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Social and economic influences on restructuring rural landscapes for biodiversity conservation: Remnant vegetation in the West Australian wheatbelt as a case study

Moore, S.A. (2001) Social and economic influences on restructuring rural landscapes for biodiversity conservation: Remnant vegetation in the West Australian wheatbelt as a case study. In: Restructuring Rural Landscapes in the WA Wheatbelt and Austria, with Emphasis on the Social and Economic Imperatives Workshop, 22 - 23 February, Floreat, Perth

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In Australia, biodiversity loss is a national concern, especially in agricultural landscapes such as the West Australian wheatbelt. Landscape restructuring offers a means of ameliorating such losses. If restructuring is to occur, the associated actions must match the ‘triple bottom line’, they must be economically gainful, socially adoptable and ecologically possible. This paper addresses one component of this bottom line, social influences. To further focus this discussion, remnant vegetation conservation, one important element of managing for biodiversity, is explored on private lands in the WA wheatbelt.

The social influences on the landscapes of the WA wheatbelt are cultural, political and economic. History and attitudes can be considered key elements of culture. Historically, the WA wheatbelt has experienced a number of ‘waves’ of clearing of remnant vegetation, generally directed toward improving the nation’s agricultural production as well as populating rural areas. In terms of attitudes, the majority of landholders in the wheatbelt talk positively about nature conservation. Unfortunately, however, results from research in Australia and elsewhere indicates that the links between attitudes and behaviour are tenuous. In Australian agricultural areas behaviour is better predicted and influenced by landholders’ perceptions of environmental problems, the financial constraints they face, and the farming subculture to which they belong. Politically in Australia, the character of rural landscapes is predominantly influenced by state governments. In terms of economic influences, if a change is not economically viable, rural landholders will not make it.

In Australia as elsewhere, governments seek to restructure rural landscapes through applying policy instruments. These are tools, generally used by government, to change how people behave. Instruments available to conserve remnant vegetation on private lands include motivational ones (eg, education, partnerships), financial (eg, subsidies), market-based (eg, tradeable rights), self-regulatory (eg, codes of practice) and regulatory (eg, regulations). Most are voluntary with current trends favouring such approaches. In particular, policy makers are interested in market-based and self-regulatory instruments, as both are perceived as righting current market failures.

A question vexing policy makers and others is selecting the ‘best’ policy instrument(s) to achieve biodiversity conservation. Principles can be derived to help answer this question. Of central importance is selecting more than one instrument and making sure the instrument mix is complementary. Clearly identifying the property rights associated with remnant vegetation on private lands, and therefore who pays for and receives the associated costs and benefits, is also important. Crucial too is matching the policy instrument with the appropriate institution, whether it is Commonwealth, state or local government, industry, a community group or individual. And last, because regions and their landscapes have different legal, social and environmental features, different landscapes will require different policy mixes.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Environmental Science
Publisher: School of Environmental Science, Murdoch University and Ministry of Environment, Austria
Notes: Invited Paper
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