Australia has a rich biodiversity dependent on rock formations (e.g., rocky outcrops) and associated surface rocks. Rock formations are often minor features of landscapes—analogous to small islands—but can support a wealth of threatened and endemic species. Even small formations and scattered surface rock can provide important refuge for plant communities and wildlife adapted to life on rocks. Rocky outcrops may appear resilient, but they are fragile, underappreciated ecosystems, easily degraded by human activities. The impacts of illegal rock collection on threatened plants and reptiles, such as the broad-headed snake, are well established in conservation reserves. Yet the impacts of rock removal in agricultural landscapes are poorly recognised and require urgent investigation to prevent further declines in biodiversity.
Rock removal occurred at a massive scale during European colonialisation, but that threat has not gone away. Developments in broad-acre cropping technology have triggered a resurgence in large-scale removal of surface rock from agricultural landscapes. This new wave of habitat loss associated with rock-crushing machinery could spell disaster for threatened plants and reptiles, especially isolated and range-restricted species that depend on rock formations for their survival. Whilst not illegal, the removal of bush rock is listed as a key threatening process in NSW under the Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. Broad-scale rock removal from grazing land is at odds with developments in sustainable farming practices, whereby agriculture and wildlife conservation can co-occur on the same land with mutual conservation and economic benefits. There is urgent need to develop guidelines to prevent the further degradation and removal of rock habitat in commodity production areas, and raise awareness of the ecological importance of preserving isolated rock formations across the broader landscape.