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Unpacked: SA's National Parks and Wildlife Act and why it’s so important for conservation

15 Jun 2022 8 min read

This year we’re celebrating 50 years of the legislation that protects SA’s environment and wildlife. Here are the basics about the Act and why it’s so important.

The National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 has been critical to the conservation and protection of native wildlife and the environment in South Australia.

Of the national parks legislation operating in each of the Australian states, the South Australian Act is the most long-lived. South Australia’s first national park – Belair National Park – was proclaimed in 1891, but the current Act came into power almost 8 decades later.

From the conservation of native animals and plants, to the establishment of sanctuaries and the co-management of parks, the Act has remained steadfast despite significant change across the past 50 years.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What does the National Parks and Wildlife Act cover?

During its 5 decades of operation, the Act has provided a framework for establishing and altering the various types of protected areas in South Australia. It has incorporated the systems of protecting species based on their conservation status as recognised in the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN Red List).

It interacts with several other Acts that are used to manage land in South Australia. It also recognises the role of First Nations people in continued cultural connections with Country.

There are now 358 parks and reserves in South Australia, which cover 21.6% of the state. All of these are protected under the National Parks and Wildlife Act.

These beautiful and valuable protected areas conserve important ecosystems, habitats, flora and fauna, unique land formations, and culturally significant places.

They help ensure we continue to have clean air, soil and water, and contribute to global efforts to conserve biodiversity against the impacts of climate change.

For First Nations, protected areas are invaluable in maintaining connections to Country. South Australia's national parks are also a treasure trove of heritage sites that connect visitors to the trials, challenges, and stories of the past.

There’s a lot that we can thank the Act for, including these:

1. Declaring protected areas of land

The National Parks and Wildlife Act looks after the environment by officially declaring parcels of land as a protect area.

These areas can be declared as either a: wilderness protection area, national park, conservation park, recreation park, game reserve or as a sanctuary, with each of these protected areas established for different purposes.

New protected areas can be added to the South Australian network of protected areas. Boundaries can be altered and in rare cases, protected areas can also be abolished. Changes of name are also possible.

The management of each protected area is achieved through management planning processes.

2. Enabling protection of wildlife

As well as protected areas, protected species provisions apply in SA through the Act.

Protected animals and plants are listed within the Act, giving effect to the international system of IUCN Red List of threatened species.

The Act also prohibits certain behaviours, including taking protected species or killing certain species, and permits other activities, such as requiring permits to keep protected species, commercial harvesting and hunting, in some cases.

3. Facilitating co-management of protected areas

Co-management of protected areas is one of the most significant updates to the National Parks and Wildlife Act over its 50-year lifespan so far.

Co-management provisions establish arrangements that recognise First Nations People’s rights to continue enjoying parks for cultural, spiritual and traditional purposes.

Co-management arrangements are usually achieved as part of a native title agreement, and make specific provisions for protecting Aboriginal sites, features, objects and structures of spiritual or cultural significance as well as protecting natural resources, wildlife, vegetation and other features of parks.

Since the introduction of the co-management system, South Australia has 12 co-management agreements in place relating to 35 protected areas. These include:

  • Dhilba Guuranda-Innes National Park Co-management Board: Established in 2020 with the Narungga Nations Aboriginal Corporation
  • Gawler Ranges Parks Co-Management Board: Gawler Ranges Parks Co-management Board, established in 2021 with the Gawler Ranges Aboriginal Corporation
  • Ikara-Flinders Ranges National Park Co-management Board: Established in 2011 with the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association
  • Kaṉku-Breakaways Conservation Park Co-management Board: Established in 2013 with the Antakirinja Matu-Yankunytjatjara Aboriginal Corporation
  • Mamungari Conservation Park Co-Management Board (formerly Maralinga Lands Unnamed Conservation Park Board): Established in 2004 with the Maralinga Tjarutja, and Pila Nguru Aboriginal Corporations
  • Ngaut Ngaut Conservation Park Co-management Board: Established in 2014 with Mannum Aboriginal Community Association Incorporated
  • Vulkathunha-Gammon Ranges National Park Co-management Board: Established in 2005 with the Adnyamathanha Traditional Lands Association
  • Witjira National Park Co-management Board: Established in 2007 with the Irrwanyere Aboriginal Corporation
  • Yumbarra Conservation Park Co-management Board: Established in 2013 with the Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation.

Besides co-managed parks there are also several co-management advisory committees, which advise the Director of National Parks and Wildlife as the management authority for a park. The current advisory committees include:

  • Arabana Parks Advisory Committee: Established in 2012 with the Arabana Aboriginal Corporation
  • Nullarbor Parks Advisory Committee: Established in 2015 with the Far West Coast Aboriginal Corporation
  • Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Parks Advisory Committee: Established in 2010 with the Yandruwandha Yawarrawarrka Traditional Land Owners Aboriginal Corporation.

How does the National Parks and Wildlife Act interact with other Acts?

The Act operates in conjunction with other Acts that protect South Australia’s environment.

These include the Planning Development and Infrastructure Act 2016, River Murray Act 2003, Dolphin Sanctuary Act 2005, Crown Land Management Act 2009, Pastoral Land Management Act 1989, Wilderness Protection Act 1992 and Native Title Act 1993.

Together these acts provide a network of protections across the tenures of land management.

The Minister responsible for the Mining Act cannot also assume responsibility for the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

Who is responsible for the Act?

The Minister for Climate, Environment and Water is responsible for the Act.

Strategic matters are overseen by the Director of National Parks and by an 8-member Parks and Wilderness Council that provides advice to the Minister and takes direction from the Minister.

The Parks and Wilderness Council oversees key functions achieved under the Act such as: establishment and management of reserves, wilderness protection areas and wilderness protection zones; conservation of animals, plants and ecosystems; conservation of the marine environment; Aboriginal culture and traditional associations with land; community engagement and community partnerships; tourism and recreational use of reserves.

Have there ever been changes to the Act?

In the past 50 years there have been many changes in attitude to the environment, the role of protected areas, trends in species management and understandings of ecological relationships.

While much change has occurred during the past 50 years, the Act has endured. It forms part of an important suite of legislative instruments that operate in South Australia to protect significant places and is one of the means by which matters of national environmental significance are recognised in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Commonwealth).

Want to celebrate this milestone? Here’s what can you do.

As part of the anniversary the National Parks and Wildlife Service is calling on former staff and visitors to parks to share their work and visitor experiences online as part of the 50th anniversary celebrations.

Stories or photos can be emailed to us, or posted to your own social media accounts accompanied by the hashtag #npws50years so that we can use them to help celebrate this momentous occasion.

Want to learn more about some of the important areas this Act protects? Explore the National Parks and Wildlife Service website for information, and then explore a park near you.

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