Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh / Naracoorte)
Australia, Inscribed in  1994
Criteria : viii, ix

Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Riversleigh / Naracoorte)

Learn more about the state of conservation of this natural World Heritage site by scrolling down to read assessment summaries.More details can be found by navigating to the "Full references" tab, where conservation issues, benefits and projects are cited alongside values, threats, and protection and management.Sources of information are listed under references.

Finalised on 13 Jan 2015
Conservation Outlook

Good

While a number of threats and other issues affecting the site exist they are all minor and do not impact upon the Outstanding Universal Value of the Property. The current state of the AFMS World Heritage values is good and stable. Ongoing research should be encouraged and secured. There are however certain concerns about funding security and consequent effects on attaining and managing future research. The unique aspect of the AFMS is that its value lies in knowledge and understanding, a value which should be constantly pursued and enhanced.

Values

Good Trend: Stable
Current state and Trend of values
Good

The current state of the AFMS WH values is good and stable. The extent to which the fossils are affected by excavation in Riversleigh is less than 1%. Excavations in Naracoorte affect a higher proportion but most of the valuable deposits have not been disturbed. Both sections of the Property have implemented strict procedures to ensure that disturbance is minimal and that the specimens retrieved are not widely dispersed.

Threats

Very Low Threat
Overall Threats
Very Low Threat

All in all the threats to the site’s values are very low. The impact from illegal removal of material from the Riversleigh area is minor and does not detract from WH values. Concerns about compliance with research practices should be addressed by rigorous monitoring by the management authorities. At Naracoorte, access to the site is by permit and/or supervision. Illegal access is a low threat - Naracoorte’s fossil sites are underground and in the main are secure from impact from natural events. Overall, the threat to the World heritage values of the property is very low.

Protection and Management

Effective
Overall Protection and management
Effective

The protection and management of the property is mostly effective although there is some concern about the security of funding. There is no single management plan for the entire World Heritage property which consists of two component sites – Riversleigh and Naracoorte; however, there have been discussions about development of a management framework for the entire site.

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Assessment Information
Finalised on 13 Jan 2015

Values

The current state of the AFMS WH values is good and stable. The extent to which the fossils are affected by excavation in Riversleigh is less than 1%. Excavations in Naracoorte affect a higher proportion but most of the valuable deposits have not been disturbed. Both sections of the Property have implemented strict procedures to ensure that disturbance is minimal and that the specimens retrieved are not widely dispersed.

Good

World Heritage Values
Good Trend: Stable

Extensive deposits of vertebrate fossils
Good Data Deficient

The Property contains and protects extensive vertebrate fossil deposits which provide a significant insight to the understanding of the record of life in Australia during some major stages of Earth's history. Riversleigh provides exceptional, and in many cases unique, mammal assemblages spanning the period from 10-30 million years ago. From studying these assemblages it is possible to document changes in habitat from humid, lowland rainforest to dry eucalypt forests and woodlands. These assemblages also provide the first fossil record for many distinctive groups of living mammals such as the marsupial moles and feather-tailed possums. The Naracoorte assemblages open a window into a significant period of Earth’s history from the mid-Pleistocene to present (530,000 years ago to today), a period characterised by great climatic changes. (SoOUV, 2012)

Evidence of evolutionary change
Low Concern Data Deficient

The two component sites provide complementary evidence of key stages in the evolution of the fauna of one of the world's most isolated continents. The history of mammal lineages in modern Australia can be traced through these fossil deposits and, as a consequence, there is a better understanding of the conservation status of living mammals and their communities. Both component sites are rich in a diverse range of vertebrates including mammals and at Riversleigh also plants and invertebrates. The Naracoorte assemblages span the time of arrival of humans to Australia and thus are of additional value in helping unravel the complex relationships between humans and their environment. They highlight the impacts of both climatic change and humans on Australia’s mammals, including its now vanished megafauna. (SoOUV, 2012)

Other Biodiversity values
Good Trend: NA

Breeding habitat for the critically endangered Southern Bentwinged Bat
NA Trend: NA

Threats

All in all the threats to the site’s values are very low. The impact from illegal removal of material from the Riversleigh area is minor and does not detract from WH values. Concerns about compliance with research practices should be addressed by rigorous monitoring by the management authorities. At Naracoorte, access to the site is by permit and/or supervision. Illegal access is a low threat - Naracoorte’s fossil sites are underground and in the main are secure from impact from natural events. Overall, the threat to the World heritage values of the property is very low.

