• McCormack Family, ‘Red Hill’& ‘Mt Henry’

    A Family Vision

    FARM FACTS

    Farmers: Tom and Perry, James and Natasha McCormack
    Location: Crookwell, NSW
    Property size: Red Hill 670 hectares, Mt Henry 405ha
    Enterprises: Self replacing Merino/first cross ewe flock, prime lambs, cattle trading
    Annual rainfall: 800 millimetres

    Part 1: 

    Part 2: 

    Caring for the land and farming sustainably are key drivers for the McCormack family on their long-held property Red Hill, at Crookwell, NSW. Catherine McCormack and her children settled the property Red Hill in 1863, and Tom and his wife Perry, along with their son James, his wife Natasha and their children Tara, Marnie and Finn, are now the fourth, fifth and sixth generations to live and farm on the property.

    Three generations of the McCormack family live at Red Hill, near Crookwell, which was settled in 1863. Back: Tom, James and Finn McCormack. Front: Perry, Marnie, Tara and Natasha McCormack.

    Three generations of the McCormack family live at Red Hill, near Crookwell, which was settled in 1863. Back: Tom, James and Finn McCormack. Front: Perry, Marnie, Tara and Natasha McCormack.

    Red Hill is 670 hectares, while Mt Henry, which was purchased in 2009 to add to their holdings, is 405ha. The McCormack family run about 4,500 sheep including a self-replacing Merino flock and a first cross ewe flock joined to Poll Dorset rams for prime lambs.  Cattle are also traded depending on the market and season.

    After the success of their Landcare efforts on Red Hill, assisted by Envirofund grants and support through Greening Australia’s GreenGrid project, a long-term partnership with TransGrid, the McCormack family were keen to continue this work at Mt Henry.  Becoming involved in the new Rivers of Carbon initiative has enabled the repair of some significantly eroded gullies on Mt Henry to begin.

    After the success of some of their Landcare efforts on their Crookwell property, Tom and James McCormack were keen to continue the rehabilitation work.

    After the success of some of their Landcare efforts on their Crookwell property, Tom and James McCormack were keen to continue the rehabilitation work.

    “The gullies have eroded in the past 50 years and in some places the drop into them is 20 feet which is dangerous. This was the big motivator for us to get involved to ensure the land didn’t get any worse; if we left it for too long the erosion would start creeping up the hills and taking away more viable, productive country,” James said.

    “Repairing the land and reversing the damage is very important to us, we want to farm sustainably, drought proof and continually improve both Red Hill and Mt Henry,” he said.

    Tree corridors

    The McCormack family’s passion for trees started with Tom, who began planting shelter belts in the 1980s, despite having spent time as a young man pulling out trees with his father.  Initially, the tree-runs were self-funded but then Tom became involved in Landcare and was able to access funding which he embraced.

    Tom has become a passionate advocate for planting trees. About 80 per cent of the tree runs on the McCormack family farm, Red Hill, link up creating vegetation and wildlife corridors.

    Tom has become a passionate advocate for planting trees. About 80 per cent of the tree runs on the McCormack family farm, Red Hill, link up creating vegetation and wildlife corridors.

    Tom started by fencing off small pockets of land, 2-3ha, in corners of paddocks or along paddock boundaries to join the tree runs throughout the property. About 80 per cent of the tree runs on Red Hill link up creating vegetation and wildlife corridors. Initially, the tree runs were only about five metres wide with one to two rows of trees but now the corridors have been widened up to 30 metres with four or five lines of trees in them, with at least four metre spacings between trees.

    “It is not so much the loss of the land but the cost of the time and infrastructure needed to do it. An average tree run costs approximately $15,000 to fence and establish which is a lot of money when it is self-funded,” Tom said.

    “We are doing this work for livestock shelter, the environment and aesthetics andmost importantly to leave the land in a better way for the next generation,” he said.

    “I think trees are beautiful and an important part of our landscape.”

    Tom has become a passionate advocate for planting trees. About 80 per cent of the tree runs on the McCormack family farm, Red Hill, link up creating vegetation and wildlife corridors.

    Tom has become a passionate advocate for planting trees. About 80 per cent of the tree runs on the McCormack family farm, Red Hill, link up creating vegetation and wildlife corridors.

    According to Tom, although widening the tree run has taken more land, it has been more productive, as they have observed better tree survival rates, improved ground cover between the trees and increased numbers of small bird species in the tree runs because there is more cover.  Red Hill comprises a mix of native and improved pastures including Ryegrass, Cocksfoot, Phalaris and Microlaena (Weeping Grass).

    A special aeration machine, called an Aerway, is used to prepare the ground before planting tubestock. This system inserts lots of small holes into the soil (as an alternative to traditional rip lines) which keeps soil disturbance at a minimum, reduces compaction and allows a full profile of water to sit in the holes after rain events with minimal runoff.

    The McCormack’s have trialled direct seeding, but have had better success with tubestock, as the species planted can be controlled. A variety of Eucalyptus species are planted along the outside of the tree run including Yellow Box (Euclyptus melliodora), Stringybark (E. obliqua), Peppermint Box (E. odorata) and She-oaks (Casuarina equisetifolia), while short-lived species such as Wattles and Bottlebrushes are planted in the centre.

    Repairing the gullies

    At Red Hill, the McCormack’s were able to access money through Envirofund to fence off several gullies which were eroding and to construct erosion control contour banks and dams. The areas have been revegetated and stock have been excluded. After the success of this project, the McCormack family decided to get involved with the Rivers of Carbon project which is focused on two severely eroded gullies at Mt Henry.

    Becoming involved in the Rivers of Carbon project has enabled the repair of some severely eroded gullies on the McCormack’s property Mt Henry, which they purchased in 2009.

    Becoming involved in the Rivers of Carbon project has enabled the repair of some severely eroded gullies on the McCormack’s property Mt Henry, which they purchased in 2009.

    “The benefits at Red Hill have been significant as the land is healing, and we were keen to keep this work going at Mt Henry too, as part of the process of repairing the land,” James said.

    “In 2010 we had over 1000mm, which took its toll on the gully and the land around it,” he said.

    “It was disturbing to see it changing in front of your eyes, we could really see the damage it was doing and how important it was to control the water and stock.”

    Earthworks have been completed at the head of the gullies, including two dams and several contour banks to better manage the water and slow it down.  Pipes have been laid in the dam walls to take the overflow water onto the bedrock of the gully floor when the dams are full. Pipes have also been placed in the contour banks for water control and to prevent breakouts.

    As part of the Rivers of Carbon project, earthworks have been completed at the head of the gullies on Mt Henry, including two dams and several contour banks to slow the flow of water.

    As part of the Rivers of Carbon project, earthworks have been completed at the head of the gullies on Mt Henry, including two dams and several contour banks to slow the flow of water.

    “We will also place timber at the head of the gullies to slow the water flow down and disperse the water as it hits them,” James said.

    The gullies have been fenced off, stock excluded from the fragile ground and plans are underway to revegetate the areas during Spring 2013. The riparian zone has been fenced widely to ensure sufficient area for revegetation.Tom has been researching different species to plant both in the gullies to stabilise the banks and revegetate the areas beside the gullies. A mix of native species which is adapted to the local area will be chosen and planted as tubestock.

