Terrain NRM: 20 Years of Regional NRM delivery


18 September 2023

It has been 20 years since FNQNRM began natural resource management in the Wet Tropics. Why was it established and how have regional NRMs benefitted the environmental sector?

People might be surprised to hear that it was Coalition Prime Minister John Howard who instigated the regional delivery model for natural resource management. The framework was created to solve a problem identified in a mid-term review of the Australian Government’s Natural Heritage Trust.

The Natural Heritage Trust, funded through the sale of Telstra, invested $1.5 billion into Landcare programs in 1997. While it was a significant policy and investment, the mid-term review found the effectiveness of the program was hampered by:

  • A scatter gun approach (27 programs, thousands of small grants)
  • Not enough science behind funding decisions
  • A local approach that didn’t necessarily meet landscape needs
  • A lack of defined strategic targets
  • Limited monitoring, evaluation, and accountability
  • Limited partnerships and cooperation.

As a result, a new concept of ‘regional delivery’ was proposed to tackle landcare issues from a landscape perspective, invest at a regional scale, work collaboratively, build capacity in local communities and enhance knowledge and information.

A network of 56 NRM organisations was set up around the country, with 14 of them in Queensland (now 12). Geographical boundaries were determined by catchments. One of the key reasons for the framework was recognition that each region had its own unique challenges that needed tailored landscape-scale strategies to be effectively managed.

In the Wet Tropics, FNQNRM Inc was established to cover the nine catchments from the Daintree to the Herbert. The business name Terrain NRM was adopted in 2006.

Different organisations, same philosophy

The organisational structure of the original 56 regional NRM organisations varied around the nation. In Queensland they were set up as independent not-for-profit companies. In some of the other states they were attached to local or state governments.

Terrain's 20 year anniversary

While every regional organisation is different, it has the same underlying values – being strategic, integrated, collaborative and scientific. NRM organisations work across all landscapes and focus on bringing people together to share knowledge and work towards common goals.

In real terms, funding has declined during the 20 years of regional NRM delivery. But the framework’s role is as important as ever. We know from 20 years of experience that strategic, coordinated, and integrated solutions are the key to effective landscape management. We need holistic planning and decision making – something that regional NRM organisations excel in delivering.

Benefits of regional NRMs

  • Capability to deliver large and complex projects.
  • A wide network of stakeholders across the region and across productive landscapes, conservation landscapes and First Nations landscapes.
  • Collaborative partnerships.
  • Strategic actions with effective planning leading to a better return on investment.
  • Custodians of regional community-owned NRM plans.
  • Support for sustainable economic development.
  • A balanced focus on environmental, economic, and social outcomes.


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