Very Low Threat

Current Threats
Very Low Threat

All in all the threats to the site’s values are very low. The impact from illegal removal of material from the Riversleigh area is minor and does not detract from WH values. Concerns about compliance with research practices should be addressed by rigorous monitoring by the management authorities. At Naracoorte, access to the site is by permit and/or supervision. Illegal access is a low threat - Naracoorte’s fossil sites are underground and in the main are secure from impact from natural events. Overall, the threat to the World heritage values of the property is very low.

Agricultural/ Forestry Effluents
Very Low Threat

There is some evidence that the population of ‘Critically Endangered’ Southern Bentwinged Bats (Miniopterus bassanii) that breed in the park each year has declined significantly over the past 30 years. Preliminary studies indicated that agricultural and viticultural practices may be contributing to this decline with the use of pesticides. (Periodic Report, 2003) Recent population monitoring indicates early population estimate methodology was flawed and that population variance has most likely been the result of normal fluctuations in climate. Viral infection impacted in the previous decade. Population monitoring is continuing to better understand the population dynamics of this species. The species status under the Federal EPBS Act is Critically Endangered though expected to be downgraded to Endangered; in South Australia it is listed as Endangered and in Victoria the status is Threatened. (Draft National Bat Recovery Plan, L.M. Lumsden and M.L. Jemison, 2012)

Fire/ Fire Suppression
Very Low Threat

Wildfires occur at Boodjamulla and have an impact on extant biota but this isn’t a significant issue in World Heritage site. QPWS is working with neighbours to develop a system of fire control on a broad scale to minimise risk of large scale conflagrations. (Periodic Report, 2003) Dept of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), South Australia has a Fire Management Plan (2010-2020) that facilitates practical reduction of fire impact.

Tourism/ visitors/ recreation
Very Low Threat

While evidence of small-scale disturbance was found it was determined to be of low level. The responsible management authority subsequently developed a public education campaign to ensure visitors were well informed that removal of material is not permitted. (Periodic Report, 2003)

Other
High Threat

Both the Naracoorte Management Plan and the Riversleigh Management Strategy acknowledge the significance of ongoing research to fully realize the World Heritage values of the Property. Both acknowledge the need to ensure that research is sustainable and detail appropriate controls and permitting procedures. Both acknowledge the need for some degree of structure in the research. The Naracoorte plan includes a requirement to ‘establish a research program coordinating committee’ and the Riversleigh strategy includes the requirement to ‘develop and implement a five-year Research Plan’. (TNMP), (TRMS) A grant application (July 2013) to establish the informal community advisory committee into a formal AFMS Naracoorte advisory committee was successful but as at November 2013 awaits sign-off by the Minister for the Environment. (Accompanying document - AMFS Naracoorte Monitoring Evaluation Reporting and Improvement Strategy 2013-16)

Potential Threats
NA

Protection and management

The protection and management of the property is mostly effective although there is some concern about the security of funding. There is no single management plan for the entire World Heritage property which consists of two component sites – Riversleigh and Naracoorte; however, there have been discussions about development of a management framework for the entire site.

Effective

Protection and management

Research
Effective

There has been an enormous amount of literature published in regard to research in the AFMS which is not surprising as research is the cornerstone of the Property’s WH value.

Monitoring
Data Deficient

Both sections of the Property have management documents which acknowledge the need to establish and maintain monitoring programs, however there is insufficient published data/ information to assess the effectiveness of monitoring of the AFMS. Monitoring of research is done through DEH and EPBC permitting and reporting.

Tourism and visitation management
Effective

The Riversleigh Strategy recognizes that visitors play a significant part in ensuring that the World Heritage area has a continuing function in the life of the community and that tourism provides important social and economic benefits to the region. An Interpretation Strategy was developed in 2012. The Naracoorte Caves National Park is promoted as a prime visitor attraction and plays a substantial role in regional tourism. Modification of the caves to facilitate the interpretation of fossil deposits revolutionised the visitor experience as has the site’s interpretative centre which is focused specifically on the WH values. Cave tours give visitors an appreciation of the processes which formed the caves and their contents, with particular focus on the fossil deposits, the aesthetics of caves and the biology and cultural history of the caves and the region in which they occur.

