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Study recognises and quantifies the value of Victoria’s parks

Study recognises and quantifies the value of Victoria’s parks
September 26, 2015

A new report released by Parks Victoria, shows that the ‘Garden State’s public and national parks are central to ensuring Victoria conserves its natural assets, specifically in relation to key ecosystems, landscape and biodiversity features.

The newly released Valuing Victoria’s Parks report highlights how parks allow people to connect with nature, enable cultural and spiritual connections and provide diverse opportunities for outdoor recreation and learning about our environment.

The report also draws attention to the less recognised but critical role that the Victoria’s parks network plays in maintaining and improving liveability in society and supporting the economy. Many of the services provided by Victoria’s parks provide multiple benefits that can be considered as public goods. These benefits are often not captured in market transactions, resulting in these services not being included inmany private economic decisions.

The report results from a collaboration between Parks Victoria and the Victoria Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) with the objective of establishing a framework to recognise, quantify and value the ecosystem services provided by Victoria’s parks and the environmental and societal benefits generated, based on international best practice.

The development of improved and consistent environmental and economic information on park ecosystems can inform strategic and operational park management decisions for the purpose of:

• Monitoring of natural and other assets and trend analysis
• Understanding the contribution of ecosystem assets to current socio economic activities 
• Estimating benefits of ecosystem services to society under different management options

Key findings from Valuing Victoria’s Parks
Consistent with international accounting standards, an initial system of experimental accounts has been developed for the Victorian parks network. The ecosystem asset accounts provide a snapshot of parks ecosystems and their key features, while ecosystem service flow accounts provide a snapshot of the quantity of services delivered across the parks network. 

Status of Victoria’s park ecosystems
Parks Victoria manages over 3.7 million hectares of protected areas and almost 206,000 hectares of non-protected areas. Victoria’s parks protect ecosystem assets of high significance for the State and internationally. Specifically, national, State and wilderness parks present large areas of native vegetation, accounting for 38% of all native vegetation in the State. In addition, the parks network as a whole accounts for 60% of wetland areas of international significance in the State. Based on modelled data on vegetation quality, native vegetation in parks is found in better condition than outside park areas across all ecological vegetation classes. 

Although specific data for marine and river assets in parks is more limited, the accounts suggest their condition is relatively good. The parks network supports Marine Protected Areas with significant habitats, such as sub-tidal and intertidal reefs, mangroves, seagrass and marine soft-sediment. 

In terms of biodiversity, Victoria’s parks provide highly suitable habitats for many native species. An assessment of around 640 of the nearly 3,000 parks and reserves indicates that Victoria’s parks provide 888 threatened species with at least 50% of suitable habitat in the State.

Ecosystem services delivered by park ecosystems
The contribution of Victoria’s park ecosystems was assessed for three types of ecosystem services:

• Delivery of natural resource products used in economic activities (provisioning services), such as clean water and honey. Importantly, over one million hectares of water supply catchments are located within Victoria’s parks. The annual run-off from nine highwater yielding parks is 3,400 gigalitres (16% of the State total). This water is particularly significant for the communities of eastern Victoria (Alpine, Lake Eildon National Parks), western Victoria (Grampians National Park) and Greater Melbourne (Yarra Ranges National Park).Beehives in parks and reserves are estimated to produce about 1,200 to 1,600 tonnes of honey products per annum.
• Sustaining public benefits from natural regulating processes (regulating services), such as water purification, air filtration, climate regulation, pollination, coastal protection, along with maintenance of habitats for native species, nursery populations and genetic diversity. Victoria’s parks offer most suitable habitats in the State to 888 rare or threatened species in Victoria. The Victorian parks network is a major carbon sink with 270 million tonnes of carbon stored across land and coastal habitats. Parks provide valuable water filtration services with current sediment loads of 4,165 tonnes of solids (from nine high yielding parks) entering regulated rivers, which is about 8% of what would be released if these parks were not protected.
• Conserving intrinsic non-material ecosystem features that people appreciate (cultural services) such as recreation, amenity, cultural heritage connection and health. Parks receive 30-51 million visits every year, with almost 17 million visitor nights being from tourists. Of this, around 23 million visits to parks from Victorians involve physical activity which can provide health benefits.

Other types of assets in Victoria’s parks include over 28,000 built assets which are largely infrastructure to support visitor access, recreational and education activities. In addition, the parks network protects over 11,800 cultural objects in aboriginal cultural places, along with 145 historical places listed in the State heritage register.

