Most environmental lawyers, like ecologists, wish to see broad scale landscape change, better management of land and improved protection of remnant vegetation and threatened species. Incorporating scientific knowledge into effective strategic planning is one step. Implementing strategic planning is another, necessitating the flow of priorities into statutory planning and regulation. The translation of broad landscape scale conservation objectives on to the ground requires not only improved understanding but also active use of the legal system. The law relating to the regulation of land use and vegetation clearing, threatened species conservation and catchment management is complex, inter-dependent and dynamic. While planning was once the exclusive domain of local government, now state government natural resource agencies and catchment management bodies routinely use it to determine priorities for both regulation and investment. In this paper we explore the potential of the current system for conservation. We consider the potential of the land use planning system and argue that its role has been constrained by its history. While there is significant reform in coastal and growth areas, rural areas continue to be neglected by this system. This gap would appear to be being filled in NSW by catchment management, which has a key planning role and is grappling with the management of existing uses; and native vegetation legislation which focuses on new development.