Transformational change of regional landscapes: navigating planetary limits and resource constraints over the next five decades PDF Print E-mail

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Project overview


We will bring selected international and national researchers to a focused workshop to address two critical questions:

1. Is it possible to reconstruct (transform) an existing agricultural landscape to overcome the current degradation trends and impending production and conservation limits?, and

2. If so, what biophysical, social, institutional, business, economic and political components are needed in an integrated design and action framework that has a good chance of achieving transformational change?

The workshop participants will be required to draft a Science Policy Forum paper (e.g. Reid et al., 2010) developed out of the workshop report.  The report and paper will inform presentations and discussions with key government officials and industry representatives across Australia in order to build momentum for a policy white paper.

Current trajectories of resource use and environmental degradation will culminate in widespread and significant change to communities and landscapes in the coming five decades.  Avoiding crisis and cultivating prosperity within the natural limits of our world requires us to rethink the traditional differentiation of land for agricultural production and land for biodiversity conservation.  It also requires a shift in perspective to recognise that our current landscapes have rapidly evolved in a time of resource and energy abundance.  As a result, development has pushed a number of critical measures beyond safe limits, including climate change, biodiversity loss and nitrogen extracted from the atmosphere for human use.  Continued development will also have to contend with the depletion and associated price crunches for fossil fuels and fertilisers.


Mallee Blowing





This project will develop a science paper and report to inspire the Australian government to develop a policy whitepaper on navigating transformational change in regional landscapes over the next five decades. This project considers regional agricultural landscapes and dependent communities as an integrated whole and differs from work on adaptation of particular species. Transformation of land use, land management and industry activities are needed and how these changes can be facilitated is a critical concern for communities and governments.

Modelled land use distribution in the South Australian Murray Darling Basin Natural Resource Management Region using multi-objective optimisation to meet regional goals of retaining productivity, limiting soil erosion, conserving biodiversity and increasing carbon sequestration. From Bryan et al. (2007) Lower Murray Landscape Futures. Land Technologies Alliance.

Principal investigator: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it



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Products and Outcomes


Final report


Transformational change of regional landscapes

FINAL REPORT available for download [1.3MB]

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Data delivery


Data portal for this Working Group




Bryan B.A., Meyer, W.S., Campbell, C.A., Harris G.P., Lefroy T., Lyle G., Martin p., McLean J., Montagu K., Rickards L.A., Summers D.A., Thackway R., Wells S. and Young M. (2013) The second industrial transformation of Australian landscapes. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 5: 1-10.


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Workshop Report (7-11 November 2011)


A diverse group of 14 came together in delightful surrounds at Linnaeus Estate near Byron Bay, NSW for a workshop titled ‘Transformational change of regional landscapes: Navigating planetary limits and resource constraints over the next five decades’.

The context for the workshop was the obvious environmental and social changes in many Australian landscapes and strong perceptions that these changes are detrimental. There is increasing evidence that changes in soils, waters and biota in many regions are significantly affecting the quality of environmental services and that trends in the condition of the resources are not sustainable. In turn this is set in a global context where there are obvious signs of resource exploitation and excesses in production of pollutants.

It was recognised that there is a large volume of activity from both public and private investors and land owners in trying to manage and mitigate degrading land use activities. However the rate of change and the demand to use natural resources of regional areas is increasing and these incremental changes are unlikely to produce the necessary rate of adaptation. Therefore a unifying idea for the workshop group was that transformation of land use, land management and industry activities are needed. How these changes can be facilitated is a critical concern for communities and governments.
The idea of the workshop was to bring together a group a people with a diverse range of expertise to consider the evidence that there are trends in resource use and resource condition that need redressing through very significant change, transformational change. Another unifying idea for the workshop group was that regional agricultural landscapes and dependent communities are an integrated whole, that they are all part of complex social-ecological systems. With this in mind it was therefore important to have group members who were able to contribute from environmental, social and economic perspectives.

The group had generalists and specialists, conceptual and analytical thinkers, ecologists, resource economists, social scientists, policy specialists, researchers and managers.

Some preparatory work had been done with sharing of common reading beforehand. A facilitator helped the group refine and focus its work plan and tasks were allotted to several groups once a general report structure was agreed. Between delicious tea breaks, evidence was identified, drafts written and ideas discussed among the group. As with any exercise of this type there were periods of slow progress, at other times successful combinations of ideas energized the group. By the end of the time a draft report had been compiled with a structure and content that began with a ‘pithy’ summary of the big influences that had shaped the regional landscapes since European colonization and ended with recommendations for policy and related management that would facilitate adaptation. The group characterized the period between 1788 and present as the 1st industrial transformation of Australian Landscapes. After identification of the present and likely future driving economies we concluded that the landscapes were on the cusp of a 2nd industrial transformation. In this process there was considerable assessment of the natural resources of particular bio-climatic regions of the country. This shows the very large differences between the regions in terms of the historical development, their current condition and the future projections. The projections were made on the basis of expected changes in climate as well as markets and resource availability.

The collated outputs from the workshop form the basis for the report which is currently in its 6th iteration. This report is being modified to direct to an Australian publication while a more succinct version is being redrafted for an international journal.

The workshop presented a rare opportunity for such an experienced group to come together for a concerted length of time and to focus on issues of importance. Most participants were able to disengage from the usual day to day pressures and to enjoy the intellectual and social challenge of working on a common report. The facilities and support for the workshop were first class and we are very grateful to TERN and ACEAS for the opportunity.

click to enlarge
Left to right: Andrew Campbell, Sam Wells, Lauren Rickards, Kelvin Montagu, Wayne Meyer, Richard Thackway, Josie McLean, Brett Bryan, Mike Young, David Summers, Paul Martin, Greg Lyle and Graham Harris. Absent from photograph: Ted Lefroy.


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Last Updated on Sunday, 08 February 2015 16:11