Education and interpretation programs
Effective

Education is a small but significant use of the Riversleigh section of the property where the UNSW research team has developed large amounts of educational and interpretation material over the years. Education has long been an integral part of the Naracoorte experience; special exhibitions and displays are an ongoing part of site presentation. While some of these take place external to the park, they mainly occur in the park’s visitor interpretive centre which includes a sophisticated series of animatronic displays set within recreated habitats. An extensive educational program has been developed and is still expanding. A building was specially modified to support the delivery of education programs. Literature on World Heritage is distributed to school groups that visit and the World Heritage video is also shown. (Periodic Report)

Staff training and development
Data Deficient

The need for staff training and development in regard to World Heritage values and management is addressed in both the Riversleigh strategy and the Naracoorte plan, (Periodic Report) but no assessment of the delivery and effect of such training has been sighted.

Boundaries
Effective

The boundaries of the Naracoorte Caves National Park do not match those of the caves in which the fossil deposits occur, although the entrances to the caves are protected. Since the World Heritage inscription, the boundaries of the National Park have been expanded and cover most known caves within the park. Additional land has been purchased and added to the park providing greater security. The fossil deposits in these areas may need to be assessed for World Heritage significance, leading to the possible extension of the World Heritage boundary. The Riversleigh section of the Property is contained within the boundaries of the Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park and the boundary is deemed to be adequate. (Periodic Report)

Implementation of Committee decisions and recommendations
Data Deficient

None applicable

Management effectiveness
Effective

Management of both components of this serial site appears effective. However, development of a management framework for the entire site would further strengthen its management.

Management system (for transboundary/serial properties, integrated management system should also be described/evaluated)
Effective

Management of both components of this serial site appears effective. However, development of a management framework for the entire site would further strengthen its management.

Integration into regional and national planning systems (including sea/landscape connectivity)
Highly Effective

The Australian and South Australian governments endorsed The Naracoorte Caves National Park Management Plan in February 2001 following a lengthy period of community consultation. The South Australia Heritage Act, 1993 provides for the conservation of places of heritage value and the Development Act 1993 provides for planning and regulating development, the management of land, and the design and construction of buildings. The Boodjamulla NP, which Riversleigh component is part of, has a Management Strategy in place. The Riversleigh Management Strategy is currently under review. The Queensland and South Australian governments are currently in discussions about the development of an AFMS Management Framework.

Legal framework
Highly Effective

The Riversleigh fossil deposits are situated within the boundary of the Boodjamulla (Lawn Hill) National Park, but also extend outside the World Heritage area on both the NP and also on Riversleigh Station. Naracoorte fossil deposits are situated within the Naracoorte Caves National Park. Both sections of the Property are protected under the relevant parks legislation of the States in which they are situated. (TRMS) They are also subject to the national Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 under which any action that has, will or might have a significant impact on the World Heritage values of a World Heritage property must be referred to the responsible Minister for consideration. Importantly, this Act also aims to protect World Heritage properties from impacts that originate outside the property. It thus forms an additional layer of protection designed to protect values of World Heritage properties from external impacts. (Periodic Report)

Relationships with local people (including stakeholder relationships, participatory management, rights, and access to benefits and equity)
Highly Effective

A Riversleigh Community and Scientific Advisory Committee have been established, with representation from the scientific community, Queensland Museum, tourism, Waanyi traditional owners, and local, Queensland and Australian governments. The Riversleigh Management Strategy gives priority to involving the community in management and planning of the Property. (TRMS) Naracoorte has been able to gain the support of the local community. A strong ‘Friends of Naracoorte Caves’ group, an active consultative committee and supportive local businesses along with an understanding of the role the community has had in the development of Naracoorte Caves NP over 160 years contributes to a positive partnership between the park and community. (Accompanying document - Final Draft AMFS Naracoorte Master Plan – Nov’13) Continued Indigenous stakeholder involvement in consultative arrangements needs to be maintained to ensure that consensus and understanding underpin the future management of the site.

Sustainable finance
Some Concern

In Australia it is a general principle for the state governments to fund day-to-day management activities in World Heritage properties while the national government funds those additional activities necessary to meet World Heritage obligations. (TRMS) The AFMS remains dependent upon regional funding to undertake any programs which are specifically targeted on the World Heritage values. Faced with growing competition for finite resources this funding is naturally, and even correctly, more focused on protecting Australia’s existing biota than understanding its extinct biota so the AFMS is unlikely to be a priority for funding regardless of its WH importance.

