Unpacked: SA's National Parks and Wildlife Act and why it’s so important for conservation

Unpacked: SA’s National Parks and Wildlife Act and why it’s so important for conservation



The Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Act 1972 has been crit­i­cal to the con­ser­va­tion and pro­tec­tion of native wildlife and the envi­ron­ment in South Australia. 

Of the nation­al parks leg­is­la­tion oper­at­ing in each of the Aus­tralian states, the South Aus­tralian Act is the most long-lived. South Australia’s first nation­al park – Belair Nation­al Park – was pro­claimed in 1891, but the cur­rent Act came into pow­er almost 8 decades later.

From the con­ser­va­tion of native ani­mals and plants, to the estab­lish­ment of sanc­tu­ar­ies and the co-man­age­ment of parks, the Act has remained stead­fast despite sig­nif­i­cant change across the past 50 years.

Here’s every­thing you need to know.

What does the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Act cover?

Dur­ing its 5 decades of oper­a­tion, the Act has pro­vid­ed a frame­work for estab­lish­ing and alter­ing the var­i­ous types of pro­tect­ed areas in South Aus­tralia. It has incor­po­rat­ed the sys­tems of pro­tect­ing species based on their con­ser­va­tion sta­tus as recog­nised in the Inter­na­tion­al Union for Con­ser­va­tion of Nature Red List of Threat­ened Species (IUCN Red List). 

It inter­acts with sev­er­al oth­er Acts that are used to man­age land in South Aus­tralia. It also recog­nis­es the role of First Nations peo­ple in con­tin­ued cul­tur­al con­nec­tions with Country.

There are now 358 parks and reserves in South Aus­tralia, which cov­er 21.6% of the state. All of these are pro­tect­ed under the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Act.

These beau­ti­ful and valu­able pro­tect­ed areas con­serve impor­tant ecosys­tems, habi­tats, flo­ra and fau­na, unique land for­ma­tions, and cul­tur­al­ly sig­nif­i­cant places. 

They help ensure we con­tin­ue to have clean air, soil and water, and con­tribute to glob­al efforts to con­serve bio­di­ver­si­ty against the impacts of cli­mate change. 

For First Nations, pro­tect­ed areas are invalu­able in main­tain­ing con­nec­tions to Coun­try. South Aus­trali­a’s nation­al parks are also a trea­sure trove of her­itage sites that con­nect vis­i­tors to the tri­als, chal­lenges, and sto­ries of the past.

There’s a lot that we can thank the Act for, includ­ing these: 

1. Declar­ing pro­tect­ed areas of land

The Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Act looks after the envi­ron­ment by offi­cial­ly declar­ing parcels of land as a pro­tect area. 

These areas can be declared as either a: wilder­ness pro­tec­tion area, nation­al park, con­ser­va­tion park, recre­ation park, game reserve or as a sanc­tu­ary, with each of these pro­tect­ed areas estab­lished for dif­fer­ent purposes. 

New pro­tect­ed areas can be added to the South Aus­tralian net­work of pro­tect­ed areas. Bound­aries can be altered and in rare cas­es, pro­tect­ed areas can also be abol­ished. Changes of name are also possible. 

The man­age­ment of each pro­tect­ed area is achieved through man­age­ment plan­ning processes. 

2. Enabling pro­tec­tion of wildlife

As well as pro­tect­ed areas, pro­tect­ed species pro­vi­sions apply in SA through the Act. 

Pro­tect­ed ani­mals and plants are list­ed with­in the Act, giv­ing effect to the inter­na­tion­al sys­tem of IUCN Red List of threat­ened species. 

The Act also pro­hibits cer­tain behav­iours, includ­ing tak­ing pro­tect­ed species or killing cer­tain species, and per­mits oth­er activ­i­ties, such as requir­ing per­mits to keep pro­tect­ed species, com­mer­cial har­vest­ing and hunt­ing, in some cases. 

3. Facil­i­tat­ing co-man­age­ment of pro­tect­ed areas

Co-man­age­ment of pro­tect­ed areas is one of the most sig­nif­i­cant updates to the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Act over its 50-year lifes­pan so far. 

Co-man­age­ment pro­vi­sions estab­lish arrange­ments that recog­nise First Nations People’s rights to con­tin­ue enjoy­ing parks for cul­tur­al, spir­i­tu­al and tra­di­tion­al purposes. 

Co-man­age­ment arrange­ments are usu­al­ly achieved as part of a native title agree­ment, and make spe­cif­ic pro­vi­sions for pro­tect­ing Abo­rig­i­nal sites, fea­tures, objects and struc­tures of spir­i­tu­al or cul­tur­al sig­nif­i­cance as well as pro­tect­ing nat­ur­al resources, wildlife, veg­e­ta­tion and oth­er fea­tures of parks. 

