The Australian Government’s Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) is a relatively recent example of an incentive program that has incorporated monitoring as an essential feature of its implementation. The ESP aims to maintain and improve the condition and extent of targeted “Matters of National Environmental Significance” on private land. Part of the ESP has been to target the critically endangered temperate eucalypt woodlands, particularly those of White Box-Yellow Box-Blakely's Red Gum Grassy Woodland and the Derived Native Grassland ecological community. These woodlands occupy the wheat/sheep belt of temperate eastern Australia and have been extensively cleared for agriculture. Less than 3% remains, often in small and degraded remnants and predominantly on private land.
A long-term monitoring program commenced in 2010 to track changes in vegetation condition and in populations of birds and reptiles. 153 patches of temperate woodland managed under the ESP’s Box Gum Grassy Woodlands Project on farms ranging from southern New South Wales to south-eastern Queensland are monitored. In addition, a matched control site was established on 115 of the 153 farms. The work of the ESP’s Box-Gum Grassy Woodlands monitoring program also aims to explicitly link changes in vegetation condition over time with changes in bird and reptile biota.
The first two seasons of the project focused on data collection. Results yielded many records of threatened woodland birds and reptiles including those of four nationally threatened bird and reptile species and 12 bird species of conservation concern. Preliminary analyses of field data have revealed statistically significant differences between stewardship and control sites for plant and bird species richness. Hence, these groups of sites had different starting points prior to commencing the management interventions at the stewardship sites. These differences can be accommodated in analyses of future data gathered, for example, to quantify the levels of differences between control and stewardship sites after the ESP has been in place for some years.