WHAT WE DO
We work with communities, schools, business, universities and governments to understand and preserve the unique natural environments in the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area. We are a membership-based, non-government organisation, established in 2004.
Our mission is to develop and implement innovative solutions for the complex challenges of conservation and sustainable living. We do this in partnership with local communities and business, schools and universities, local councils and government.
- Work with local communities and regional stakeholders
- Provide cross-disciplinary expertise and knowledge
- Inform and encourage innovative conservation policy and management
- Deliver stimulating nature-based education and experiential learning programs
- Thrive on a sustainable business model
Our research activities are identified under three key themes: sustainable communities; healthy ecosystems; and cultural Heritage.
These themes embrace the complex socio-economic and ecosystem challenges for the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area and its surrounding region.
The BMWHI's research has a practical orientation that engages a range of stakeholders who are often unconventional partners in protected area conservation. In so doing, the Institute addresses both natural threats as well as stakeholder threats to conservation of World Heritage values. Key threats being addressed by current projects are tourism (developing a low carbon tourism industry), fire (risk perception, awareness and communication) and pests (maintaining healthy ecosystems while controlling pests).
Living in a World Heritage Area comes with the complexity and responsibility of maintaining certain heritage regulations laid out in the World Heritage Convention. Responsibilities involve valuing our natural and cultural landscapes by conserving and protecting our heritage and to pass on knowledge to the next generation.
The health of the World Heritage Area depends on the proper functioning of the region’s natural ecosystems and its interaction with human development needs. The values of the area will be compromised if those needs are not balanced. Healthy ecosystem dynamics need to be maintained, including appropriate fire regimes and the maintenance of top-order native carnivores within the system. Similarly there is a need to improve the community’s understanding of the links between healthy ecosystems and human wellbeing (including economic prosperity, human health, and spiritual wellbeing).
This understanding can reinforce the vital links between local communities and the ecosystems of the World Heritage Area, especially the role of predators, fire behaviour and risk management.
It can also help develop an overarching, multi-stakeholder brand for the area that emphasises the link between healthy ecosystems and healthy communities and which draws on various initiatives in Australia and overseas.
An Effective Buffer Zone
Important for maintaining healthy ecosystems within the World Heritage Area is a surrounding buffer zone that protects the site from development and other impacts. The World Heritage Area is impacted by adjacent land use, including water flow from catchments that feed into the reserve, invasion by introduced species, agri-industry and urban development. Councils are under pressure to allow more subdivision and there are economic incentives for neighbouring rural and semi-rural landholders to allow urban development. The World Heritage Area has a fragmented boundary with several in-holdings and development corridors. It urgently needs a buffer zone of compatible land uses and management regimes to ensure its values are protected and enhanced.
Such a proposal would significantly support Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention, which increasingly uses buffer zones to help protect the core values of world heritage properties. The Blue Mountains World Heritage Institute can help researchers, policy makers and the community develop a buffer zone with appropriate land use regulations, incentives and awareness strategies.
Values & Threats
The rapid and unpredictable changes occurring in natural systems present significant challenges for land and water management and an urgent need for better understanding of ecosystem dynamics. The Institute’s ecosystem-based research aims to assist management agencies to respond quickly and adaptively to environmental signals and to confront the uncertainty of complex systems.
A priority is quantifying how threats to biodiversity impact on ecosystem resilience. Like many protected areas, the GBMWHA faces a range of threats to its immediate and long-term integrity, including fire, climate change, urban development and human disturbance (including tourism), invasive species and disease. Monitoring of the direct and indirect impacts of threats and their synergistic impacts on ecosystem processes and services is needed, with predictions for how these impacts will threaten the GBMWHA over time and space.
Cultural heritage values are significantly under-represented in policy and management decisions for the GBMWHA. Research and better documentation of cultural information, and raising of public awareness of the cultural heritage, particularly Indigenous, are essential to overcome this under-representation and to ensure protection of these values.
This research program seeks to address these needs by taking a holistic (i.e. multi-value) approach to cultural heritage, whereby all aspects of a place’s significance are documented to inform management decisions. Research by local Aboriginal people into their heritage, and documentation of such, also overcomes some of the barriers to their involvement in the policy processes for the GBMWHA.
This research area focuses on the ‘edge relationships’ between the World Heritage Area and the urban, rural and industrial interface.
Research will include exploring more sustainable alternatives for economic production and development around the edges of the GBMWHA, which are more compatible with World Heritage values, and focusing on better integration between ‘on-park’ and ‘off-park’ management.
Projects will seek approaches that resolve conflicting perspectives and meet the common interest, and opportunities for complementary activities that maximize the benefit to landholders on the edge while enhancing the extension of buffer areas around the GBMWHA.
This research area addresses balance needed between the demands of visitation to protected areas and regional development, with the needs of conservation and protection of the natural and cultural heritage of such places. The Low Carbon Tourism project is an enabling initiative aimed at catalysing change in the tourism industry and ultimately community-wide change toward a more sustainable low carbon future.
Issues to be addressed include:
- Impact management: prioritising visitor-related threats to the reserve system; measuring effective resource management and allocation; determining sustainable use of protected areas.
- Evaluation of visitor experiences.
- Environmental education and interpretation effectiveness.
- Triple bottom line assessment of permits/licensing/accreditation for commercial tourism businesses both on and off park to achieve sustainable use.
- Determining economic and non-economic values of protected areas such as the GBMWHA: developing a reliable methodology to assess the range of values and perceptions of local community and visitors. Understanding the role of the World Heritage brand in shaping these perceptions.
- The history of the conservation movement in the Blue Mountains and the effect on attitudes to park use and park management. Compare to the development of a conservation constituency in the UK and USA. Examine how the different approaches, ideologies and political processes affect conservation outcomes.