Vision: Active and resilient communities adapting to challenges including climate change
The Community theme describes the regional community and their contribution to NRM, considering emerging trends, challenges and opportunities and how to maintain and build community involvement into the future
The health of our catchments relies on the active involvement of people in the region. An engaged and active community is critical for the success of the RCS. People who farm and manage land or who live in towns, work, volunteer or go to school all have a role to play in realising the RCS vision.
Eighty-seven per cent of land in the region is privately owned and most of it used for agriculture. As such, rural landholders continue to be the foundation for landscape-scale NRM in the region.
Through engagement for RCS renewal we heard from many people in the region who are passionate and knowledgeable about their local waterways, wetlands, farmland and bushland. Residents and visitors to the region enjoy the amenity and recreational opportunities of these natural environments. Spending time connecting to nature, is important for our wellbeing, it also builds appreciation and inspires action. Landholders and community-based NRM groups, make a significant contribution by caring for their land and local places, protecting and improving the health of soils, waterways and native vegetation and habitats across the region.
Assessment of current condition and trends
An estimated 250,000 people call the north central region home with almost half the population located in the City of Greater Bendigo, which is among the fastest growing regional Local Government Areas in Victoria. A large survey of rural landholders (with properties >10 ha) was conducted in 2014 and repeated in 2019, to better understand the demographics, values and beliefs of the regional community. Agriculture remains the dominant land use, however primary production is not the focus for many rural landowners, with 51% considering themselves part-time, hobby or non- famers. That said, full-time farmers remain the largest farmer identity group (49%) of those surveyed and manage around 80% of the land.
Generally speaking the ageing population and trend toward larger/corporate farms in the north and west is leading to population decline and associated socio-economic impacts, including a reduced volunteer base. Whilst in the south and east of the region there is strong growth, including in rural residential development which is increasing pressure on natural resources and introducing new landholders.
Trends in environmental volunteering show that people are continuing to sign-up for volunteering programs, but for less time than in the past. Volunteers want more event-based volunteering that enables them to make short-term, but meaningful commitments to a cause, like citizen science. Results of a recent survey suggest there is an opportunity to increase the number of environmental volunteers and identifies key motivators to leverage. These are important learnings for groups needing to engage and maintain volunteers, including a more diverse demographic.
Our region is fortunate to have over 200 active community-based NRM groups including Landcare, sustainable agriculture and other environmental volunteer groups and networks actively working across the region, generating significant social, environmental, and economic benefits. In 2018-19, nearly 6,000 environmental volunteers contributed over 90,000 hours, valued at $3.7M. Through engagement for RCS renewal we heard about how important volunteers are in rural communities, for example CFA and SES volunteers, as well as environmental volunteers. In areas where the rural population has been declining (e.g. Western Dryland Plains Local Area) there are now less volunteers and this can make it challenging to sustain local activity and groups.
The Victorian Government’s Environmental Volunteering Plan aims to have five million Victorians acting to protect the natural environment by 2037. Landcare group healthy surveys have been collecting data for Landcare groups and networks for many years. Volunteering Naturally surveys began in 2018-19, they include Landcare groups and networks, as well as other environmental volunteering groups, including; citizen scientists, advocacy, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation, recreation/nature experience and sustainable living. The graph and table below present Landcare data (pre 2018-19) and Volunteering Naturally data which will be used to track environmental volunteer numbers in the region, as per the RCS Outcomes Framework. The reduced response rate and number of active volunteers in 2019-20 can be attributed to the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions on activity.
|Total groups who received survey||226||213|
|Total active volunteers||5,876||4,098|
|Total volunteer hours||93,827||31,709|
|Value of volunteer contribution ($)||$3,753,080||$1,268,360|
Volunteering Naturally Survey Results for North Central Region
Landcare groups are typically made up of older people, who have time and interest in group-based membership and traditional styles of volunteering. It is this demographic that has kept Landcare stable in our catchment for the past 35 years. Each year, Landcare groups are invited to complete a Landcare Group Health Survey. The survey captures group perceptions of their current health and activity levels. The most recent survey results for the north central region, indicate a slight decrease in self-assessed health.