Current market values associated with park ecosystems
The economic contribution of park-attributable tourism to the Victorian economy is conservatively estimated at around $1 billion Gross Value Added (GVA) and 14,000 jobs. The park-based apiary sector produces honey and related products worth $3.4-$4.6 million per annum and receives payments to beekeepers for pollination services in the range of $0.6-$1 million per annum.

In addition to managing parks, Parks Victoria manages built infrastructure and recreational activities for the Port Phillip, Western Port and Port Campbell local ports. Parks Victoria visitation data indicate these local ports and bays receive 45 million visits every year. Through the management of these local ports, Parks Victoria plays a significant role in the contribution these three ports make to the State economy, estimated at over $300 million GVA per annum in total.

The benefits of ecosystem services delivered by parks
To highlight the contribution that Victoria’s parks play in communities and the economy, a range of ecosystem services were assessed in their current land use(as park), compared to an alternative land use.

The counterfactual used is the surrounding land use (e.g. cleared grazing for national and State parks, and urban infrastructure for metropolitan parks).

Benefits from Victoria’s parks were estimated to include:

• Benefits supporting Victoria’s healthy and productive environment include the provision of water filtration services from non-metropolitan parks (e.g. national parks) valued at $50 million per annum, along with prevention of nitrogen in metropolitan waterways with an avoided cost of $33 million per annum and retention of stormwater runoff from metropolitan parks avoiding $46 million in additional infrastructure.

Additionally, parks provide coastal protection services for communities along 285 km of Victoria’s shoreline which is valued at $24-56 million per annum. Parks also provide highly suitable habitats for 516 threatened species assessed over 638 parks.

• Benefits sustaining Victorians’ wellbeing include recreational value to park visitors estimated at $600-$1,000 million per annum and a range of $80-$200 million per annum in avoided health costs for physically active park visitors (noting that part of these values may overlap). Parks Victoria managed parks in Melbourne provide amenity value to adjacent residents of $21 to $28million per annum. Victoria’s parks further provides social benefits through volunteering work in parks valued at $6million per annum and park-related heritage valued at $6 to $23 million per annum.

Caveats and further work
The assessment of the quantity and value of ecosystem services provided by parks is not definitive and is based on gathering available data in a relatively short time period. Nevertheless, as the first assessment of the Victorian parks network, the report provides both an indicative and conservative estimate of the value of ecosystem services attributable to parks and an applied framework in which to populate new information.

The benefits of some recreation and tourism services are based on well-established methods. Valuation of other ecosystem services linked more directly to ecological and natural regulating processes is a relatively new area is limited by the availability of empirical literature or primary data. 

The monetary values of benefits from the assessed ecosystem services cannot necessarily be aggregated as a number of services may overlap. The accounting framework can be linked to regular reporting such as State of the Parks reporting. Insights from this work can play an important role in informing the community about the connection between having healthy, resilient parks and the State’s economy and community wellbeing.

The proposed approach can support park and public land planning, investment, management and evaluation decisions for parks as well as inform policy and supporting funding models to maintain parks’ natural capital, while maximising their value to the society. 

Adapting this work to inform decision-making for land management will require further work including greater focus on assessment of marginal values for ecosystem services from different management options and more thorough assessment of the broader costs and benefits of these alternatives. Additionally, conceptual models linking changes in the condition of ecosystems to service flows will be required to undertake broader applications on program evaluation.

Click here to view the Valuing Victoria’s Parks report on the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning website.

Images (from top): Yarra Ranges National Park, The Grampians and camping at Wilson's Promontory.

16th September 2015 - VICTORIAN GOVERNMENT MOVES TO END 99 YEAR TOURISM LEASES IN NATIONAL PARKS

10th April 2015 - DEAKIN UNIVERSITY STUDY INTO THE HEALTH BENEFITS OF PARKS

12th October 2014 - NEW TOURISM ACTIVITIES IN NATIONAL PARKS THREATENS NATURAL HERITAGE

24th June 2014 - PLACES AND OPEN SPACES IDENTIFIED AS THE KEY TO A BETTER MELBOURNE

3rd June 2013 - DISPUTE OVER PRIVATE SECTOR DEVELOPMENTS IN VICTORIA’S NATIONAL PARKS

27th April 2013 - GREEN SPACE REPORT REVEALS AUSTRALIANS SPEND LESS TIME IN PARKS


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