    The gullies at Mt Henry have been fenced off, stock has been excluded and plans are underway to revegetate the areas during Spring 2013.

    The gullies at Mt Henry have been fenced off, stock has been excluded and plans are underway to revegetate the areas during Spring 2013.

    “I have been looking at a range of small shrub species down in the gullies and other assorted tree and shrub species around the edges of the gullies and outwards,” Tom said.

    “Mt Henry is predominantly native grasses which are already established which will do a great job as  ground cover while the trees get established, we don’t want to use sprays and certainly don’t want any soil disturbance,” he said.

    “We want to continue with our work and it will be ongoing but you have to have the funding to provide incentives to do the project. We are at the top of the catchment for the Lachlan River and the headwaters of the Wyangala Dam so it benefits all water users. We want to keep the soil on our property and not have it washed away.”

    Follow the progress of the farmers involved in the Rivers of Carbon project through regular updates on the project’s website – www.riversofcarbon.org.au.

    Kylie-Nicholls-HeadshotThis story was written by Kylie Nicholls (right) in collaboration with the farmers.

    You can download a PDF copy here.

    FURTHER INFORMATION

    Tom and James McCormack – redhill2@activ8.net.au

    Rivers of Carbon Project Managers

    Siwan Lovett – siwan.lovett@arrc.com.au
    Lori Gould – lgould@act.greeningaustralia.org

  • Jane and David Major, ‘Yurrah’

    A passion for trees

    FARM FACTS

    Farmers: Jane and David Major
    Location:  Yass, NSW
    Property size: 330 hectares
    Enterprise: Self replacing Merino flock
    Annual rainfall: 650 millimetres

    Part 1: 

    Part 2:

    A passion for trees and the environment has been the impetus for change for Yass fine wool growers Jane and David Major.

    The name of their grazing property is ‘Yurrah’, which means place of trees. Since buying their 330 hectare farm 14 years ago, the Majors’ goal has been to improve the landscape through individual tree plantings, creating shelter belts, and protecting riparian vegetation.

    Building on earlier work they completed through funding from Greening Australia, Jane and David have become involved in the Rivers of Carbon project. This has allowed them to fence off a significant stretch of Yass River frontage on their farm to rehabilitate the riparian area and use more grazing land for stock.

    Becoming involved in the Rivers of Carbon project has allowed Yass farmers David and Jane Major to fence off a stretch of river frontage to rehabilitate the riparian area and provide more grazing for their stock.

    Becoming involved in the Rivers of Carbon project has allowed Yass farmers David and Jane Major to fence off a stretch of river frontage to rehabilitate the riparian area and provide more grazing for their stock.

    “There were several motivating factors for us getting involved in the Rivers of Carbon project, the first being we wanted to protect the waterways and provide a habitat for all the wildlife which lives along the river corridor, “ Jane said.

    “We have such incredible bird-life, including Wedge-Tailed Eagles, Crimson Rosellas, Little Thornbills, Finches and the Scarlet Robin, along with the most beautiful little Rock Wallabies who all live in the river area – the river is such a real living thing,” she said.

    “Our second motivation was purely practical and production-focused.  We can now graze the area which is fenced off from the river, providing  more pasture for our sheep.  The grazing also helps keep weeds under control.”

    Carbon credits were in the mix of factors, but not a high priority, as Jane believes the science and funding arrangements are still unclear.

    Repairing the land

    The Majors currently run a self-replacing flock of 700 Merino ewes, producing 17 micron wool.  The farm has a mix of native and introduced pasture species including Microlaena, Wallaby Grass, Poa, bothriocola macra (red-leg grass), themeda, phalaris, various clovers and cocksfoot.

    When they first bought the farm, there were few paddock trees left unscathed after a lerp attack during drought.  There was also evidence of a fire at some stage which had destroyed a lot of trees.

    A love of trees and the natural environment is a focus for David and Jane Major on their Yass fine-wool growing property Yurrah.

    A love of trees and the natural environment is a focus for David and Jane Major on their Yass fine-wool growing property Yurrah.

    According to Jane, there was little diversity in the remaining trees with Red Gum (Eucalyptus blakelyi) comprising about 85%, Yellow Box (E. melliodora) 10%, and Red and Grey Box (E. polyanthemos and E. microcarpa) 5%.  Sheep grazing had also limited tree regeneration.

    “We have always been very interested in trees, and when we arrived here we felt we needed to get more trees back into the landscape,” Jane said.

    The Majors have established small plantations across the farm to assist in erosion control, help regenerate degraded areas, provide shelter for sheep, and create habitat for birds and other wildlife.  The shelterbelts are available to graze in dry times. They have also planted individual paddock trees, and will continue this work throughout their farm.

    Jane estimates there are about 20-25 different species of Eucalypts growing on Yurrah now, including tree species endemic to the area such as Yellow Box (E. melliodora) and Red Box (E. polyanthemos), as well as  other introduced native species such as Yellow Gum (E. leucoxylon), a frost hardy Sydney Blue Gum (E. saligna), Tasmanian Blue Gum (E. globulus), Argyle Apple (E. cinerea), Ribbon Gum (E. viminalis), Mealy Bundy (E. nortonii), Willow Gum (E. scoparia), Apple Box (E. bridgesiana) and the Candlebark (E. rubida). They have also reintroduced a local Kurrajong species.

    “Look after the land and it will look after you, is a principle a lot of people use. European farming practices have damaged the Australian landscape causing long-lasting changes to soil structure and compaction, and contributing to topsoil loss and erosion.  Our goal is to improve our landscape through tree and shrub plantings, not just in shelter belts but through the paddocks as well.” Jane said.

    “We are also interested in introducing exotic trees, such as some of the oak species found in the Mediterranean (Quercus macrocarpa and Quercus canariensis), and North America (Quercus palustris), that we feel are suited to planting in this environment.

    Healthy rivers

    Funding through the Rivers of Carbon initiative has allowed Jane and David to fence off approximately two kilometres of Yass River frontage, providing protection for riparian vegetation and improved grazing management.

    Originally, the river paddock totalled about 40ha, and flooding had always caused problems with the loss of flood gates, leaving livestock free to wander off down the river. For ease of management the Majors seldom grazed the river paddock resulting in wasted pasture and increased weeds.

    The river was fenced off during November 2012 and, as part of the Rivers of Carbon project funding, alternative water sources were provided, enabling the Majors to build two dams.  The fence has been erected away from the flood zone above the high water mark, following the contours of the land and allowing for practical considerations such as access.  The fence has 9-wires, 8 plain and 1 barbed wire running along the top.

    The fencing approach used along the river. The bottom plain wire lines are spaced closely together to help prevent wombats from damaging the fence.

    “We have tried to ensure the river corridor and riparian area is quite large, and as it has not been grazed for the past five years, there has been some regeneration of native shrub and tree species including Tea-tree, River Red Gums and Acacias. It will be interesting to watch how it comes back now it has been fenced off,” Jane said.

