Land use

The Glenelg Hopkins region is a diverse landscape, covering volcanic plains, grassy woodlands and eucalypt forests, productive Sea Country, significant rivers and extensive wetland systems. These landscapes are rich in plant and animal life that have sustained permanent settlements of Aboriginal people across the region. Physical evidence and oral traditions describing volcanic activity indicate these lands have supported human populations for at least 27,000 years1,2. Thousands of ancient and more recent Aboriginal heritage places can be found throughout the region, including scarred trees, stone arrangements, middens, rock paintings, stone house sites, mission sites, fish traps and quarries.

Aboriginal peoples and communities have retained a strong identity and connection to the traditional lands for which they have custodial rights and responsibilities. Today, the Glenelg Hopkins catchment area coincides with four Traditional Owner groups that manage the region’s unique cultural and natural values through critical initiatives such as Indigenous Protected Areas, joint-managed National Parks and private land holdings.

In 2019, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) bestowed Word Heritage Status on the Budj Bim Cultural Landscape – the first World Heritage listing of any Australian Indigenous place to be registered explicitly for its cultural values. The region also contains the National Heritage listed Gariwerd (Grampians National Park). Gariwerd is one of the best known parks in Victoria, and is recognised for its outstanding natural and cultural values.

Public land accounts for 18% of the Glenelg Hopkins land area. This includes four National Parks – Lower Glenelg (27,300 ha), Mount Richmond (4,280 ha), Cobboboonee (18,510 ha), Gariwerd (Grampians) (167,219 ha) and Budj Bim (5,470 ha) – as well as State Parks and other public land reserves. An important feature is the region’s five Indigenous Protected Areas (IPAs). Managed for biodiversity and Aboriginal cultural values, IPAs cover almost 4,000 ha and include the coastal island of Deen Maar, Tyrendarra, Framlingham Forest, Kurtonitj and Lake Condah. Private land conservation covenants, totalling around 4,400 ha, provide valuable habitat for species in areas that are poorly represented by public reserves, as well as enhancing habitat connectivity between reserves.

Since European settlement, the region has undergone extensive land clearing for agriculture and urban development. Around 83% of the original native vegetation has been cleared, and 81% of land is now farmed. Agricultural land use varies considerably across the catchment and is influenced by a range of factors including: land capability (e.g. soil type, terrain), commodity prices and access to supporting infrastructure. Major agricultural land use classes include cropping, dairy, sheep and beef production. Most regional farms are mixed operations, producing more than one agricultural commodity. Cropping, often in conjunction with sheep or cattle, is dominant in the north-east of the catchment, while dairying is dominant around Warrnambool, and in the region’s south-east. Softwood (mostly Pinus radiata) and hardwood forestry plantations are a common feature of the landscape, particularly in the western and south-west parts of the catchment.

Sheep grazing is the region’s largest land use
Photo: Summit Park Enterprises

A mozaic of land used for agriculture and conservation
Photo: Hopkins River Beef