Conservation Management of Historic Road Reserves in Australia
Road reserves have a rich history of human impacts, and are important social, economic and ecological component of agricultural landscapes in Australia. Road verge, or roadside environments are gaining greater recognition for their role in nature conservation. In Australia, road reserves are areas of public land retained for the development of future roads. Many road reserves were originally surveyed at one-chain (20.12m) width, however many historic roads, such as early Traveling Stock Routes (TSRs), were surveyed at widths of up to 1 mile wide. As a result, roadsides often constitute a significant proportion of native vegetation remaining in many agriculture areas.
Many local government authorities have now completed an assessment of the conservation values of road reserves in their municipality. Each roadside has been surveyed using a rapid bio-assessment methodology, and given a conservation ranking (High, Medium or Low). These rankings are then used to determine appropriate management actions for each road category, as described in local roadside management plans. However as local governments authorities have few funds for conservation management of roadsides, resources are often directed towards the maintenance of the better high conservation roads.
Recent research has shown that in many cases, roadside conservation values are a direct legacy of 19th century land policies, and decisions by administrators and surveyors, whose imprint remains on the landscape today. Each road has a unique story to tell, and as such, many high conservation roads with important natural and heritage values could be considered as ‘historic roads’. Understanding the development history of roads can provide an important tool to gain new awareness of their cultural and environmental values, and facilitate greater community investment in their ongoing management.