At 56,000 hectares, Springvale Station up on the Atherton Tablelands behind Cairns is bigger than the US island territory of Guam.
It’s about the same size as Britain’s Isle of Man, except, rather than being home to 86,000 people, 4300 Brahman-cross cattle normally roam the Queensland property.
And now the farm is owned by Queensland taxpayers after a landmark decision by Annastacia Palaszczuk’s government to buy the property for $7 million to protect the Great Barrier Reef.
Queensland environment minister Dr Steven Miles said 560 square kilometres of cattle farm was one of the biggest contributors of sediment run-off in the northern reef area.
“Areas of badly degraded grazing land on the property are responsible for 40% of sediment from gully erosion in the Normanby basin, which is the Cape York region’s largest reef catchment,” he said.
“Runoff from land carries sediment from the Normanby Basin to the outer reef where it blocks light, smothers marine organisms and reduces coral and seagrass growth.
“The worst bleaching event in nearly two decades has hit the far north’s coral reefs the hardest, with the worst affected sites near the tip of Cape York where bleaching is severe. We need to make sure the reef has the best chance to recover from this event by making sure water flowing from the catchments is as clean as possible, and that includes stepping up effective erosion control measures on the gullies and rivers in far norther Queensland.”
The government plans to begin remediation work on the property with conservation groups, replanting riparian zones to reduce gully erosion. The former owners have until October 2017 to remove all cattle from Springvale.
The government is still investigating future management of the property — Dr Miles said it would most likely be declared a nature refuge in the short term and managed by a third party.
The minister said the property is also home to a range of threatened species and part of a continuous wildlife corridor from the head of the Normanby River catchment to Princess Charlotte Bay.
“There are 48 mapped regional ecosystems on the property providing important habitat for the critically endangered bare-rumped sheathtail bat and other endangered or vulnerable flora and fauna species. These include the southern cassowary, northern quoll, spotted-tailed quoll, red goshawk, Semon’s leaf-nosed bat, ghost bat, spectacled flying-fox, greater large-eared horseshoe bat, Cooktown orchid and brown antelope orchid.”
The South Endeavour Trust, which owns and manages 10 conservation reserves, including one bordering the Springvale property, backed the purchase.
Trust director, Tim Hughes said buying back the farm was “something new, bold and really meaningful to protect the Great Barrier Reef”.
“When this property came onto the market, I really hoped Dr Miles and the Government would have the vision to see that something different could be done, which would make a real difference for the reef,” he said.
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