Cross-cultural conservation planning for a threatened orchid (Arakwal National Park)

DPIE - David Young
Published: 05 January 2022
Last edited: 05 January 2022
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Arakwal National Park (NP) is a small coastal reserve in New South Wales that was created in 2001. An Indigenous Land Use Agreement formally recognises the Bundjalung People of Byron Bay (Arakwal people) as the Traditional Owners and provides for joint management with the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service (NPWS).

Although Arakwal NP is small, it contains significant cultural and ecological values including the endemic Byron Bay Graminoid Clay Health community - the only known habitat of the endangered Byron Bay Orchid (Diuris byronensis).

This species is important to the Arakwal people and is the focus for a renewed cross-cultural approach to management. NPWS managers, Arakwal rangers, Traditional Owners and scientists have been working to incorporate Indigenous and scientific knowledge and cultural priorities in management decisions for the orchid and clay heath community. In 2018 a cultural burn of the orchid’s heath habitat was done – the first in 30 years. Already there are signs of successful regeneration.


Scale of implementation
Coastal forest
Green spaces (parks, gardens, urban forests)
Marine and coastal ecosystems
Urban ecosystem and build environment
Fire management
Genetic diversity
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Indigenous people
Protected and conserved areas governance
Protected and conserved areas management planning
Science and research
Species management
Standards/ certification
Traditional knowledge
Land and Forest degradation
Loss of Biodiversity
Ecosystem loss
Invasive species
Sustainable development goals
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 12: Reducing risk of extinction
Target 18: Traditional knowledge


Arakwal National Park, Byron Bay, New South Wales 2481, Australia
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Arakwal people were at risk of losing their knowledge of, and connection with, the clay heath as many people had moved away and the focus was on other accessible areas such as Tallow Creek. Significant time and effort are required to bring people onto Country and give them the opportunity to reconnect with Country and each other, retelling important stories.

The challenge is urgent since there is a risk that the Graminoid Clay Heath and Byron Bay orchid will become extinct. Just a few hectares of clay heath remain and just a few individuals of the orchid have been recorded in recent years. In preserving this habitat and species there is a need to think beyond the species and to consider cultural connections for management to be successful.

Undertaking the cultural burn was very challenging as the clay heath is very close to urban communities, orchids had to be protected from direct fire and the burn had to be done in a cultural way.


  • Arakwal people
  • Local community
  • NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
  • Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
  • Threatened plant species and communities of Byron Bay

How do the building blocks interact?

While the Arakwal people and NPWS have already established a strong and successful partnership over many years this process made it clear that the views, knowledge and culture of Arakwal people were intended to be brought to the forefront of decision making.  Ensuring the best available knowledge -both cultural and western science - was used ensured the best chance of achieving cultural and ecological outcomes. The commitment of NPWS managers and Arakwal people to undertake the identified actions in a culturally appropriate way and monitor the results meant Arakwal people are able to look after the endangered clay heath and the orchid and demonstrate the value of these approaches to Arakwal people, NPWS and the community.


The Arakwal people have a connection with their lands and waters dating back at least 22,000 years. The ecological and cultural values of Arakwal NP are inseparable due to the strong cultural association of the Arakwal people with the area and their knowledge and use of plants and animals. Joint management has had positive outcomes for conservation, Arakwal culture, and local communities

Since 2016, Arakwal people, NPWS and CSIRO have been working together using cross-cultural approaches to identify the most important actions to rehabilitate the orchid’s habitat. These included bringing people on country, managing weeds and encroaching trees, harvesting bush tucker, communicating with neighbours and visitors, maintaining tracks and importantly, a cultural burn in the orchid habitat. These actions have been progressively implemented by park managers with the support and participation of Arakwal people. A seasonal planning calendar was developed to show how management actions are scheduled considering seasons, opportunities, weather and traditional practices.

Through this process, local Arakwal communities have had more opportunities to connect with Country, share knowledge and strengthen relationships. Arakwal rangers and community have had a stronger voice in decision making about how to care for Arakwal NP.


The Bundjalung People of Byron Bay (Arakwal people) are leaders in management of traditional lands for cultural and conservation values and have achieved a series of firsts at local, national and international levels.  Arakwal NP was the first national park in NSW created under an Indigenous Land Use Agreement that recognises Arakwal people as Traditional Owners. The international significance of this landmark agreement was recognised by IUCN Fred M. Packard Award in at the 5th World Parks Congress in South Africa.

In 2014 Arakwal National Park was the first protected area in the world to be included on the IUCN Green List of Protected and Conserved Areas (IUCN Green List) recognising the outstanding efforts of staff and managers to achieve effective and equitable management.

The collaboration between researchers, Arakwal people and NPWS provided the opportunity to focus on cultural priorities, for Arakwal community to spend more time on Country, with each other and strengthen their connection to the clay heath areas.

Senior Arakwal Traditional Owners have shared their perspectives on the benefits to Arakwal people.

We worked together to build the knowledge, agree on the actions and assess how we want to care for the Byron Bay orchid and our Country.” Norm Graham, Senior Arakwal Traditional Owner and NPWS Ranger

The ‘Threatened Species Recovery Hub Cross-cultural approaches with Arakwal people on protecting the Byron Bay orchid and its habitat’ project was an inspirational partnership. As Arakwal partners we understand about caring for Country and through this project our cultural knowledge and science was woven together to protect the orchid and its home. The highlights are we were given a real opportunity to lead with mutual respect of cultural protocols and meaningful time to discuss innovative solutions. The project empowered us to create resources and ongoing research to protect the orchid’s future.” Delta Kay, Arakwal Education Officer and Norm Graham, Arakwal Ranger, NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service.

In 2019 Arakwal NP was renominated for the IUCN Green List. Also in that year, and continuing the tradition of ‘firsts’, the CSIRO Team, Arakwal Traditional Owners and joint managers of Arakwal National Park were awarded the inaugural CSIRO medal for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Engagement for their exceptional quality of cross-cultural engagement on protecting the critically endangered orchid and its habitat.

Contributed by

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Norman Graham

Other contributors

Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation
New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service
NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service