All quotations in italics in this article are from the Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage’ (ICOMOS 2017)

Jane Lennon is an historical geographer with a PhD on cultural landscape conservation; she is a founding member of Australia ICOMOS, adjunct professor at Deakin University, honorary professor at the University of Melbourne specialising in heritage landscapes and has published extensively. She has long experience in national park, museum, historic site management, heritage boards including the Australian Heritage Council, ICCROM and the ICOMOS/IFLA International Scientific Committee on cultural landscapes


World Rural Landscape Principles: Principle One, Definition and Values of Rural Landscapes

By Jane Lennon August 1, 2019

As readers of Living Landscape Observer, you may wonder why rural landscape principles are necessary. After all, rural landscape was a category of interest in the World Heritage Convention (Art. 1 and 2) in 1972, but it had become too general as more precise understandings of the meanings of ‘landscape’, ‘nature’ and ‘environment’ evolved. They were often seen as separate concepts. Accordingly, UNESCO introduced the concept of landscapes at a global level in 1992 in part as a substitute for the more generic term ‘site,’ which was a descriptor in the World Heritage Convention (UNESCO 2016)

The term ‘cultural landscapes’ replaced rural landscapes without explanation in the revised Operational Guidelines for the World Heritage Convention in 1992 and was defined as cultural heritage with three sub-categories: ‘designed landscapes,’ ‘continuing landscapes’, and ‘associative landscapes.’ Since then, the cultural landscapes ‘continuing land­scapes’ category has included rural landscapes even if the latter were not explicitly mentioned in the definition. 

The need for a systematic approach to classification, evaluation and management since the 1990s has led to thematic studies of landscapes involving pastoralism, specific crop production like rice and wine grapes, vernacular rural villages, oases, and the Food and Agricultural Organisation’s Globally Important Agricul­tural Heritage Systems (GIAHS) primarily dedicated to maintaining site-specific technical traditions and agricultural knowledge systems tied to rural loca­tions. But ‘landscape as heritage’ needs a common thread to bind protection based on methodology and awareness of the value of rural landscapes each with its particularities, traditions and sustainable usage. The World Rural Landscape Principles were developed to fill this need and the preamble states that:

‘Rural land­scapes are a vital component of the heritage of humanity. They are also one of the most common types of continu­ing cultural landscapes. There is a great diversity of rural landscapes around the world that represent cultures and cultural traditions… They provide multiple economic and social benefits, multifunctionality, cultural support and ecosystem services for human societies’ (ICOMOS 2017a).

Barossa Valley, South Australia


Rural landscapesare terrestrial and aquatic areas co-produced by human-nature interaction and within which renewable natural resources are produced, such as food and/or raw materials. At the same time rural areas have cultural meanings attributed to them by people and communities.

Rural landscapes are dynamic, living systems encompassing places produced and managed through traditional methods, techniques, accumulated knowledge, and cultural practices, as well as those places where traditional approaches to production have been recently changed.

Rural landscapes encompass both well-managed and degraded or abandoned areas that can be reused or reclaimed. They can be huge rural spaces, peri-urban areas as well as small spaces within built-up areas. Rural landscapes encompass land surfaces, subsurface soils and resources, the airspace above, and water bodies.’

There is an implicit distinction between ‘rural’ and ‘agricultural.’ Agricultural activity is historically focused on sedentary food production accounting for scientific de­bates and terminology which have enlivened historical, geographical and agronomic studies on the question of agriculture and rurality. The term ‘rural’ acts as an umbrella concept in the context of the Principles to clearly articulate the types of production activities besides agriculture that de­veloped through the centuries in the various areas of the world, such as aqua­culture and fishing, different kinds of animal husbandry, forestry management, hunting, natural product harvest­ing, extraction and working of shared resources such as salt. these activi­ties has given rise to specific landscapes.

Landscape is understood as the co-presence of physical features and of meanings attributed to them. ‘At the same time, all rural areas have cultural meanings attributed to them by people and communi­ties.’ (ICOMOS 2017a) Rural ac­tivity creates rural spaces which can be read through the lens of landscape concepts, underlining both the physical characteristics and the multiple cultural values (aesthetic, historical, social, spiritual, economic, scientific) attributed to them.

Vietnamese workers tending potato crop, Toolangi, Victoria, Australia

‘Rural landscape heritage:Refers to the tangible and intangible heritage of rural areas. Rural landscape heritage encompasses physical attributes – the productive land itself, morphology, infrastructure, vegetation, settlements, transport, and trade networks, etc. – as well as wider physical, cultural, and environmental linkages and settings. Rural landscape heritage also includes associated cultural knowledge, traditions, practices, expressions of local human communities’ identity and belonging, and the cultural values and meanings attributed to those landscapes by past and contemporary people and communities. Rural landscapes encompass technical, scientific, and practical knowledge, related to human-nature relationships.  Rural landscapes are expressions of social structures and functional organizations, realizing, using and transforming them, in the past and in the present. Rural landscape heritage encompasses cultural, spiritual, and natural attributes that contribute to the continuation of biocultural diversity. Rural landscape heritage can be found in all rural areas, both outstanding and ordinary, traditional and recently transformed by modernization activities, although in different degrees and types and related to many historic periods, as a palimpsest.’

Extensive pastoral landscape, western Queensland, Australia

The second definition of ‘rural land­scapes as heritage’ defines the concept of heritage in conjunction with the concept of landscape. The attributes of heritage, its ‘biocultural diver­sity’ characterise a rural area and form one of its fundamental corner-stones.

These concepts expressed in the Principles in the two definitions represent a strongly innovative declaration compared to the traditional political vision of heritage protection based on choosing specific areas for their exceptional qualities. These areas may range from a conservation area national park without considering its buffer zone to areas of productive rural use.  However, this view is no longer effective or useful especially given the common over-simplification splitting productive rural areas into two categories: those related to industrialised production having lost any historical memory or heritage value, and those related to areas where any remaining traditional activity is viewed as a sanctuary of precious values at risk of disappearing forever. This binary view ignores the many types of rural activity that exist in the landscape and are worthy of consideration for protection. 

You might like to consider a range of rural landscapes with differing values from your own experience. The next issue will discuss threats to the heritage values of rural landscapes.


ICOMOS, 2017a. “ICOMOS-IFLA Principles Concerning Rural Landscapes as Heritage”.

Charters/GA2017_6-3-1_RuralLandscapesPrinciples_ EN_adopted-15122017.pdfUNESCO, 2016. Operational Guidelines for the implementation of the World Heritage

Convention, Annex 3, UNESCO World Heritage Centre, Paris.

Jane Lennon is an historical geographer with a PhD on cultural landscape conservation; she is a founding member of Australia ICOMOS, adjunct professor at Deakin University, honorary professor at the University of Melbourne specialising in heritage landscapes and has published extensively. She has long experience in national park, museum, historic site management, heritage boards including the Australian Heritage Council, ICCROM and the ICOMOS/IFLA International Scientific Committee on cultural landscapes