Since the intro­duc­tion of the co-man­age­ment sys­tem, South Aus­tralia has 12 co-man­age­ment agree­ments in place relat­ing to 35 pro­tect­ed areas. These include:

  • Dhil­ba Guu­ran­da-Innes Nation­al Park Co-man­age­ment Board: Estab­lished in 2020 with the Narung­ga Nations Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation
  • Gawler Ranges Parks Co-Man­age­ment Board: Gawler Ranges Parks Co-man­age­ment Board, estab­lished in 2021 with the Gawler Ranges Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation
  • Ikara-Flinders Ranges Nation­al Park Co-man­age­ment Board: Estab­lished in 2011 with the Adnya­math­anha Tra­di­tion­al Lands Association
  • Kaṉku-Break­aways Con­ser­va­tion Park Co-man­age­ment Board: Estab­lished in 2013 with the Antakir­in­ja Matu-Yankun­yt­jat­jara Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation
  • Mamungari Con­ser­va­tion Park Co-Man­age­ment Board (for­mer­ly Mar­alin­ga Lands Unnamed Con­ser­va­tion Park Board): Estab­lished in 2004 with the Mar­alin­ga Tjarut­ja, and Pila Ngu­ru Abo­rig­i­nal Corporations
  • Ngaut Ngaut Con­ser­va­tion Park Co-man­age­ment Board: Estab­lished in 2014 with Man­num Abo­rig­i­nal Com­mu­ni­ty Asso­ci­a­tion Incorporated
  • Vulkathun­ha-Gam­mon Ranges Nation­al Park Co-man­age­ment Board: Estab­lished in 2005 with the Adnya­math­anha Tra­di­tion­al Lands Association
  • Witji­ra Nation­al Park Co-man­age­ment Board: Estab­lished in 2007 with the Irrwanyere Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation
  • Yum­bar­ra Con­ser­va­tion Park Co-man­age­ment Board: Estab­lished in 2013 with the Far West Coast Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation.

Besides co-man­aged parks there are also sev­er­al co-man­age­ment advi­so­ry com­mit­tees, which advise the Direc­tor of Nation­al Parks and Wildlife as the man­age­ment author­i­ty for a park. The cur­rent advi­so­ry com­mit­tees include:

  • Ara­bana Parks Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee: Estab­lished in 2012 with the Ara­bana Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation
  • Nullar­bor Parks Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee: Estab­lished in 2015 with the Far West Coast Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation
  • Yan­druwand­ha Yawar­rawar­rka Parks Advi­so­ry Com­mit­tee: Estab­lished in 2010 with the Yan­druwand­ha Yawar­rawar­rka Tra­di­tion­al Land Own­ers Abo­rig­i­nal Corporation.

How does the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Act inter­act with oth­er Acts?

The Act oper­ates in con­junc­tion with oth­er Acts that pro­tect South Australia’s environment. 

These include the Plan­ning Devel­op­ment and Infra­struc­ture Act 2016, Riv­er Mur­ray Act 2003, Dol­phin Sanc­tu­ary Act 2005, Crown Land Man­age­ment Act 2009, Pas­toral Land Man­age­ment Act 1989, Wilder­ness Pro­tec­tion Act 1992and Native Title Act 1993.

Togeth­er these acts pro­vide a net­work of pro­tec­tions across the tenures of land management. 

The Min­is­ter respon­si­ble for the Min­ing Act can­not also assume respon­si­bil­i­ty for the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Act 1972.

Who is respon­si­ble for the Act?

The Min­is­ter for Cli­mate, Envi­ron­ment and Water is respon­si­ble for the Act. 

Strate­gic mat­ters are over­seen by the Direc­tor of Nation­al Parks and by an 8‑member Parks and Wilder­ness Coun­cil that pro­vides advice to the Min­is­ter and takes direc­tion from the Minister. 

The Parks and Wilder­ness Coun­cil over­sees key func­tions achieved under the Act such as: estab­lish­ment and man­age­ment of reserves, wilder­ness pro­tec­tion areas and wilder­ness pro­tec­tion zones; con­ser­va­tion of ani­mals, plants and ecosys­tems; con­ser­va­tion of the marine envi­ron­ment; Abo­rig­i­nal cul­ture and tra­di­tion­al asso­ci­a­tions with land; com­mu­ni­ty engage­ment and com­mu­ni­ty part­ner­ships; tourism and recre­ation­al use of reserves. 

Have there ever been changes to the Act?

In the past 50 years there have been many changes in atti­tude to the envi­ron­ment, the role of pro­tect­ed areas, trends in species man­age­ment and under­stand­ings of eco­log­i­cal relationships. 

While much change has occurred dur­ing the past 50 years, the Act has endured. It forms part of an impor­tant suite of leg­isla­tive instru­ments that oper­ate in South Aus­tralia to pro­tect sig­nif­i­cant places and is one of the means by which mat­ters of nation­al envi­ron­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance are recog­nised in accor­dance with the Envi­ron­ment Pro­tec­tion and Bio­di­ver­si­ty Con­ser­va­tion Act 1999 (Com­mon­wealth).

Want to cel­e­brate this mile­stone? Here’s what can you do.

As part of the anniver­sary the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice is call­ing on for­mer staff and vis­i­tors to parks to share their work and vis­i­tor expe­ri­ences online as part of the 50th anniver­sary celebrations. 

Sto­ries or pho­tos can be emailed to us, or post­ed to your own social media accounts accom­pa­nied by the hash­tag #npws50years so that we can use them to help cel­e­brate this momen­tous occasion.

Want to learn more about some of the impor­tant areas this Act pro­tects? Explore the Nation­al Parks and Wildlife Ser­vice web­site for infor­ma­tion, and then explore a park near you.


This con­tent was pro­duced in part­ner­ship with  Good Living