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C-Plan Conservation Planning System

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Pressey, R., Watts, M.E., Barrett, T., Ridges, M.

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Designed for use in




Assessment purpose

Management effectiveness, Prioritisation, Values/Services

Assessment criteria

Socio-cultural, Significance, Physical and chemical, Management and planning, Flora, Fauna

Method type



Medium-long term – Project dependent. Short term for research projects. Medium term for planning involving stakeholders.


Landscape/Catchment, Region, Site/habitat

Wetland system

Estuarine, Lacustrine, Marine, Other, Palustrine, Riverine

Description and method logic

Method purpose

C-Plan is used to assess options for achieving conservation targets and to guide decisions about areas to be protected or developed.


C-Plan is an interactive software-based decision support tool designed to work in conjunction with geographical information system (GIS) software to map options for achieving conservation targets. It is based on irreplaceability, which is a measure of the likelihood of needing a particular site in a region for achieving conservation targets. High irrepaceability values indicate few to no replacements and low values indicate many possible replacements[1].

The decision support system was first developed in 1995-6 to support Regional Forest Agreements and conservation planning in New South Wales. It has also been applied to freshwater and marine systems across the world ranging from global to local government scales. There is an interface with Marxan software.

Method logic

C-Plan allows users to map options for achieving explicit conservation targets. It also allows users to define which sites are to be placed under conservation management and generates a new pattern of options resulting from this. The main components are:
  • C-Plan functions
  • a database engine
  • GIS system[1].

The C-Plan functions consist of code that estimates irreplaceability using a statistical estimator[2], communicate between the system’s three main components, and support interactive functions related to individual sites or networks of sites and ways of selecting sites for consideration[1].

The database engine offers a formal way of storing large tabular data sets. It uses structured query language (SQL) for the selection of sites of interest, and facilitates linking C-Plan to a GIS system[1].

The GIS system currently links with ESRI to provide a graphical interface, spatial information and geoprocessing potential[1].

Criteria groupings of the method

Spatial data: site, feature (biological, physical, social, economic or other variables) and feature target (desired target or threshold for a specific feature). The range of data included in each of these inputs can be very broad.

Data required

C-Plan accepts three types of inputs:
  • Sites: areas of land or water within the study region that can be categorised in any way. This can include wetland types, riparian zones, land management areas and land use classes.
  • Features: attributes of sites that can relate to biological, physical, social, economic or other variables, including reserve conservation levels, vegetation attributes, or social values and classifications. Features that need to be considered can be added but threshold targets might not apply to all features.
  • Feature targets: the desired target or threshold for a specific feature across the planning region. This can be calculated as either a percentage of the current total amount of the feature in the study region, or specified as a user-defined amount. Targets can be static or can be altered during analysis.

Other spatial data can also be incorporated such as roads and other infrastructure.

Resources required

Expertise required

C-Plan requires experience with conservation planning and GIS software.

Materials required

C-Plan software, Microsoft operating system, GIS software and access to spatial datasets.

Method outputs


The program output comes in the form of tables, maps or diagrams used for decision support. These outputs include information on site characteristics, similar characteristics across sites, and the extent to which the conservation targets have been reached.


  • Conservation planning
  • Input to other planning processes and interfaces.
  • Marine and terrestrial applications.
  • Economic-spatial planning.
  • Land use planning.
  • Reserve design planning.
  • Resilience and disaster planning.
  • Spatial resource planning.

Criteria by category

    Physical and chemical

    • Features/feature targets
    • Sites


    • Social-cultural constraints (features/feature targets/costs of conservation)

    Management and planning

    • Feature targets
    • Features
    • Sites


    • Significant ecosystems
    • Significant features
    • Significant species


    • Conservation value
    • Distribution
    • Importance


    • Conservation value
    • Distribution
    • Importance


Recommended user

C-Plan can be used by those familiar with conservation planning concepts and GIS. The results could be useful for government agencies, natural resource managers and others.


  • Compatible with other software suites.
  • Quantitative technique.
  • Data can be displayed visually for ease of interpretation.


  • Not intended to act as a stand-alone reserve design solution, depends on the stakeholder engagement, best-practice ecological principles, scientifically defensible conservation goals and targets, and quality spatial datasets.
  • Requires considerable experimentation to produce defensible results.

Case studies



  1. ^ a b c d e Pressey, R, Watts, ME, Barrett, TW & Ridges, MJ (2009), 'The C-plan conservation planning system: origins, applications, and possible futures.', in A Moilanen, K A Wilson & H P Possingham (eds), Spatial Conservation Prioritisation: quantitative methods and computational tools. [online], Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 211-211-234. Available at:
  2. ^ Ferrier, S, Pressey, RL & Barrett, TW (2000), 'A new predictor of the irreplaceability of areas for achieving a conservation goal, its application to real-world planning, and a research agenda for further refinement', Biological Conservation. [online], vol. 93, no. 2000, pp. 303-325. Available at:
  3. Pressey, RL (1992), 'Nature Conservation in Rangelands: Lessons from Research on Reserve Selection in New South Wales', Rangeland Journal. [online], vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 214-26. Available at:
  4. Pressey, RL (1999), 'Systematic conservation planning for the real world', Parks. [online], vol. 9, no. 1, pp. 1-6. Available at:
  5. Margules, CR & Pressey, RL (2000), 'Systematic conservation planning', Nature. [online], vol. 405, pp. 243-253. Available at:

Last updated: 15 December 2020

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2020) C-Plan Conservation Planning System, WetlandInfo website, accessed 1 February 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science