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22nd April 2024

300,000ha Queensland cattle station bought for conservation after $21m donation

Article by Lenore Taylor

Editor, Guardian Australia

Queensland outback cattle station the size of Yosemite national park which includes key habitat for the elusive night parrot has been acquired for conservation after an anonymous donation of $21m.

Vergemont station, 110km west of Longreach, was acquired in a joint purchase by the Queensland government and the Nature Conservancy, which brokered the deal. The group said it is likely the single largest philanthropic contribution to land protection in Australia.

The 352,000ha property had been for sale since 2016. It is located at the headwaters of the Lake Eyre Basin and will join existing national parks to create a conservation corridor of roughly 1.4m hectares.

According to the Nature Conservancy’s senior adviser for global protection, Dr James Fitzsimons, the property contains 34 ecosystems and ranks higher than 90% of existing national parks in the state for habitat representation.

Fitzsimons said the purchase was critical to protect key habitat for threatened species, including the endangered night parrot and vulnerable yellow-footed rock-wallaby.

“This is a really important way of showing philanthropic and government interest of meeting our national ambition of protecting 30% of the country by 2030,” he said.

“A key part of growing Australia’s [nature] reserve system is a focus of comprehensiveness and representatives, ensuring we are conserving samples of each type of ecosystem.”

There will be a two-year transition process to allow the current landowner to remove cattle from the property. Once it is converted to a national park, Queensland’s network of protected areas will surpass 15m hectares – an area more than twice the size of Tasmania.

The state government has also committed to engaging with the Maiawali traditional owners to undertake cultural heritage assessments on the property.

The Nature Conservancy’s interim managing director, Lara Gallagher, said the $21m donation “highlights the power of leveraged gifts, enabling philanthropists and governments alike to achieve outcomes far beyond what is possible alone”.

Last year the Nature Conservancy and other environmental groups recommended the federal government establish a $5bn land acquisition fund to permanently protect high-value conservation land.

“We really do hope this inspires other philanthropists to join with government … to protect more really important properties like this around the country,” Fitzsimons said.

The 2022 state of the environment report found climate change, habitat loss, invasive species, pollution and mining had caused significant and ongoing deterioration of the environment and the Albanese government has since committed to protecting 30% of land by 2030 in an attempt to halt species extinctions and environmental degradation.

An additional 60m hectares, an area three times the size of Victoria, will need to be protected by 2030 to reach the goal.

The Queensland environment minister, Leanne Linard, said the government would contribute to the Vergemont purchase out of a $262.5m state fund dedicated to expanding and managing protected areas.

Two neighbouring stations, Tonkoro station (138,200ha) and Melrose station (73,048ha), were bought by the state government this year to add to existing protected areas, chiefly the Diamantina, Goneaway and Bladensburg national parks.

Linard said the new national park at Vergemont would bring visitors and employment opportunities for locally based contractors and park rangers.

About 40,000ha of the 350,000ha property will remain as opal mining leases, with an additional 10,000ha slated as a “buffer” area.

“We will work to ensure an ecologically sustainable coexistence between the existing opal mining operations and conservation of the important natural and cultural values on the property,” Linard said.

“We will allow small-scale opal mining interests to continue their operations on suitable areas.”