    “Fencing the river off has a range of production benefits, as we now have an adjoining paddock which can be accessed again. Being able to graze this paddock will also assist in keeping the weeds under control, as we found they were taking over without any grazing pressure,” she said.

    Now the river corridor has been fenced off, Jane is looking forward to monitoring the regeneration of the native trees and shrubs in the riparian area.

    Now the river corridor has been fenced off, Jane is looking forward to monitoring the regeneration of the native trees and shrubs in the riparian area.

    There are some issues with weeds along the riparian area, including Paterson’s Curse, St John’s Wort and blackberry infestations. The blackberries are sprayed using a helicopter during December and January.

    Crack Willow is also a significant problem, as branches that break off can become embedded in the river bank downstream and take root. It is a very invasive weed that flourishes in riparian areas. Due to access difficulties for large excavating machinery on Yurrah, each tree must be treated individually using stem injection.

    “Lori Gould from Greening Australia has suggested coordinating with neighbouring farms to provide a whole river approach to managing the Crack Willow, starting upstream and working down.  This is a project which is in the pipeline.”

    Ongoing management of the site will include weed and feral animal control, which will facilitate regeneration of remnant vegetation and help preserve the riparian environment.

    Kylie-Nicholls-HeadshotThis story was written by Kylie Nicholls (right) in collaboration with the farmers.

    FURTHER INFORMATION:

    Rivers of Carbon Project Managers

    Siwan Lovett – siwan.lovett@arrc.com.au
    Lori Gould – lgould@act.greeningaustralia.org

  • Allan Munns,’Suffolk Vale’

    Corporate conservation

    FARM FACTS

    Farmer: MH Premium Farms
    Location: Boorowa, NSW
    Property size: Suffolk Vale 2185 hectares, Springfield 2858ha
    Enterprises: Composite prime lambs, Angus and Hereford cross cattle
    Annual rainfall: 625 millimetres

    Part 1: 

    Part 2: 

    Sustainable production and environmental responsibility are priorities for investment company MH Premium Farms, who own Suffolk Vale and Springfield, a prime lamb operation at Boorowa, NSW.

    As part of the Rivers of Carbon project, a five kilometre stretch of the Boorowa River which runs through Suffolk Vale has been fenced off and will be revegetated.

    As part of the Rivers of Carbon project, a five kilometre stretch of the Boorowa River which runs through Suffolk Vale has been fenced off and will be revegetated.

    According to farm manager Allan Munns, MH Premium Farms decided to become involved in the new Rivers of Carbon project because they felt they had a responsibility to be proactive about managing the environment and protecting their on-farm resources. A five kilometre stretch of the Boorowa River runs through Suffolk Vale. Speaking about the project Allan said:

    “It also fits with our production goals of reducing labour costs and improving stock management. Fencing off creeks and riparian areas has provided significant cost savings in running our farms.

    The stock losses were time consuming and these days you don’t have the labour to be always fixing flood gates or getting stock back from neighbouring properties or across the river.”

    “The Rivers of Carbon project provided the incentive and the company was more than happy to get right into it.”

    MH Premium Farms manager Allan Munns and his son Fergus on the banks of the Boorowa River at Suffolk Vale, Boorowa, NSW. According to Allan, the company decided to get involved in the Rivers of Carbon project to better manage the environment and improve their production goals.

    MH Premium Farms manager Allan Munns and his son Fergus on the banks of the Boorowa River at Suffolk Vale, Boorowa, NSW. According to Allan, the company decided to get involved in the Rivers of Carbon project to better manage the environment and improve their production goals.

    Sustainable production

    Suffolk Vale and Springfield total 5043 hectares and run a commercial sheep breeding operation comprising 10,000 composite breeding ewes along with a herd of 650 Angus and Hereford cross cattle. They aim to finish off about 12,000 prime lambs per year.

    The pasture is a mix of native perennial grass species including Bothriocloa (Red Grass), Microlaeana (Weeping Grass) and Stipa sp (Spear Grass), and improved perennial pastures such as Phalaris, Cocksfoot, Sub Clovers and Lucerne. This area is also home to a range of significant bird species including the Superb Parrot.

    Involvement in the Rivers of Carbon project builds on earlier work completed at Springfield, where a two kilometre stretch of the Pudman Creek was fenced off and revegetated. The Pudman Creek is home to the endangered native fish species, the Southern Pygmy Perch.

    At Suffolk Vale, the riparian area fenced off covers the entire 5km (50ha) section along the Boorowa River which is a permanent water source. Local fencing contractors completed the fencing in 2013. Materials were funded through Rivers of Carbon and the landholder provided the labour. This included fencing, off- river watering for stock and tubestock.

     “The river corridor has been fenced wide enough to prevent the fence being lost if the river floods, we have also fenced it according to the contours of the land which will provide areas where we’ll carry out some revegetation,” Allan said.

    “There is also enough remnant riparian vegetation existing in patches along the river which will enable natural regeneration of reeds, shrubs, grasses and trees,” he said.

    Revegetation focus

    At Springfield, a ‘shotgun’ mix of native species was used to revegetate the riparian areas and only the River Red Gums survived so the revegetation at Suffolk Vale will be more tailored.

    Some of the proposed tree species include River Red Gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), Yellow Box (E. melliodora), Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi) and Apple Box, along with several different varieties of Acacias, Bottlebrushes and Tea-Trees, all of which are found in the local areas. Managing ground cover will also be a priority to assist with regeneration of native grasses to reduce erosion.

    “We want to focus on improving the water quality, so we need to get the ground cover and trees established, this will stabilise the banks and encourage regeneration, but now that it has been fenced off, I think a lot of natural regeneration will happen anyway,” he said.

    The project provides alternative water sources for livestock and troughs are currently being installed along with another 3.5km of poly pipe to access the river water. Three dams will also be dug this year with a further three to be completed during the next year. According to Allan, the mix of troughs and dams will provide sufficient water for livestock.

    “We have a combination of bore water and surface water, so the additional water sources will fit with the system Suffolk Vale has in place already.

    “We are installing the water troughs on the paddock ridges away from the river which will encourage the sheep to graze the paddocks more evenly and not put so much pressure on lower lying areas of the paddocks nearer to the river,” Allan said.

    Some of the fences have been placed so they can be used as laneways to allow access to the sheep and cattle yards.

    Ongoing management of the project site will include crack willow control and strategic crash grazing to manage fire fuel and enhance biodiversity. Site monitoring will be carried out by Greening Australia using photo points and the Rapid Assessment of Riparian Condition tool.

    Follow the progress of the farmers involved in the Rivers of Carbon project through regular updates on the project’s website – www.riversofcarbon.org.au.

    Kylie-Nicholls-HeadshotThis story was written by Kylie Nicholls (right) in collaboration with the farmers.

    You can download a PDF copy here.

