Bryophytes. Photo: Phil Ingamells

Bryophytes. Photo: Phil Ingamells

Natural Victoria

Victoria is blessed with an amazing environment: from the alps to the mallee, tall forests to deep oceans, from rocky hills to fertile farmlands, wilderness, and urban parks. Nature at its best.

Across the state, more than 300 different ecosystems provide homes for thousands of species of plants and animals; plus countless micro-organisms, many of which build our soils and purify our water.

These are the places where we live, work and seek respite; the natural areas we cherish and love. Our memories of the beach, a river, the bush and the farm make us who we are; they forge our sense of identity, of community and of place.

Nature in a new climate

As climate change intensifies, many of these places will change – a lot. Some plants and animals will decline, others will increase, some may move somewhere else. Some forests may disappear, some grasslands may turn to shrublands.

As CSIRO scientists Michael Dunlop and Peter Brown put it: climate change will alter, the look, sound and smell of places we are familiar with. The natural areas that our children and grand-children will experience in 2050 will look and feel very different to the places that we have cherished.

This outlook poses a quandary for all of us. In a world that is set to be transformed by a changing climate, what can we do to leave the natural areas we value in the best condition possible? What practical steps can we all take to help nature adapt to a new climate?

Monitoring for freshwater vertebrates, Wonnangatta River, Alpine National Park.

Monitoring for freshwater vertebrates, Wonnangatta River, Alpine National Park.

Ten things we all can do

In October 2015, three science and conservation organisations hosted a 2-day symposium in Melbourne to tackle this question. The symposium – called Managing Victoria’s Biodiversity under Climate Change – was organised by the Victorian National Parks Association, The Royal Society of Victoria and The University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute, and was sponsored by Parks Victoria and the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning.

This web site is one outcome from that event. It describes 10 positive actions: 10 things we all can do to help natural areas adapt to a new climate. These actions are underpinned by – and in no way replace – the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (In technical terms, the 10 actions provide an adaptation strategy that complements the mitigation strategy of reducing emissions.)

>> You can also download '10 things we can all do to help nature adapt to a new climate' as a pdf

The 10 actions are based on the best available science, as presented at the symposium by leading Australian researchers and synthesised from peer-reviewed papers. Importantly, this science is grounded by comments and feedback from more than 200 conference attendees; many of whom have a lifetime of experience on the land and in the fields of land management and conservation, in both urban and rural areas.

The new and the old

One surprising outcome – recognised by the scientists and land managers – is that many of the things we need to do to help nature adapt to a new climate are not new.

Most of the key actions have underpinned nature conservation and sustainable land management for decades. Things like working with the entire community; controlling threats, weeds and feral animals; creating secure conservation reserves; and enacting sound land-use plans, will always be important. Diverse, intact, healthy ecosystems will always fare better than neglected, damaged ones.

However, climate change has catalysed new actions and new ways of thinking about questions like, “which species should we plant in revegetation areas?” We hope this web site triggers more ideas and conversations.

Sharing the message

We want all of these messages to get out in the world so we created a set of materials for print, web and social media. This web site describes the background to all 10 actions. Each action is captured in short phrases and images for sharing on social media, especially on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. We encourage everyone to extend the conversation and to share the messages widely.

Victoria’s new climate

As you know, our world is getting hotter and, unfortunately, it’s going to keep getting hotter for the next 100 years. Future temperatures depend on how much greenhouse gas we pump into the atmosphere. To keep things cool, we need to reduce our emissions.

If we continue to emit high levels of greenhouse gases, CSIRO scientists predict big changes to Victoria’s climate. Some of these changes are described below and you can learn more at the interactive Climate Change in Australia web site.

Their predictions are pretty gloomy. By 2050, average temperatures in Victoria are expected to be 1.2° to 2.5°C warmer. There will be fewer frosts. There will be more heat waves and heat waves will last longer. Sweltering days over 40°C – when fires burn and birds and bats fall from trees – will be two to four times as common. The hottest summers that we remember will, by 2050, be considered “normal”.

More rain may fall in intense storms in summer but less rain will fall in winter and spring. There will be less snow. Sea levels will rise – perhaps by 25 cm above 1995 levels – and low-lying areas around the coast will flood more often. In 2050, Melbourne’s climate will be more like the current climate in Wagga Wagga in central New South Wales. By 2090, Victoria will be hotter still.

We can make things better – by reducing our carbon emissions.

Reshaping nature

This new climate will reshape nature in Victoria. As things get warmer, some plants and animals will move and become common in places where they were rarely seen before. Many will be directly affected by extreme events: mammals and birds may die in heat waves and trees will suffer in droughts.  

Other plants and animals will be affected in indirect ways. There will be more fires in many places. More frequent fires will weaken some plants and promote others. When the plants change, the habitat they provide for animals will alter. Each alteration will cascade across ecosystems in unpredictable ways. And, of course, many of the stresses caused by the new climate will be exacerbated as organisms compete with humans for space and resources, especially scarce resources like water.

We can’t stop all of these changes but we can control the degree of change – by reducing our emissions of greenhouse gases – and we can have a big influence on the types of changes that do occur.

There are many things we all can do to help nature adapt to a new climate. Here are 10 great ideas to begin with, all informed by science and inspired by nature.

VicNature 2050 was organised by the Victorian National Parks Association, The Royal Society of Victoria and The University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute and sponsored by the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria.