Australia’s National Reserve System protects places that have special ecosystems and cultural values. These places require informed, skilful management to preserve and nurture these attributes, and this must be supported by scientific data and other information.

Despite concerted management efforts, and regulatory protection, there are nonetheless declines in some ecosystems, species, and other values, in some protected areas. Clearly, there are management efforts that underperform. A lack of information relevant to contributing factors has impeded the development of better practice.

To address the knowledge shortfalls, new, focussed research is needed that directly addresses issues of concern to managers. Finding out what those issues are, the research needed to better understand them, and communicating this to scientists with the capability to do the research, are the essential foundations for building the required knowledge base.

This project, within the National Environmental Science Program’s (NESP) Protected Place Management initiative, undertook this process and created a strategy of priority research topics and themes, to guide the NESP hubs (Climate Systems, Resilient Landscapes, Marine and Coastal and Sustainable Communities and Waste) and associated researchers.

Approach and findings


Utilising both focus questions and open conversational techniques, the project consulted more than 70 government personnel and other stakeholders, to understand key issues of concern regarding protected areas, and associated research questions.

Collation and systematic review of all interview input resulted in the NESP Protected Place Management Research Strategy 2021–2023 outlining:

  • three encompassing, high-level, aspirational outcomes,
  • a pathway to build these; and
  • priority research activities.


Outcome 1:

Indigenous people supported to lead and disseminate Indigenous scientific knowledge.


NESP’s Indigenous Facilitators Network supports Traditional Owner participation in all aspects of research and management, and Indigenous knowledge and new science are equally weighted.

Priority projects:

  • Identifying research and monitoring priorities of Traditional Owners for protected areas.
  • New partnership approaches and networks.
  • Melding of Indigenous knowledge and new science, and co-utilisation for management.
  • Tenure-specific management considerations.
  • Mapping of Indigenous Land and Sea Country.
  • Identifying pressures impacting cultural values.

Outcome 2:

A strong, supportive evidence base, built through consistent research approaches, for adaptive management of protected places.


Data acquisition to understand the pressures and risks affecting protected place values and the key drivers of resilient populations and ecosystems in protected places.

Priority projects:

  • Development of effective methods to monitor status and trends of protected place values.
  • Baseline surveys of species distribution, biodiversity and cultural heritage.
  • Methods to improve managers’ access to data and information.
  • Trend assessments including climate, plastics, waste and human use.
  • Sustainable use of protected areas, and associated benefits and trade-offs.
  • Identification and quantification of risks and impacts, including cumulative pressures.
  • Best and cost-effective models of management.

Outcome 3:

Evidence-based management options for effective interventions utilised, aligned with local, national and international biodiversity objectives and programs.


Identification of effective forms of protected place management, necessary monitoring and, the pertinence of governance and tenure in management approaches.

Priority projects:

  • Assessments of the effectiveness of current management approaches.
  • A consistent, systemised review and evaluation process for all management plans.
  • Integrated, science-supported management and monitoring frameworks.
  • Nationally consistent monitoring models to measure management action effectiveness.
  • Standardisation of reporting on particular values across land and seascapes.
  • Testing to identify effective area-based conservation measures.
  • Evaluation of climate change influences and mitigation.
  • Assessment of alternative management options based on different forms of tenure.
  • Effective restoration methodologies.
  • Benefit-cost analyses of different intervention actions, to support prioritisation.


Through the collaborative identification of key concerns and research needs, this project under the Protected Places Management Initiative has delivered the NESP Protected Place Management Research Strategy to support the identification and prioritisation of future research themes and projects, alongside associated principles to apply across all four NESP research hubs.

Project location

Terrestrial and marine protected areas