Restoring what was lost

Funders and advocates collaborate to restore what was lost

When Erika Hoyosama watched her colleague Rob Purves rise to speak at the 2017 Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network conference in Melbourne, she had no idea what Rob was about to propose – a plan that would, in a remarkably short time, be leveraged to underpin a multi-million dollar land restoration fund in Queensland.

Rob’s commitment to what became the Tree Clearing Challenge was an idea that came to him during the first day of the AEGN conference – by the time he walked to the venue on the second day, he was clear about what he was going to say. This was not an idle piece of speculation – it was an inspired moment, delivered to a receptive audience. It came in the form of an offer – that he would contribute $1 million to support a plan to end excessive tree clearing in Australia provided the amount was matched by other donors. Within six months, 28 AEGN members had helped swell the pool to $1.5 million. On the ground, 22 community organisations became an Alliance that implemented the project. The power of the collaboration was recognised when the project, under the auspices of the Purves Environmental Fund, received the 2018 Australian Philanthropy environmental award. The judges’ citation read: “The [Tree Clearing] Challenge and the Alliance [of organisations] achieved far greater impact than if each community group and funder had worked alone.’’

Erika might have been surprised at Rob’s idea, but she certainly hasn’t been surprised at its success. “I thought it was possible,’’ she says. “It was a very important issue and… [I thought] a lot of the AEGN members would be moved by it. And not only would it impact biodiversity but also it had climate change implications too…It ticked a lot of boxes of the funders’ focus, so I thought it would really resonate with a lot of them,’’ Erika recalls.

Erika, the Purves Environmental Fund’s environment officer and company secretary, had faith that the project could achieve something notable if the different groups came together to drive a campaign. “If we had an urgent call for action and an alliance led by two major NGOs [WWF Australia and The Wilderness Society] who have really good connections with the local grassroots communities in different regions, having the right people driving it and Rob as the inspiration and the criticality of the issue [it would work],’’ she says. “I just had to put it in words and really motivate the members to co-fund with us.’’

The problem was massive: a million hectares in Queensland were cleared between 2012 and 2016. The cost to wildlife in Queensland and NSW was extensive – 50 million birds, mammals and reptiles were killed each year because of the tree clearing. One of the other impacts tree clearing had was to increase the sediment load into the rivers flowing into the Great Barrier Reef.

On that second day of the conference, Rob spoke about a three-year timeline for the Challenge. It might also have seemed like an optimistic expectation but in many ways, the result is now there to see. The campaign has helped slow down the clearing but in Erika’s words “Queensland is still a hot spot.’’ There is no room for complacency.

Central to the changes in Queensland was the Alliance’s advocacy during the 2018 State election campaign. According to Erika, the alliance pushed hard for recognition of the tree clearing issue and the broader environmental concerns. The ALP’s election victory led to reinstalling repealed revegetation management legislation and providing incentives for farmers who did the right thing under the auspices of the land restoration fund.

Significantly, the Challenge’s funding support for the Tree Clearing Alliance advocacy campaign helped deliver a $500 million Queensland government commitment to a land restoration fund. Last month, the Government announced 21 projects had secured funding from the first tranche of the fund to reduce carbon emissions, protect koalas, restore native forests, and improve water quality flowing into the Great Barrier Reef. Legislative change has also helped to save millions of hectares of Queensland’s forests and bushland. But neither Rob nor the alliance thinks the advent of the land restoration fund is the end of the story.

“The alliance continues to work in Queensland to stop massive clearing from happening,’’ Erika says. “We’re still looking at what other things we can do to stop the current trend. It definitely has slowed but it’s still happening shoulder to shoulder with [what’s going on] in the Amazon and Borneo.’’

Erika keeps in regular contact with the original Tree Challenge funders. This year’s bushfires have ensured the state of the nation’s forests and the profound impact the fires had on local environments has kept the issue at the front of funders’ mind.

“Most of the funders wouldn’t think it was over,’’ Erika says. And there are still funds available to help the alliance to adopt different strategies to keep the campaign going.


The Australian Environmental Grantmakers Network (AEGN) harnesses the power of philanthropy to help protect our environment and build a sustainable future. If you are passionate about leaving a thriving natural world for future generations, the AEGN is for you.  

We know that when philanthropy, high-quality science and powerful changemakers within our community sector work together, we can catalyse lasting positive change. 

As a membership organisation, we create a safe space for philanthropic funders to learn about the issues and solutions and share networks and funding opportunities. 

Since our establishment in 2008, the AEGN has grown to become a thriving ecosystem of 160 passionate funders. Today members have pledged an additional $32.1 million to stop tree clearing, protect the Great Barrier Reef, restore biodiversity, and address climate change.  

Together we are greater than the sum of our parts. Join us and help protect Australia’s unique natural environment for generations to come. Find out more at aegn.org.au 

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