    FURTHER INFORMATION

    Allan Munns – allan.munns@mhpremiumfarms.com.au

    Rivers of Carbon Project Managers

    Siwan Lovett – siwan.lovett@arrc.com.au
    Lori Gould – lgould@act.greeningaustralia.org

  • Margie Fitzpatrick, ‘Australind’

    Taking a Holistic Approach

    FARM FACTS

    Farmer: Margie Fitzpatrick
    Location: Goulburn, NSW
    Property size: 1500 hectares
    Enterprises: Self replacing Merino flock, Angus cattle
    Annual rainfall: 650 millimetres

    Part 1: 

    Part 2: 

    Taking a holistic approach to managing her Goulburn farm has helped Margie Fitzpatrick to focus on creating a sustainable, productive future for her family.  Several of Margie’s holistic goals for her farm include 100 per cent ground cover with diverse desirable grasses, numerous trees and shrubs creating shelter for stock, wildlife and pasture and accessible infrastructure for optimum grazing impact.

    Goulburn farmer Margie Fitzpatrick’s holistic vision for her property Australind, includes healthy waterways, dams and creeks and she is well on the way to achieving these goals through her involvement in the new Rivers of Carbon project.

    Goulburn farmer Margie Fitzpatrick’s holistic vision for her property Australind, includes healthy waterways, dams and creeks and she is well on the way to achieving these goals through her involvement in the new Rivers of Carbon project.

    “I would like the land to absorb and retain water and nutrients for solar, mineral and water cycles to be effective in achieving my goals,” she said.

    Another key component of Margie’s vision is healthy dams, creeks and waterways and her involvement in the new Rivers of Carbon initiative, along with previous work through Greening Australia and the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority (CMA), means she is well on the way to achieving positive outcomes for water quality, biodiversity, production benefits and carbon sequestration.

    “When I was 17, I remember walking with my mum through the landscape particularly on the river and riparian areas and noticing how damaged the soil had become and I thought how am I going to repair the damage to this landscape?” she said.

    “When I was finally in a position to act on my ideas I sourced any available funding and support from the groups ready to help people like me as I knew I couldn’t do it alone.”

    “My vision is to see a vibrant and healthy landscape with diverse flora, fauna, soil microbiology and waterways. It is a lot to aim for, I know, and it will take time, “Margie said.

    “Australind is situated at one of the highest points of the Lachlan catchment so runoff begins here. I feel an incredible responsibility to act with thought and care and I am honoured to be part of a community dynamic aiming to restore health to the land.”

    Pioneering family

    Margie’s family settled the property, called Australind, in 1860. The farm is 1500 hectares, running a self-replacing flock of 3,000 Merino ewes and 30 head of Angus cattle. The annual rainfall is 650 millimetres.   Margie grew up in Goulburn, but her mother Dorothy acquired the farm in the late 1970’s but by then Margie was pursuing a career as an artist. In 1988 she married a school teacher Michael Lipscomb and they made their home at South Hill, a 32ha property just outside Goulburn, raising two children, Andrew now 22 and Emma, now 18.

    “At that stage my mother was still running Australind but taught Michael how to run Merinos. From there he developed such an interest in farming he eventually took over the running of Australind after my mother passed away from cancer,” Margie said.

    “For the next 13 years he drove out to the farm every day but due to the droughts of the 90’s and early 2000’s we decided to sell South Hill and make the move to Australind.”

    Sadly, Michael passed away from cancer nine months after the move but Margie made the decision to stay on the farm and create a home and lifestyle for her and her children.

    Holistic vision

    Margie started studying holistic management about three years ago and is now putting it into practice on her farm. According to Margie, Holistic Management is a decision-making process which is based on three factors; people, finances and ecology. These factors need to be weighed up with every on-farm decision and tested against the context of your holistic goals.

    Margie_1

    “Changing management practices is to me about getting people on board who are supportive of change. This has been a challenge for me but having done Holistic Management with the late George Gundry and Paul Griffiths, I am finding that going through a process of learning with other people has helped me enormously,” she said.

    Margie now runs Australind with her farm manager, Allan Crain from WaggaWagga, NSW.

    “I think holistic management resonates with women’s natural thinking, however the process of creating a grazing chart was, at the start, quite challenging,” admits Margie.

    But I can now see the practicalities of knowing how much fodder you have at the beginning of a season. This helps you to budget stocking rates, finances and grass, it also helps to minimise pasture damage as well as enabling you to better manage a drought,” she said.

    “I have always been interested in ecology rather than animals but the Holistic Management course shifted my thinking to realising the animals are not only grown for production but are a key component to restoring harmony to the land by stimulating biology through the impact of timed herd grazing.”

    Margie and Allan will implement a time management grazing plan after lambing in September running animals in larger mobs for shorter periods of time across the farm.

    Margie is also a practicing artist inspired by the natural environment around her. She has exhibited her paintings widely and for 13 years was the designer for the Southern District exhibit at the Sydney Royal Easter Show.

    “Art is a form of expression for me to help create my vision into reality. The land inspires me and in turn the paintings reflect back to me what I want to see.”

    Margie’s art is inspired by the land around her.

    Riparian Rehabilitation

    Margie started rehabilitating a creek on Australind during 2007 with funding from the Lachlan CMA and Greening Australia.  The creek, known as Nanny’s Creek, was fenced off incorporating a wide riparian area and revegetated with a mix of native species endemic to the region.

    “There were a lot of eroded and scalded areas so we tackled the problem by spreading 346 round bales of pasture hay and straw over two large sites. This was very successful with ground cover of plant material taking hold but it very labour intensive and expensive,” Margie said.

    Margie received a grant as part of the Rivers of Carbon project to link areas of native vegetation with previously rehabilitated sites to form intact riparian corridors and stabilise eroding gullies.  The work will focus on fencing off 48ha of very eroded and degraded areas on a steep seepage site which incorporates patches of native remnant vegetation and several underground springs. The steep slope and lack of vegetation has caused serious erosion damage over the years.

    With funding from Greening Australian and the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority, Margie fenced off this riparian area during 2007 and spread hay bales on the eroded areas during 2012 to act as a mulch and encourage the establishment of some ground cover.

    With funding from Greening Australian and the Lachlan Catchment Management Authority, Margie fenced off this riparian area during 2007 and spread hay bales on the eroded areas during 2012 to act as a mulch and encourage the establishment of some ground cover.

    About two kilometres has been fenced off using six lines of plain wire with one line of barb wire on the top. An alternate water supply is being constructed by placing a tank on the nearby hill, a solar batter operated pump will deliver water to the tank which will then gravity feed to troughs installed in the two areas this project has created.

    The Rivers of Carbon project is located on a steep seepage site which is severely eroded. It has been fenced off and will be revegetated with native tree and shrub species endemic to the region.

    The Rivers of Carbon project is located on a steep seepage site which is severely eroded. It has been fenced off and will be revegetated with native tree and shrub species endemic to the region.

    “This will allow us to make further use of this mobile water to create even smaller areas for more intensive grazing in the future,” Margie said.

    Margie Fitzpatrick, not only a great land manager but a wonderful artist as well.

    A mix of native species, both trees and shrubs, endemic to the area will be direct seeded throughout the riparian area in Spring 2013. Some of the main species include River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), Yellow box (E. melliodora), Blakely’s Red Gum (E. blakelyi), Red Stringybark (E. macrorhyncha), Silver Wattle (Acacia dealbata), Lightwood (Acacia implexa), Black Wattle (Acacia mearnsii), Prickly Tea Tree (Leptospermum continentale) and Purple Coral Pea (HardenbergiaViolacea).

    In the future Margie plans to graze the riparian areas for short times, allowing animal impact to stimulate biology which will enhance the recovery of the ground cover, but the trees will need to establish themselves first.

    Margie is focused on improving the grazing management and ensuring there is sufficient competition from the perennials and more desirable plants to thrive outcompeting the weeds.  Australind comprises a mix of native grasses such as Microlaeana, Danthonia, Kangaroo Grass, Poa and Stipa grasses and introduced pasture species such as Cocksfoot, Phalaris and various Clovers.

    Margie is looking forward to monitoring the progress in the riparian areas and watching the land recover.  As the waterways start to reed up, plenty of frogs are already making their home at Australind, and she is hoping to see increased biodiversity in the riparian areas.  There is also a large variety of bird species found on the farm, including the rare Superb Parrot whose survival Margie hopes will be assured with the protection of their habitat and creation of native vegetation corridors.

    “Carbon credits have played a major role in my thinking, but it has come indirectly as a part of a process and awakening of what this whole idea of sequestering carbon means, I can see the benefits of encouraging farmers to keep going and be committed to change as it will make a huge difference in our atmosphere if we can all do our bit to get the carbon back into the ground,” Margie said.

    “The other main drivers for doing this is about creating wealth for the land, if you have this, you have biodiversity in wildlife, birdlife and plant life and for people as well it is a win-win scenario,” she said.

    “Living a quality life now while working on leaving Australind a better place for my children and their children’s future is what I aim for.”

    Margie believes carbon farming and gaining carbon credits in the future may be a way of further supporting farmers and their intellectual knowledge and experience in repairing and producing from the land.

    Ongoing monitoring of the project site will be carried out by Greening Australia using the Rapid Assessment of Riparian Condition tool and photo points. Margie will be responsible for maintenance of fences, removal of tubestock guards, weed control and stock management.

    Follow the progress of the farmers involved in the Rivers of Carbon project through regular updates on the project’s website – www.riversofcarbon.org.au.

    Kylie-Nicholls-HeadshotThis story was written by Kylie Nicholls (right) in collaboration with the farmers.

    You can download a PDF copy here.

    FURTHER INFORMATION

    Margie Fitzpatrick – margiefitz1@gmail.com

    Rivers of Carbon Project Managers

    Siwan Lovett – siwan.lovett@arrc.com.au
    Lori Gould – lgould@act.greeningaustralia.org

  • Restoring Peniup Creek in South-West Western Australia

    Diverse Carbon Plantings are helping to restore Peniup Creek

    Restoration occurs one tree, one paddock, one creek at a time, but this must happen across many paddocks and kilometres of creek and river frontages. Scale is so important. Restoration must meet the scale of degradation caused by over clearing and the massive demands of agriculture.  To match the scale of degradation, a commercial scale solution is needed. Carbon markets (globally and nationally) have the potential to provide commercial scale restoration of degraded catchments. Such potential is being tested in the southern corner of the West Australian wheat belt.

    2_wheatbelt-WA

    West Australian wheatbelt with National Park in the background.

    The story begins with an engrossing vision:

    “Reconnected country across south-western Australia, from the Karri forest of the SW corner to the woodlands and mallee bordering the Nullarbor plain, in which ecosystem function and biodiversity are restored and maintained.”

    This community based vision and network of diverse organisations is showing how restoration can be accomplished at scale.

    Tapping into the carbon market is one strategy that started back in the mid 2000s. At that time Greening Australia and Bush Heritage Australia, with assistance from a diversity of philanthropic donors, including The Nature Conservancy, purchased a handful of farm properties between the Stirling Ranges National Park and the Fitzgerald River National Park, all within the a globally significant Biodiversity Hotspot (see map below).

    EC14063_Fb

    A globally recognized biodiversity hotspot: mallee landscape within the Fitzgerald River–Stirling Range area.
    Credit: Jessica Wyld, as seen in ECOS Magazine

    Both organisations took on the monumental task of restoring thousands of hectares of degraded farmland within the Pallinup River catchment, including the Peniup and Carackerup Creeks.  Greening Australia pursued the emerging Australian carbon market with vigour, and managed to secure early funding from commercial companies seeking voluntary carbon offsets. More recently Greening Australia has secured funding from the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund which is part of the Clean Energy Future Plan. This funding is supporting restoration of over 800 ha on the Peniup property with frontage onto Peniup Creek.

    gondwana map

    Restoration of a remarkable diversity of woodlands commenced in 2008 (see Jonson 2010). A key challenge was to figure out what plants should go where.  This is an ancient landscape that has long been above the dramatic sea level changes of the past 20 million years and only affected by the aridity of past ice ages.  There has been millions of years of landscape evolution forming a fine scale patch work of soils upon which a diversity of plants have evolved into an intergrade of woodland communities. In this part of WA there is often Yate woodlands (Eucalyptus occidentalis) on upper slopes growing on laterite gravels.  This woodland transitions downslope into a variety of mallee communities with a diversity of understory and midstory shrubs and acacias.  Drainage lines and flats are different yet again, including the reappearance of Yate.  Greening Australia, through the dedication of Justin Jonson, pulled out 100 soil cores to help map where these markedly different woodlands ought to be placed across paddocks obliterated by clearing and 50 years of wheat and sheep.  This wasn’t a ‘mixed-soup’ approach, where just one seed mixture of species was spread across the initial 250 ha of restoration.  Rather, Justin mixed and carefully applied 9 different seed mixtures, each to a specific soil type, slope or drainage.

    The next scaling up challenge was seeding technology.  The traditional single row direct-seeder towed by a ute couldn’t cover enough acreage during the short winter planting season. Instead Justin modified traditional wheat planting machinery by placing five ‘scalping’ blades in front of the planting tynes.  These blades are needed to scalp off about 3 cm of top soil that is full of weed seeds and excess nutrients built up over decades of applying crop fertilisers.  With the combination of this modified wheat seeder and a modest sized tractor, Justin was able to sow up to 14 ha in a long day.  He used a quite low seeding rate with the aim of creating a ‘stipple’ of woody natives across the various slopes and soils, rather than dense linear belts that often form with single row direct-seeders.

    Justin Jonson with direct seeder

    Justin Jonson and his colleagues modified this wheat planter to directly sow a large diversity of native trees and shrubs, five rows at a time.

    As this was a project contracted to delivery carbon credits to the funders, Greening Australia also brought in teams of tree planters to establish widely spaced eucalypt trees along side and within the belts of direct seeding.  Nursery grown seedling were used as ‘insurance’ to ensure that there was a minimum of long live green carbon established in an environment where direct seeding can succeed or fail on the timing of a single rainfall event.

    Since then a collaboration of Australian National University, University of Western Australia and Greening Australia has been monitoring the challenges and successes of such restoration at such a large scale.  We started on our hands and knees counting tiny seedlings establishing from the direct seeding.  Many of which died during the ‘bottleneck’ of the first hot and dry summer.  But in places initial seedling mortality was compensated by new seedlings emerging 2-3 years after the seeds were first sown.  Each year the monitoring gets easier as we track over 2000 fast growing individual trees and shrubs within 42 permanent sampling plots distributed across the major soil types.

