Military training areas and Conservation - Unexploded Reality

To: Birding Aus <>
Subject: Military training areas and Conservation - Unexploded Reality
From: Angus Innes <>
Date: Mon, 19 Aug 2013 21:47:17 +0000

The current contributions on the significance of military training areas to 
conservation prompted me to:
(a) Check my memory as to a fairly clear recollection that the Australian Army 
Training Area at Shoalwater Bay, near Rockhampton, in my home Australian State 
of Queensland, was of great importance from a conservation perspective. My 
recollection was that, despite its use for tank and armoured vehicle training 
it had considerable botanical significance as well as being top birding 
habitat. A quick Google check shows that it currently has a designation of IBA 
(Important Birding Area) from Birdlife International which includes the 
following passage in the entry:
"Summary The IBA supports more than 1% of the global populations of the 
congregatory Pied Oystercatcher, Eastern Curlew and Grey-tailed Tattler; 
significant numbers of the near threatened Beach Stone-curlew; a population of 
the restricted-range Mangrove Honeyeater; and more than 1% of the East 
Asian-Australasian flyway populations of the congregratory Bar-tailed Godwit, 
Whimbrel and Terek Sandpiper.Site description Shoalwater Bay is located 93 km 
north of Rockhampton and comprises a complex continuous wetland aggregation 
that is formed in a large shallow marine embayment. It is a good example of 
shallow marine and estuarine wetland, and various freshwater wetland types on 
coastal sands. The site is part of the Shoalwater Bay Training Area, which is 
453,700 ha of mainland, islands and intervening marine areas, owned by the 
Department of Defence (Australian Government) and managed equally for the 
purposes of military training and nature conservation. The IBA covers all 
 habitat suitable for migratory shorebirds, including all intertidal mud flats, 
extending from Broome Head in the north to the southern boundary of the 
Shoalwater Bay Training Area, including Akens Island, Pelican Rock and Corio 
Bay to the south and including the north-eastern beaches, which have limited 
intertidal areas for migratory shorebirds but support Beach Stone-curlews." 
Apart from that, the adjacent marine habitat is a major dugong habitat.
(b) Recall that in my present occupational location in the UK, there are 
multiple examples that military training areas provide very important 
repositories of habitat and species that are rare and declining - including 
botanical, invertebrate and bird species. London's latest and biggest Bird 
reserve at Rainham on the edge of East London occupies former Army Rifle 
ranges. A major tank training military area on the Salisbury Plains is the 
location of an attempt to reintroduce the great Bustard to the UK - to the area 
that was its' last toehold in the country.
(c) Also that a couple of years ago, with fellow volunteers from the Wildfowl 
and Wetland Trust's London Wetland Centre, by special arrangement and with 
appropriate clearances, we visited the lands of the British Government's 
military scientific research establishment at Porton Down (where tests were 
conducted in the First World War on the gasses used in that War). Here we saw 
extensive chalk down land with rare plants, rare butterflies and rare nesting 
Stone Curlews (Thick-knees). We also saw beautifully produced magazines, 
annually by the MoD, on the wildlife of its bases and training areas.
What is the pattern? It appears to be the need by the military for large areas 
for war games, combined with the general habit of securing the boundaries of 
any military area and the accompanying prohibition of general access, plus 
fears and/or duty of care obligations that go with un-exploded ordnance, are a 
combination of factors which combine to provide nature with exceptionally 
valuable, if occasionally noisy, refuges from the relentless depredations of 
mankind at peace.
Angus Innes.


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