The origins of the NCT can be traced to the 1990s when Pip Walsh at WWF Australia was involved in extension projects on farms in NSW and conversations about how stewardship of biodiversity on farms could be supported.
The NSW Farmers Association was looking for a better way to offer conservation agreements to farmers. They soon discovered Pip at WWF and Peter Wright at the NCC (Nature Conservation Council of NSW) and the trio soon started to meet often discussing the work of Carl Binning and Mike Young whose ground breaking papers examined the issues of holistic land management as well as potential tax benefits that could flow from farmers undertaking stewardship for biodiversity on their properties.
They looked to the Trust for Nature Victoria as the model and soon found $20,000 through the EDO (Environmental Defenders Office) to help craft legislation; and with the help of Matthew Crosier from the NSW Farmers they were soon looking at a government bill which was promulgated as the Nature Conservation Trust Act in 2001.
Pip started as the NCT’s first CEO (known as Executive Director at the time) working part time. Alongside Pip was Chair Rob Rosen from Ethical Investment and Andrew Smith, an academic from UNE. Their first task was to develop a work plan so that they might apply for funding to start delivering on the fledgling organisation.They were successful in a Commonwealth Government grant of $2million to operate the Revolving Fund and to apply 10% of the grant to administration so that staff could be engaged and offices established. With money in the bank they submitted their first business plan 2002-2007 to the Environment Minister, Bob Debus.With the initial funding they purchased their first properties which included Euroka and Rockview.
The NCT was off and running.
“The NCT is starting to gather critical mass and we have a very bright future if we have a lot of landholders genuinely demonstrating their credentials.”
Pip Walsh, 2015
By 2003 Geoff Lipsett-Moore had joined the NCT after a stint living in Canada with his wife.
“I flew straight into an interview, was given the job and before I knew it I was into this crazy new world”, Geoff recalls.
With the backing of the $2m Geoff fronted Southern Cross University (SCU) in Lismore to provide a base from which to operate and give structure to the still fledgling organisation.
“With the help of students at SCU we also constructed and developed the first covenant for our first landholder”.
The next step involved meeting up with the NRM (National Reserve Management) bodies & CMAs (Catchment Management Authorities now called Local Land Services) which led to a discussion with Lachlan CMA to establish a $1million revolving fund.
But it was the employment of the NCT’s three first staff members that was to commence the transformation of the organisation. Geoff met with Tony Fleming at National Parks who agreed to provide some capital leading to Kate Smillie, Barbara Miller and Ian Curtis joining the organisation.
“This made serious in roads into achieving things”, Geoff said, “We could break up tasks which enabled the organisation to become a living, breathing thing”.
“I have nothing but a great feeling of pride seeing how far the NCT has come since those early days. It is a mark of the commitment of the staff, like Kate & Barb who are still there, that the NCT can look to the future with great hope.”
Geoff Lipsett – Moore, 2015
A new phase for the NCT was about to unfold with the arrival of Rob Dunn who would oversee the continued expansion of the NCT from one office to four.
“I came to the NCT with a finance background and had been working as company secretary for Landcare Australia, but with a Masters of Environmental Management under my belt I wanted to get out into the landscape and meet people who were doing amazing things on their land”.
“We were looking for properties, developing policies and procedures but crucial was trying to the get the balance between information required – the details – and the time it took to garner the information”, Rob adds.
But it was the FEAP (Farmer Exit Assistance Program) funding that truly changed the landscape. FEAP was an initiative of the NSW Government to support farmers with unviable properties to transit off the land. This led to the recruitment of new covenanting, sales, property management and GIS staff and new offices in Albury and Orange, thanks to the support of Charles Sturt University.
This was followed by the management of a revolving fund for the Lachlan CMA, including the purchase of Fernhill, and the partnership with the Roads & Traffic Authority Biodiversity Offset Program (later Roads & Maritime Service - RMS) in southern NSW to protect grassy box woodlands.
“Effectively we went from a $2million fund to $24million in a short space of time which meant we could buy more properties and extend our covenanting programs. There were huge learnings, including the management of large rural properties but it was an exciting ride’’, Rob remembers.
Rob’s period as CEO also involved NCT becoming one of the lead partners in the establishment of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative (GER). This ground-breaking program allowed NCT to use covenants to protect high conservation land in partnership with other organisations’ projects and so extend the reach of its work in conserving connectivity along the ranges.
By the time Rob stepped down in 2010 there were 16 staff working across four offices including a marketing office in Sydney based at Marrickville. The NCT had purchased seven new properties, including two significant grassland properties, Bunhybee and Parlour Grasslands, both of which sold into private hands; Carwell Station – the largest conservation agriculture property to be acquired for the NCT – was purchased; later sold into private hands in 2013 Protected hectares stood at 21,000 across 57 properties.
“I’m most proud of seeing the NCT as central to finding the balance between land uses and conservation and playing a key role in the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative. Ultimately, I see an organisation with really committed people working in a very exciting space.”
Rob Dunn, 2015
In 2010, Paul Toni, formerly with the Climate Change team at WWF-Australia, arrived and soon delivered a further commitment to operational funding from the NSW Government through to 2015. He increased hectares protected from 21,000 to 26,000 and an additional Sydney office was established in Marrickville and the marketing & fundraising function expanded.A campaign to raise funds around the koala included a successful dollar matching partnership with GER and raised $100,000. The database expanded by a social media presence on facebook, twitter and via donation appeals and property advertising to over 4,000 people and a NSW Government grant to “broaden and deepen the private land conservation market” was secured.
Today, Gary Wells is the CEO and under his helm and a new board led by Mr John V. McCarthy, AO, they have succeeded in reaching the target set in 2010 of 50,000 hectares by 2015. Indeed, as at 30 June 2015 the NCT was protecting 52,225 hectares across 109 properties. The time property is held in the Revolving Fund has dropped from an average of 18 months to well under 12 months. The database ha reached over 5,000 active users while website visits have grown from under 10,000 per annum in 2010 to over 100,000 per annum in 2015; and a new corporate partnership initiative, Yellowbox, was launched at the World Parks Congress in Sydney in 2014.
With Biodiversity Legislation in NSW under review the future place of the NCT in helping to solve the biodiversity crisis is critical if we are to halt the staggering decline in species numbers.
With a passionate and dedicated team the NCT looks well placed to take on these future challenges.