    • Monitoring direct seeding 2009 Neil Davidson and Justin Jonson

      Neil Davidson and Justin Jonson from Greening Australia monitoring seedlings established by direct seeding a year after sowing.

    • Just been sown by Justin Johnson, September 2008

      Justin Jonson and his handy work shortly after sowing was completed in September 2008.

    • Plot 104d in 2010

      Plot 104d in 2010 with a combination of planted trees and direct seeding.

    • Plot 104d in 2011

      Plot 104d in 2011

    • Plot 104d in 2012

      Plot 104d in 2012

    • Plot 104d in 2013

      Plot 104d in 2013

    What a transformation!  Worn out wheat fields are now vigorously growing woodlands rapidly restoring bird, reptile and small mammal habitat.  This is the colour of ‘living carbon’.  In spring it’s a gorgeous mosaic of flowering acacias, melaleucas, callistemons and eucalypts.  These are all hard at work fixing carbon into long lived roots and trunks.  Just importantly they take up and respire every millimetre of rainfall.  Shallow saline water tables are likely to be dropping and there is now little sediment run off into the healing gullies that flow into Peniup Creek.

    The good news and the bad news is that establishment and growth is patchy. From an ecological perspective these patches of high and low plant density and growth provide a fantastic fine scale heterogeneity of habitats.  There are dense thickets of trees and shrubs for those birds, reptile and small mammals that are cover dependent.  In other places there is just a scatter of shrubs and a few trees that maintain an open woodland structure with an ground cover of native perennial grasses that otherwise get outcompeted in dense patches of woody species.

    The ‘bad’ news is this large variation in density and growth yields areas of very low carbon sequestration.  This variation makes it quite difficult to calculate just how many tonnes of carbon are being fixed and available as carbon credits.  In collaboration with CSIRO, we are looking at various ways to improve methods to confidently know just how much carbon is being fixed at Peniup and other environmental plantings where plant establishment and growth is naturally patchy.

    The other bad news is that Australia, along with the rest of the world, has lost momentum in seriously reducing carbon pollution and halting the exponential rise in atmospheric C02.  When Greening Australia first entered the carbon market, it was inundated with interested large companies seeking ‘biodiverse carbon’ as part of a portfolio of carbon pollution reduction strategies.  Back in 2007 just one major corporate polluter requested a detailed $25 M pilot proposal to establish biodiverse carbon plantings across 12 priority landscapes Greening Australia was working in.  This and other carbon proposals that actively engaged the ‘real’ economy of corporate CEOs, CFOs and board chairpersons came to little as the Rudd administration dropped the “moral imperative of our time” and the Gillard carbon tax was too little too late.  So the Peniup carbon plantings remain as a vibrant colourful example of what can be done when we collectively get serious about getting carbon back in the ground from whence it came.  The ‘promise of carbon’ is tangible at Peniup as biodiverse sequestration is restoring terrestrial and aquatic habitats at scale.

    For more information:

    David Freudenberger

    Dr. David Freudenberger

    This story was written by Dr David Freudenberger, Australian National University.

    Gondwana Link

    Jonson, J. 2010. Ecological restoration of cleared agricultural land in Gondwana Link: lifting the bar at ‘Peniup’. Ecological Management and Restoration 11, 16-26.

  • Coastal Wetlands: capturing and storing carbon in Baratta Creek Catchment

    Wetlands deliver a range of critical ecosystem services, including water filtration and purification, providing vital food and habitat resources for numerous species of recreationally and commercially important fish species, and providing significant protective buffers from extreme weather events.  Recent research has also highlighted the impressive role that coastal wetlands play in capturing and storing atmospheric carbon dioxide – often far in excess of their terrestrial counterparts. Much of the carbon stored in coastal wetlands is in the soil, which represents a challenge to account for it under the fledgling Carbon Farming Initiative (CFI).

    Many coastal wetlands, particularly saltmarsh, occur along the intertidal estuarine fringe – a zone that unfortunately bears the brunt of significant and increasing pressures from numerous recreational and commercial uses. When coastal wetlands are lost or damaged, their ability to deliver critical ecosystem services, including that of carbon storage, are also lost. Wetland Care Australia, Australia’s leading non- government, non-profit wetland conservation organisation, has a number of projects currently underway that are improving the health of coastal and floodplain wetlands.

    Tyto Wetlands, Queensland

    Tyto Wetlands, Queensland

    Restoring their natural ecosystem function restores the wetland’s ability to store carbon, however, the rate at which newly restored systems are able to do this is largely unquantified. Globally, it is estimated that 430 megatonnes(one megaton is equivalent to one million tonnes) of carbon is stored in the upper 50cm of tidal saltmarsh soils, with an estimated annual average storage rate of 210 g/ cm2/yr-1(Chmura et al., 2003). There has been minimal research done on Australian saltmarsh, but estuarine wetland carbon stores from one study done in the Hunter region of NSW, estimated that there was 0.7–1 megatonnes of carbon in the Hunter estuary (Howe et al 2009).

    Wetland Care Australia’s Mid North Coast Saltmarsh Recovery project, funded by the NSW Environmental Trust, focuses on building the resilience of saltmarsh communities between Coffs Harbour and Port Macquarie, NSW. A large component of this project will be repairing the significant amount of vehicle damage that has occurred at these sites from unrestricted vehicle access, and repairing the critical upper 50cm layer that stores most of the carbon. Results from previous projects in the far north coast have shown that, once the original soil levels are restored, these systems can quickly regenerate if given the right conditions, thus reinstating their carbon storage potential as well as the numerous other ecosystem services they deliver.

    Damaged saltmarsh October 2011.

    Severe erosion has occurred at this Coffs Harbour saltmarsh site as a result of vehicle damage. The high carbon content of the soil can clearly be seen in the colour difference between the dark brown mud of the saltmarsh soil contrasted with the light colour of the sand substratum

    Wetland Care Australia has undertaken twenty five saltmarsh site assessments in key areas, and mid-2014 will see the project move into the on ground works phase. The restoration work will be supported by a series of workshops targeting stakeholders, farmers and landowners to help them understand the benefits of repairing and protecting their saltmarsh areas.

    Wetland Care Australia has also partnered with the Southern Rivers Local Land Services to run a series of workshops for farmers for the Realising the Potential: Connectivity and Carbon Storage in NSW Coastal Wetlands project, funded by the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund. This project will strengthen wetland habitat resilience and health through revegetation, establishing buffer zones, removing barriers to flow and controlling pests in32 priority catchments.

