Building resilience in local communities by connection with people and the land

When we think of Landcare, our first thoughts will probably be the obvious benefits of improving the land, creating new conservation spaces and maintaining and improving existing ones.

Since its modest beginnings in 1986, across the country there are now more than 140,000 people involved in a local Landcare. That tangible connection to the land means that it is easy to default to considering the impact of Landcare in the same way, i.e. in terms of the impact on the land, whether that be numbers of trees planted; improvements in soil quality; hectares of degraded land restored; or threatened species protected. All of which are of immense value and importance.

But what about the people and the communities that make up those thousands of different Landcare groups? What if we reverse the equation to consider not just the impact of people on the land, but also the impact of caring for the land on the people that care for it? It is that question that this research, conducted pro-bono by KPMG Australia, sought to understand better.

2020 was a year of extremes – drought, bushfires, floods and a global pandemic. People have been displaced, isolated, lost their loved ones, their livelihoods, and their properties. Environmental concerns and mental health challenges have never been more complex or more evident.

The mental health benefits of being a ‘Landcarer’ are real. Almost half of participants reported clear improvements in mental health, and it appears it is the simple process of connection to people, communities and the environment that makes the difference. And it doesn’t take much. Four hours or less per month resulted in a tangible improvement in the mental wellbeing for 43 percent of participants. The resulting economic benefit in healthcare costs is conservatively $57 million and $96 million in improved productivity. But the more time you spend the bigger the benefit.

While Indigenous Australians have always understood the importance to wellbeing of connection to country, the value of community connection for everyone is inarguable.

This report demonstrates that people who are well-connected are healthier and happier and have much more opportunity to lead rich, meaningful lives. A sense of belonging and social connectedness – offering extra purpose and meaning to everyday life.

An additional benefit is the role Landcare plays in individual and community resilience, and how that in turn helps communities recover from natural disasters. Our research shows that 46 percent of survey respondents reported volunteering with Landcare led to an improvement in their mental resilience and ability to manage challenges. At a time of unprecedented natural disasters resilience is a quality in high demand.

Landcare also serves a crucial role as a source of community information – and this was by far the most commonly identified benefit of being involved in Landcare by those interviewed for this study. When asked if the advice they received through their involvement in Landcare was helpful, 93 percent of survey participants responded positively with 52 percent strongly agreeing with the statement.

In its early days, Landcare was primarily a regional organisation, a community driven response to restore degraded landscape. It soon expanded into urban and coastal areas and it is these city responders who report the most benefits. This may well be because those living in major cities have less day-to-day contact with the natural areas, and therefore derive more benefit from activities that provides them with that connection to environment.

Volunteering gives us an opportunity to learn and contribute and ultimately feel better about and within ourselves. Perhaps 2021 is the year you roll up your sleeves and contribute to your community.

KPMG has partnered with Landcare Australia for several years and we are delighted to build on our relationship by collaborating on this report in a pro bono capacity.

Read the full report.

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