Sustainable use
Highly Effective

Use of the site is limited mainly to research, education and tourism which pose little to no threat to the site’s values. Research proposals are examined by the Park Manager to determine the impact on the area of cave to be accessed. The manager and researcher determine methods to minimise these impacts both from a conservation and aesthetic viewpoint if the area is in the public view. A `Researchers Protocol' covers all aspects of fossil extraction including minimum information that is to be recorded and procedures that are to be followed. The potential threat of tourism is addressed by implementing rigid policies which prohibit access to all fossil producing caves within the park except where visitors are under the direct supervision of a park employee. (Periodic Report), (TRMS)

Overall assessment of protection and management

Assessment of the effectiveness of protection and management in addressing threats outside the site
Highly Effective

External threats are minimal and adequately addressed by the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999. This Act is the statutory instrument for implementing Australia’s obligations under the World Heritage Convention. Importantly, the Act also protects Properties from impacts even if they originate outside the property. (SoOUV, 2012)

Overall assessment of protection and management
Effective

The protection and management of the property is mostly effective although there is some concern about the security of funding. There is no single management plan for the entire World Heritage property which consists of two component sites – Riversleigh and Naracoorte; however, there have been discussions about development of a management framework for the entire site.

Best Practice Examples

Both sections of the Property have successfully developed an integrated approach to education, site interpretation and tourism. For Naracoorte this is primarily achieved as a function internal to the Property with some community outreach activity while for Riversleigh it is primarily achieved as an external function with some internal activities. The Riversleigh Society supports research and public promotion of paleontological science. Both sections of the Property acknowledge that research is a critical function and that the function is also a potential significant threat. An appropriate philosophical position has been taken and strategies developed to accommodate destructive research within a conservation framework.

Additional Information

Key Conservation Issues

Issues

The need for funding for research pertaining to the AFMS’s WH values understood to be a core operational requirement
National

Without secure funding forward planning for research becomes impossible.

Benefits

Health and recreation

The Property provides significant opportunities for recreation and educational tourism which in turn stimulates local economic activity.

Knowledge

The Property’s core value lies in the knowledge derived from ongoing study of the fossil deposits providing insights to evolutionary trends in response to climate change.

Cultural and Spiritual Values

The Property is of cultural significance to the traditional owners (Riversleigh) and has long held an importance in the early development of the Naracoorte community.

Environmental Services

The property facilitates research leading to an understanding of paleaoclimates and the possible implications for climate change.

Projects

Active Conservation Projects

N0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
1 UNSW Various projects
2 Friends of Naracoorte Caves (FONC) Population monitoring of Southern Bentwinged Bats (Miniopterus schreibersii bassanii), AFMS Naracoorte Mick Dennis, President of Friends of Caves

Compilation of potential project needs

N.O0 Organization/ individuals Brief description of Active Projects Contact Details
1 NA Develop interpretive display in the fossil laboratory, AFMS Naracoorte
Rn0 References
1 AMFS Naracoorte Monitoring Evaluation Reporting and Improvement Strategy 2013-16
2 Draft National Bat Recovery Plan, L.M. Lumsden and M.L. Jemison, 2012
3 DEWNR Fire Management Plan
4 Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (2012) (SoOUV)
5 The Naracoorte Caves National Park Management Plan, 2001. (TNMP),
6 IUCN Technical Evaluation, Australian Fossil sites. (IUCN-ED)
7 Management of Underground Protected Areas, Steven Bourne, Manager, Naracoorte Caves National Park (Mang’t of U’ground PA’s, Bourne)
8 The Riversleigh Management Strategy (TRMS)
9 Powerful Partnerships: Involving Community in Managing Natural Resources, S. Manager, Naracoorte Caves National Park,(unpub.) (Powerful P’ships)
10 Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee -Discussion Paper – August 2009(AWHAC, 2009)
11 Australian World Heritage Advisory Committee, August 2010 (AWHAC, 2010)
12 World Heritage Nomination - IUCN Summary (WHNom)
13 Periodic Report 2002 - Section II Australian Fossil Mammal Sites (Periodic Report)

Site Description

Riversleigh and Naracoorte, situated in the north and south respectively of eastern Australia, are among the world’s 10 greatest fossil sites. They are a superb illustration of the key stages of evolution of Australia’s unique fauna.

ⓒ UNESCO