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Author: S. Lawler
Date: 5 February 2016

Last October, I attended a symposium about managing biodiversity in Victoria under climate change. One of the outcomes of that conference is a new website called VicNature 2050, which provides a list of 10 things all of us can do to help nature adapt to change over the next 35 years.

Critically, most of these suggestions are about working with other people and staying positive. Caring for Victoria’s natural diversity is going to be a big challenge in coming decades and everyone will have a role to play.

But I already recycle and use my own shopping bags!

The 10 things you can do for nature are not merely changes to your daily routine, like recycling. They are more likely to be changes to your attitude, approach and focus.

Climate change is a process that will amplify environmental problems, increase risks for native species and alter familiar ecosystems. Thinking about the future climate can be depressing and overwhelming, especially if we stay narrowly focused on what it will mean for ourselves.

I find it helpful to spare a thought for the species that live outside our windows – the millions of native plants and animals that make Victoria unique and give us a sense of place. They will not be able to retreat to air conditioned comfort on extremely hot days. Fires and floods will not only alter their distributions, it will challenge their evolutionary trajectories.

If you want to make a difference that lasts longer than your lifetime, now is a good time to become an active nature lover. Conservation and preservation of natural habitats is no longer enough, because they are going to change. Common species will decline, rare species will become common, and many will be forced to move across the landscape to survive.

Protecting nature will be a dynamic endeavour in which we confront an increasingly complicated series of choices. We will have to learn how to support the process of adaptation rather than preserving old patterns. To do this properly we need to become flexible, collaborative and proactive.

Australian scientists have been at the forefront of climate research for decades. One of the leading researchers at the symposium told us that predictions have not changed markedly in 25 years, so our vision of the future is clear. This does not mean that the science is irrelevant or incomplete, so I was sorry to see the news that CSIRO will be undergoing drastic cuts in the area of climate research. But I digress.

By 2050, average temperatures will be up to 2.5 degrees warmer, with fewer frosts, more heatwaves and more fires. The hottest summers we remember now will be the new normal. We can expect more intense storms in summer and less rain in winter and spring. Sea levels will rise and coastal flooding will increase. To learn more about the future climate of your home town, use the Climate Analogue tool at this website.

In the coming decades we will be living in a world that is outside of our experience. Our current understanding of best practice will no longer apply. We need transformational change, which means working in ways that are unlike anything we are currently used to.

How can we prepare for and manage such change? The ten things list was put together by ecologist Ian Lunt from presentations and discussions at the October symposium. Based on scientific evidence and input from people who have spent their careers managing nature in one way or another, the ten things are a great place to start.

Ten things you can do

1. Listen, engage and work with people

People with different backgrounds and experiences will have to come together to take action. Join a local group, get active, and find common ground. Respect other people’s values, especially the original Australians, and do what you can to get children outdoors to create a new generation of nature lovers.

2. Accept that natural areas will change

The environments we are used to will change as new species move in to fill gaps created by once familiar species that can no longer cope. This new mix of species must be allowed to thrive because they are going to provide natural systems that are resilient to the new conditions. This will be a challenge, because species that we might have considered weeds or invaders may become valuable.

3. Protect reserves and look after nature on private land

National Parks, state lands and other reserves must remain undisturbed, where natural processes can create the new natural for each part of our state. But remnants and plantings on private land will be critical. Plant a native garden or create habitat on your property, choosing species that are most likely to survive.

We will need long-term funding stream for such projects that is flexible and responsive to local conditions, so campaign for increased conservation spending.

4. Remove threats such as clearing, weeds and feral animals

More natural areas will be needed as climate change intensifies, so it will be essential to manage threats such as clearing, pollution, development, unsustainable harvesting, weeds, grazing, feral animals and unsuitable fire regimes.

5. Use natural processes like fires and floods to promote diversity

Wetlands require both floods and dry years, estuaries need tides, forests and heath-lands rely on specific fire regimes. For resilient ecosystems, we must manage natural processes so they promote natural diversity. We may have to replenish key habitat features by introducing shade, hollows, and aquatic plants.

6. Connect landscapes and use climate-ready plants

Landscapes that allow species to move far and move quickly will allow them to respond to change when they need to. We can plant trees to connect areas of native vegetation, or create shade along rivers and creeks. We can also build flyways and fish ladders to remove human-created barriers to dispersal.

Climate-ready plants are species likely to survive in a new climate. They will also have high genetic diversity, which improves the ability of species to adapt. Creating a list of suitable plants will take time and effort.

7. Welcome nature into our cities

Many threatened species live in urban areas, and by supporting parks and reserves we can protect them and improve livability for people as well. Cities are often in the most productive and biologically diverse parts of Australia and as they grow they invade endangered ecosystems. Connecting with nature is good for people. Research suggests that a green view from the office window improves productivity.

8. Record changes in our local area

Long-term monitoring gives us information about how species are affected by climate change and what might protect them. The more we know, the more we can anticipate and respond. There are many projects where citizen scientists can assist in the collection of data critical to land managers. Make a difference by joining nature based citizen science projects for birds, koalas, fungi, or national parks.

9. Promote diversity in all that we do

Diverse populations are more likely to be self-sustaining. Having many different species in our oceans, paddocks and parklands makes those ecosystems more resilient. Genetic diversity is important within species, so we need to select appropriate seed stocks and promote inter-breeding when we can.

Diversity in human communities is also key to ensuring that we have the range of skills and ideas needed in a changing world.

10. Keep positive, informed and engaged

Staying positive inspires others to help nature adapt to big changes. Not everyone has the same skills and interests, but everyone can make a difference. By doing what we can we remind ourselves that we are not helpless. By joining with others we remain part of the solution and benefit from being part of a community.

My summary of the ten things has been necessarily brief. Taken together they are the beginning of a process of developing more thoughtful and complex solutions for managing nature in Victoria. If you want to know more, visit VicNature 2050.

Read the article on The Conversation