Many ecological theories are based on the concept of patches. Patches are a useful starting point for conservation efforts, but a focus on patches alone will not always achieve desired conservation outcomes. Conservation strategies in the grazing landscapes of southeastern Australia suggest that large patches of trees are widely regarded as ‘habitat’ while other forms of habitat are largely ignored. We provide data on birds and reptiles from the Nanangroe grazing landscape that illustrate the potential habitat value of areas located between large patches of trees – that is, the matrix. Despite evidence on its potential value, present conservation strategies rarely consider the matrix. Possible reasons for this bias relate to the economics of farming and the history of land use, the current environmental law framework, and also the reluctance of ecologists to study the matrix. More scientific evidence on the role of the matrix will be crucial if conservation strategies are to consider not only patches, but entire landscapes. However, for science to be relevant to land management, there is a need for new research approaches. First, an increased consideration of environmental policy and law will increase the likelihood of scientific findings being adopted by policy makers. Second, at an applied level, more practical on-ground research into farming practices and clearer communication are necessary to achieve more sustainable matrix management in Australian grazing landscapes.