I need not emphasise to you the seriousness of the problem and the desirability of our taking effective action … to conserve the soil as our basic asset. The nation that destroys its soil destroys itself.
– Franklin D Roosevelt
Land – and the social, economic and ecological values it provides – is fundamental to the identity and purpose of the Australian Capital Territory (ACT).
The key pressures on land in the ACT are changes to land use, particularly greenfield development, which places greater pressure on the land and the environment due to the likelihood of vegetation clearance and other permanent changes to the development area.
The total area of the ACT is 235 824 hectares (ha), including:
- 17 042 ha zoned for urban and intensive uses, such as residential, industrial and commercial uses
- 32 789 ha zoned for rural purposes, such as agriculture, grazing and plantation forestry
- 170 076 ha classified as conservation and natural environments, such as nature conservation areas, protected areas and minimal use areas.
In 2011–2015, approximately 816 ha of land was added to the reserve network. This includes 621 ha as part of the Gungahlin Strategic Assessment and 195 ha of other land allocated during the reporting period in relation to other land-release areas as environmental offsets.
The number of development applications lodged with the ACT Government during 2011–2015 has remained relatively stable compared with the numbers reported in 2007–2011. However, legislative change in 2008 meant that many buildings and smaller forms of construction after that time only required building approvals rather than development applications. A direct comparison between the two reporting periods is therefore difficult. Although the percentage of greenfield development is higher than infill for this reporting period, it is significantly lower than in the previous reporting period. Projections show that this trend is likely to continue.
Resilience to pressure on our land resources will require careful management to balance the needs of urban development with environmental protection. The ACT Planning Strategy (2012) was released early in the reporting period, and aims to address the challenges for the ACT in the face of continued growth of the city, while maintaining important environmental values. It recognises the need to use land more efficiently, and reduce the amount of land used and waste produced. It also highlights the need to improve Canberra’s resilience to change and its environmental sustainability through design measures that include the creation of wildlife and vegetation links to improve ecosystem services.
Soil is also a fundamental part of ecosystems and natural processes, providing a basic resource for plant growth. Soil condition directly affects environmental outcomes and knowledge of soil condition informs assessments of land capability and appropriate land use. Soil also has a role in water quality and water yield.
Pressures that can affect soil in the ACT include fire, floods, high-intensity storms, land clearing, agriculture, urban and industrial development, and recreation activities. This suggests that it is particularly important for all land managers in the ACT to pay attention to management decisions that affect soil. Baseline data for soil condition in the ACT are not currently available. However, soil mapping work is currently being conducted, and it is likely that it will be possible to report against this indicator in the next State of the Environment Report.