Some Landcare Chairs and Facilitators engaged for RCS renewal reported: difficulties in recruiting new members, that some Landcare groups are fatigued, that weed management in particular is overwhelming and support to progress this in some areas, is needed. They expressed frustration at the administrative load and limited funding available. They suggested we need to get the fun and enjoyment back into Landcare, to celebrate achievements. Groups out west in areas where the population is declining, reported a reduced volunteer base. Others in the southern parts of the region have had success in attracting new rural landholders, with working parents and family groups joining Landcare or reigniting groups that had been in recess. A focus on sustainable agriculture has proved successful for some Landcare groups. Landcare Networks have an important role, in developing strategic plans for their areas, supporting their member groups and sourcing investment, but they are currently under resourced to fulfill this potential. Continuing to support groups to adapt, share learnings, recognise and celebrate achievements and leverage more funding will be important to the long-term sustainability of Landcare groups and networks in the region.
Citizen science programs involve volunteers collecting scientific data to support monitoring programs that improve understanding and management. Citizen science approaches have been proven to engage, connect and empower community within their local environment and change their appreciation of place. It is a collective and cost-effective approach to sharing important local and ecological information about land, water, climate and biodiversity resources. The North Central CMA is now integrating citizen science into its integrated catchment management projects. There are many citizen science programs in the region, including the long-running Waterwatch program.
Partnerships provide opportunities to further industry and community involvement in NRM. Tracking the number of partnerships, as a standard indicator of the RCS Outcomes Framework contributes to understanding how CMAs are working collaboratively towards achieving regional outcomes by formally engaging with people and organisations. The graph here presents the number of partnerships established, modified or maintained by the CMA over the past six years.
Over the next six years, the life of this RCS, the demographics of the region will continue to change, Landcare and other community-based NRM groups will need to adapt to continue their important role into the future. It is vital that we continue to monitor trends in land ownership, the issues facing rural communities across the region, and barriers/motivators to volunteering, to maintain effective engagement with landholders around NRM.
Major threats and drivers of change
Results of a large survey of rural landholders (with properties >10 ha) in 2019, indicate the top issues at district-scale include soil management, changes in weather patterns and dam water quality during drought.
Climate change is a key driver of change for communities across our region. Adaptation to our changing climate is already happening on many levels – land managers and communities have been responding to increased incidence of drought, flood and fire through a range of actions that minimise future risk, improve water security and conserve high value agricultural soils. The work of many Landcare and other community groups to buffer remnant vegetation and improve landscape connectivity supports natural assets to adapt to future changes. Community members engaged for RCS renewal told us that communities need to be involved in climate change planning and that creative solutions will be required. Some climate change challenges specific to the community are:
- Rural landholders and community volunteers will be affected by extreme weather more often and will need to continue to adapt their management practices to our changing climate.
- With increased temperatures, green spaces will be increasingly important for regional communities as refuges from heatwaves.
- With reduced water availability overall, managing trade-offs between potable, irrigation and recreation demands and environmental needs will be challenging.
- Managing growth in a changing climate while protecting and enhancing natural resources will be a challenge, particularly in those areas in the south east of the region where there is growing demand for rural residential properties.
DELWP plays a key role in engaging and supporting communities around climate change adaptation. ADAPT Loddon Mallee aims to increase resilience of the regional community by building climate knowledge, grassroots leadership skills and supporting place-based adaption action. Current initiatives include a Leadership Program and a Youth Climate Advisory Board. Many of the region’s local governments have climate strategies or plans, and are running local projects to monitor changes, support adaptation and promote mitigation.
Engaging the changing demographic
Changes to the demographics of the region present both challenges and opportunities for engagement in NRM across the region. Through engagement for RCS renewal we heard:
- Landcare groups and networks engaged for RCS renewal reported difficulties in recruiting new volunteers particularly in areas where the population is declining, reported that some groups were fatigued with weed control in particular and expressed frustration at the administrative load and limited funding available. Landcare groups will need to adapt to engage the changing demographic of the region, Continuing to to support groups to adapt, share learnings, recognize and celebrate achievements and leverage more funding will be important to the long-term sustainability of Landcare groups and networks in the region.
- On the whole corporate agribusiness is not engaging in NRM programs or contributing to local communities. Given there is a growing number of corporate farms in the region, there is a need to address this, to influence land management practices and leverage support for local programs.
- The younger generation of farmers, is more likely to leave the farm for a job in the city these days. With increasing land prices, young farmers who buy in, are very focused on business viability, so farm/business planning programs are likely to be of interest. Young farmers who inherit the family farm are not under the same pressure and may be more open to other types of NRM programs including new and emerging land management practices.