    In addition, Wetland Care Australia’s keystone project, Delivering Biodiversity Dividends for the Barrata Creek Catchment is making significant headway into restoring carbon to wetland soils in North Qld via an integrated suite of on ground works.  The Barratta Creek catchment forms the main artery of the Bowling Green Bay wetlands, the only Ramsar site in north Queensland. Barratta Creek is one of the most high integrity floodplain creek systems on the developed east coast of Queensland. Since the introduction of intensive irrigated agriculture, the creek and wetlands have suffered serious impacts through a lack of active management and understanding, including invasive aquatic and terrestrial weeds, hot frequent fire regimes and excessive nutrient rich tailwater flows. Now in its second year, the project, funded by the Australian Government’s Biodiversity Fund, has united multiple stakeholders in tackling some of the major threats facing this system and improving biodiversity outcomes and carbon storage through integrated catchment based management.

      • Baratta Creek, Before

        Baratta Creek, Before

      • Baratta Creek, Before

        Baratta Creek, Before


    Baratta Creek After.  Levels were restored and vehicle access blocked off in December 2012. This photo was taken in February 2014 and the area is beginning to show evidence of regeneration

    The project has successfully prepared 3 revegetation sites in the Barratta catchment where 3000 trees have been planted to increasing the diversity of local native species and provide corridors for native fauna.  Irrigation tailwater runoff from several large cane farms in the Burdekin-Haughton Water Supply Scheme in North Queensland is being diverted from the current tailwater drain system through a constructed wetland via a remediation pond. This is significantly improving the quality of water entering the Great Barrier Reef.

    Wetlands on agricultural farms are an integral part of sustainable land management in the Barrata Creek Catchment (WetlandCare Australia)

    Wetlands on agricultural farms are an integral part of sustainable land management in the Barrata Creek Catchment

    The benefits of restoring riparian vegetation and cleaning up agricultural runoff extend far beyond the project site. Reducing the amount of sediment and pollutants entering rivers has a direct consequence for fragile seagrass beds. Studies estimate the long term carbon burial of seagrasses as being in the order of 83 g C m-2yr-1, which translates to global storage rates of between 27 and 40 Tg C yr-1(1 teragram = 1 megatonne) (Kennedy and Bjork, 20009).  Seagrasses are highly susceptible to sediment inputs, and if the turbidity of receiving waters becomes too high, they lose the ability to photosynthesise, and consequently their ability to accumulate and store carbon.

    Accounting for the carbon in wetland soils is an important next step in accurately developing a whole of ecosystem carbon budget. This will facilitate the provision of extra incentives to land managers to repair the substantial amount of damage that has occurred historically, so that wetlands may continue to deliver their critical ecosystem services as we move into a challenging future.

    Regular website updates on these projects can be found at:

    References and further information on wetland carbon:

    WCA logo 2011_fullcolour

    Photo credits: WetlandCare Australia

    Simone Haigh

    WetlandCare Australia

  • Restoring riparian resilience in the Mary River

    Over the past twenty years of operation, the focus of the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee (MRCCC) has been  working with landholders in the catchment to achieve both conservation and productivity gains. The freshwater and estuarine biodiversity in the 9600 km2 catchment is significant, with over 160 federally listed threatened species recorded. These include the Mary River turtle (Elusor macrurus), a specialised river turtle which has the ability to breathe through gill like structures in its cloaca, the Mary River cod (Maccullochella mariensis) Australia’s most endangered fish, and the prehistoric Australian lungfish (Neoceratodus forsteri), which is found in only a handful of rivers, with the Mary being regarded as its most intact habitat.

    • Mary River Turtle (GS elusor macrurus)

      Mary River Turtle, Photo Gunther Schmida

    • Mary River Cod (4 GES maccullochella p mariensis)

      Mary River Cod, Photo Gunther Schmida

    • Australian Lungfish

      Australian Lungfish, Photo Gunther Schmida

    Several species of threatened stream frogs are also found in the catchment such as the endangered Giant Barred frog (Mixophyesiteratus),  and Australia’s most endangered bird – the Coxen’sFig parrot (Cyclopsitta diophthalmacoxeni).   Recognition of the value of the Mary Catchment was made when the proposed construction of the Traveston Crossing dam in 2006 by the Queensland Government was overturned by the then Federal Environment Minister Peter Garrett in 2009.

    Giant Barred Frog

    Giant Barred Frog

    As a result of the ecological significance of the river, the first river based recovery plan is being developed by the Australian Government Environment Department in conjunction with the MRCCC. Integrity of the riparian zone has been identified as a highly rated threat to the five species targeted by the Recovery Plan (Mary River turtle, Mary River Cod, Australian Lungfish, Giant Barred frog and Freshwater mullet). The Biodiversity Fund is enabling the MRCCC to undertake a six year project to improve habitat of these threatened species, increase biodiverse carbon storage, and bring benefits to landholders including off-stream watering points, increased shade for stock, riverbank stabilisation, and creation of riparian paddocks.

    Freshwater Mullet (GES myxus petardi)

    Freshwater Mullet (GES myxus petardi)

    Beginning in 2012, the “Restoring Riparian Resilience” project has 21 demonstration reaches and 50 individual project sites.Some of these project sites involve landholders that have already been active in riparian restoration, while others are new to the program. As the project rolls out over the next four years, it is anticipated that an additional 80 landholders will be engaged. To date, about a quarter of the landholders have been new participants in riparian restoration projects, and it is expected that has the project expands the proportion of newly engaged landholders will continue to increase, creating new community networks.

    Catchment map showing main tributaries

    Catchment map showing main tributaries

    The project is also addressing riparian restoration issues such as connectivity and bank erosion. Connectivity is being addressed by targeting areas where restoration projects can be linked along a reach, providing the opportunity to maximise the benefit of both past and present riparian restoration activities. For example, in one project reach on the Walli Creek tributary, 13 out of 14 landholders are involved in weed control and revegetation, working together to create a connected, weed free riparian corridor.

    In many of the demonstration reaches bank erosion is also being addressed, particularly following the extreme flow events of the past three years. Studies have shown that erosion of river banks contributes 87% of sediment loadsfrom the Mary River into the Great Sandy Strait. Much of this sediment finds its way into the Great Barrier Reef lagoon.  The project is taking on this difficult challenge by reducing sediment loads and improving bank stability. In some instances this has been made possible with funding from other sources such as the Queensland Government’s Flood Recovery Program. Instream works are being combined with revegetation, restoration and weed control activities on the adjacent river bank.  Leveraging funding from various sources in this way enables the project to achieve an even greater impact.

    Mix of Riparian Restoration activities undertaken in the Mary River

    Mix of Riparian Restoration activities undertaken in the Mary River

    Most importantly, all sites involve landholders in the planning, implementation and evaluation of the project. This is crucial for the longevity of the project, and creates valuable opportunities to connect people who wish to care for their creek or river reach. The project is also building local capacity in some of the key skills needed to implement the recovery plan and improve riparian integrity. For example, Knowledge Exchange workshops are being planned in which skilled environmental weed control staff will provide on-the-job training to weed control contractors who are not experienced in distinguishing weed vines from native vines.

    what helps word cloud

    Working with landholders requires a flexible approach so that project activities can meet individual needs and achieve ecological and social outcomes.  As shown inFigure 1, predominant activities are weed control and revegetation (both of new sites and enhancement planting of existing sites). Weed control, in most instances, is focused on vine weeds, typically Cats claw creeper (Macfadyena unguis-cati), or Madeira vine (Anredera cordifolia). Both of these vines are Weeds of National Significance, which have severely degraded riparian areas by smothering established trees and constraining natural regeneration. Biological control agents for both of these vines are being bred by community organisations in the catchment. The project is supporting these breeding programs and roll out releases of the biological controls over a bigger area. Other activities include control of stock access through fencing, provision of off stream watering points and activities to improve bank stability. All of these activities contribute to increasing the resilience of the riparian zone and improving habitat for threatened species.

