Why Canberra won't be getting a new national park

Why Canberra won't be getting a new national park

A new national park will not be created in Canberra's north after an advisory group found it would offer no extra protection for the ACT's special woodlands.

In February, the ACT government began a feasibility study into a National Parks Association pitch to consolidate the territory's "nationally significant" lowland grassy woodlands.

Mount Ainslie in the ACT was one of the nature reserves proposed to be a part of the new national park.

Mount Ainslie in the ACT was one of the nature reserves proposed to be a part of the new national park. Credit:Penny Bradfield

The study was promised as part of Labor's power-sharing deal with the Greens, and required the government to look at incorporating existing nature reserves around Mount Majura, Mount Ainslie and Mulligans Flat into a new northern national park.

But a reference group formed to examine the proposal found it would be better to instead protect the woodlands on rural land.

An eastern bettong at Mulligans Flat.

An eastern bettong at Mulligans Flat.Credit:Adam McGrath

While the panel largely agreed a national park designation would be good for marketing and branding, overwhelmingly they found it would not change the tourism and recreation opportunities of the park or offer more legal protection.

They found more than two-thirds of the ACT's box gum and lowland grassy woodland was outside protected zones, and agreed it would be better to work with landholders to preserve those rather than amalgamate public reserves.

A committee will be formed by the end of the year to protect woodland that is off-reserve.

ACT Parks and Conservation director Daniel Iglesias welcomed the group's findings and said it would have cost about $400,000 to change the signs alone if the national park proposal got up.

Add in brochures and map changes and "you would not get much change from $750,000 with not much difference as far as protecting the bush", Mr Iglesias said.

"The fact of the matter is the woodlands are already as protected as they would be if they were made a national park," Mr Iglesias said.

"The group debated at length if it were a national park would it make it easier to promote and the consensus was that it shouldn't, it's not logical."

He said ACT Parks would work with Visit Canberra on a strategy to better promote Canberra as the bush capital.

"If we get good partnerships going we should be able to promote our woodlands as a star attraction," Mr Iglesias said.

"Our woodlands make Canberra special. What we have no one else has in the amount or quality."

Rod Griffiths from the National Parks Association said he was disappointed the proposal had been scuttled, and would not rule out a future push to revive it.

"I do believe the broad benefits of establishing the national park outweighs the cost. It's a long-term benefit as opposed to a short-term cost," Mr Griffiths said.

He was pleased there would be greater protections for the majority of the ACT's woodlands that were off-reserve as a result of the reference group.

"We believe that model could be applied to all ecosystems across the ACT," Mr Griffiths said.

Woodlands and Wetlands Trust general manager Dr Jason Cummings said the ACT did not "need to change the tenure of the land" to attract more people.

"Our focus is better marketing opportunities at Mulligans Flat and the Jerrabomberra Wetlands. Our twilight tours have been really successful and we're looking to start construction on the ecotourism centre two years from now," Dr Cummings said.

Katie Burgess is a reporter for the Canberra Times, covering ACT politics.

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