- New rural residential landholders often don’t have skills or knowledge in land management. Absentee landholders, common where there are weekender properties in the southeast, are more difficult to engage and don’t always spend enough time managing their property. The increasing number of smaller rural properties and landholders make engagement more time consuming. However in the south east of the region there is certainly a willingness amongst rural residential landholders to protect and enhance environmental values, including to manage land for conservation, as evidenced by the success of the Connecting Country program in Mt Alexander Shire and Macedon Ranges Shire Council’s Sustainable Land Management program. Mentoring new landholders by more experienced or retired farmers was also suggested through engagement for RCS renewal, like the Macedon Ranges program This farm needs a farmer. Economic constraints are a barrier to consider for other rural residential areas within the Western Goldfields Local Area.
Opportunities for each of the Local Areas, informed by our engagement for RCS renewal, are described in that section of the RCS. Some key opportunities for the regional community are:
Leadership within our communities is essential for achieving the RCS’s aspirational goals. Continuing to actively promote and support, the delivery of regional leadership programs and community-led solutions to local issues, will be important.
Connecting with nature
Green spaces, open spaces, natural spaces and shade are integral to the health and wellbeing of everyone in our region. An increasing amount of research is finding the many positive impacts of urban green spaces on our health and wellbeing. ‘Victorians value nature’ is a goal of Victorian Biodiversity Strategy, recognising that by connecting people with nature, they value nature, and are inspired to act. Creating and enhancing green spaces for communities, will be increasingly important as temperatures increase under climate change, and can also contribute to biodiversity outcomes.
What do you get passionate about? Do you know others who feel the same way? Emerging issues can be the spark for environmental volunteering. Data shows that increased awareness of issues can lead directly to people wanting to play their part in living more sustainably, taking local action and contributing to community projects.
Whilst financial incentives and provision of information/advice are fairly standard NRM support interventions, peer support through the establishment of local community-based and community led interest groups is a growing trend.
Supporting established groups to maintain and grow their membership is important too. Celebrating success, sharing learnings and brokering partnerships to leverage funding are some of the ways we can support these groups.
Priority directions and outcomes were developed to respond to the challenges and opportunities identified, and to align with the state-wide RCS Outcomes Framework. We engaged key government partners to confirm delivery roles, and improve accountability for RCS implementation. The organisations identified as ‘key collaborators’ in the tables below, will be involved in initiating (including to source investment), but in order to succeed, partnerships, participation and support of many others is needed, including;
- Rural landholders, associated community-based NRM groups, volunteers and the broader community.
- Non-government organisations, industry and research organisations.
- Traditional Owners to speak for Country and participate/partner/lead (self-determination) in the delivery of RCS directions and outcomes.
|Priority Directions||Key collaborators|
|Expand the approach to MERI, to better consider the social and cultural outcomes of NRM.||CMA|
|Continue to improve understanding of rural landholders and their communities to enable tailored approaches and improved engagement.||CMA|
|Build capacity, networks and leadership to enable community led climate solutions for land, water and biodiversity management.||DELWP, Local Govt, Ag Vic, Water Corporations, CMA|
|Support, improve and expand the environmental volunteering sector, including Landcare, to enable adaptation to demographic shifts, to continue their important role in NRM.||DELWP, Parks Vic, CMA|
|Enable, improve and promote opportunities for people to connect with nature, in both urban and rural settings, for wellbeing, to build awareness and appreciation, and inspire action.||CMA, DELWP, Parks Vic and other public land managers|
|Support schools and young people to participate in programs that increase their knowledge and awareness of natural resource management.||CMA, Parks Vic|
|Continue to support integrated citizen science programs that engage community and provide useful targeted data to inform water, land, climate and biodiversity programs.||CMA, Water Corporations, Local Government, Parks Vic, Non-government Organisations|
|Long-term SMART outcomes||Key collaborators|
|More community members connected to nature, working to protect, improve and monitor our regions natural assets, by 2041||CMA, DELWP, Parks Vic|
|Medium-term SMART outcomes||Key collaborators|
|Increase the number of active environmental volunteers in the region, by 2027||CMA, DELWP, Parks Vic|
|Increase the number of formal partnerships established, modified, or maintained, under CMA initiatives, by 2027||CMA|
|Improve awareness, knowledge and skills to enable practice change through 4400 community members participating in events and programs, by 2027.||CMA, Parks Vic|
|250 volunteer citizen scientists regularly monitoring land, water, climate and biodiversity, by 2027||CMA, Water Corporations, Local Government, Parks Vic, Non-government Organisations|
|Engage a younger and more culturally diverse demographic of event and program participants by 2027.||CMA, Parks Vic|
|Maintain an average Landcare Group Health score of ‘Moving Forward’ or above, through to 2027.||CMA|
The RCS Community Discussion Paper was drafted to frame conversations with stakeholders, obtain feedback and inform the development of this webpage. It includes more detail and references.