    Fabulous Mary River, photo taken by local landowner Todd Fauser

    Fabulous Mary River, photo taken by local landowner Todd Fauser

    • Another stunning photo of the Mary River taken by Todd Fauser

      Another stunning photo of the Mary River taken by Todd Fauser

    • Beautiful stretch of the Mary River. Photo courtesy of the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee

      Beautiful stretch of the Mary River. Photo courtesy of the Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee

    A key benefit of the project is the length of time that the funding is available. Six years of funding enables long term planning, experimentation with revegetation techniques, development of new monitoring techniques, trialling of biological controls and building relationships with new landholders. The benefits of the project also spread throughout the community, with various aspects of the project being contracted to local Landcare groups to undertake some of the on-ground activities. The additional funds provide the Landcare groups with a welcome boost which enables them to plan ahead for the duration of the project. This is a rare and important opportunity. Key partners include Noosa and District Landcare, Tiaro and District Landcare, Gympie and District Landcare, Barung Landcare and the Greater Mary Association.  The project has also enabled continued collaboration with well established partners such as Sunshine Coast Regional Council, Noosa Council and Seqwater, and the strengthening of partnerships with other organisations such as Fraser Coast Regional Council.

    Since the project commenced it has been affected by a series of summer floods (one in 2012, two in 2013) and now, in 2014, a very dry summer. Consequently, revegetation projects have been held off until conditions are more favourable. The impact of the weather on work of this type underscores the importance of the long term funding cycle, which has enabled project activities to be timed around when they have a maximum likelihood of success.

    At the completion of the “Restoring Riparian Resilience” project it is anticipated that the investment it is making in the Mary, together with landholders matching contribution, will have enabled control of stock access on another 20km of creek or river frontage and improved management of 2,500 ha of habitat. In addition,at least 40 new landholders will be involved in river restoration on their properties. This is a significant contribution to catchment management in our region and we look forward to expanding our network and seeing the water quality, biodiversity and productivity outcomes that should flow from this project in the years to come.

    You can find out more about the project and its progress via the following avenues:

    Tanzi Smith

    Tanzi Smith

    Story prepared by Dr Tanzi Smith, Mary River Catchment Coordinating Committee

  • Biodiversity conservation in the Top End: pastoralists perspectives

    New research is underway to better understand how pastoralists and graziers could complement the national reserve system through voluntary contractual biodiversity conservation activities. Very little of Australia’s tropical savannas, which cover around a quarter of the continent, are protected in the formal reserve system. Contributions by the pastoral sector are critical to safeguard endemic species, as well as rare and endangered plants and animals.

    • Kangaroo
    • Kangaroo 2

    The iconic Australian kangaroo

    • Birdlife
    • Northern Australia is home to an incredible diversity of bird species
    • Birdlife 2

    Northern Australia is home to an incredible diversity of bird species

    Pastoralists manage vast tracts of land – the average size of pastoral stations is around 250,000 hectares – and individual decisions can have long-ranging impacts for the region’s natural assets, including biodiversity. In the Northern Territory for example, low-intensity pastoralism comprises three quarters of the total land area, while Indigenous lands and conservation reserves make up 15 and 6 per cent respectively [1]. This research explores the willingness of the pastoral sector to undertake conservation activities in exchange for stewardship payments. The findings have important ramifications for the design and development of new conservation programs in northern Australia and will also inform non-government offset programs and investment in biodiversity conservation.

    • The vast landscape typical of Northern Australia
    • The vast landscape typical of Northern Australia 2
    • The vast landscape typical of Northern Australia 3
    • The vast landscape typical of Northern Australia 4
    • The vast landscape typical of Northern Australia 5
    • The vast landscape typical of Northern Australia 6

    The vast landscape typical of Northern Australia

    • Stunning waterhole with fringing vegetation.

    • Stunning waterhole with fringing vegetation. 2

    Stunning waterhole with fringing vegetation

    Charles Darwin University Professor Romy Greiner has recently driven more than 25,000 km across northern Australia, conducting research meetings and visiting remote stations to gain a better understanding of how potential conservation contracts might work. This has enabled more than 100 pastoral businesses to participate in the research, including family farms, Indigenous-owned stations and corporate land managers. Between April and July 2013, scoping meetings were held in Charters Towers, Croydon, and Katherine; and research workshops in Broome, Katherine, Cloncurry, Tennant Creek, Mount Surprise and Kooroorinya. Professor Greiner’s individual property visits between Charters Towers and Broome accounted for about half the responses.

    • Pastoralists and researcher working together on valuing biodiversity conservation
    • Pastoralists and researcher working together on valuing biodiversity conservation 2
    • Pastoralists and researcher working together on valuing biodiversity conservation 3
    • Pastoralists and researcher working together on valuing biodiversity conservation 4
    • Pastoralists and researcher working together on valuing biodiversity conservation 5

    Pastoralists and researcher working together on valuing biodiversity conservation

    The survey explored in detail how pastoralists manage their operations and make decisions. It also included a choice experiment: participants were presented with a series of choice tasks involving hypothetical conservation contracts. After picking their favourite options they were asked a series of questions about the factors that would influence their involvement. The large number of survey responses from the pastoral industry has allowed Professor Greiner to gain a good understanding of:

    • Pastoral willingness to undertake contractual biodiversity conservation;
    • Pastoral preferences for different contract features and trade-offs;
    • The amount of land potentially available for contractual biodiversity conservation; and
    • A whole-of-industry response to the concept.

    Which biodiversity activities were investigated?

    Pastoralists and graziers are often dependent on one income stream (beef cattle,so diversifying enterprises to get income from a range of sources is desirable. Only four per cent of respondents categorically stated that they would never participate in biodiversity conservation activities.

    The conservation options presented included ‘strict conservation’, where cattle are excluded; and ‘rotational grazing options’, where the length and timing of cattle access to land is determined by the needs of native plants and animals. For example, if someone has large wetland areas on their property where brolgas come to breed, they could improve the success of brolga breeding by excluding cattle from certain areas when the brolgas are hatching eggs and raising the chicks.

    • Checking the stock on one of the many pastoral properties in Northern Australia

    • Checking the stock on one of the many pastoral properties in Northern Australia 2

    Checking the stock on one of the many pastoral properties in Northern Australia

    What are the disincentives?

    Survey participants identified a number of risks associated with conservation contracts, predominantly institutional risk. People were worried that if they signed up to biodiversity conservation activities voluntarily, the government might later make it compulsory. Some were also worried about not being able to meet contract conditions at all times, for example, if fences were washed away during floods, and cattle then moved into nominated conservation areas.

    People were also asked about whether their willingness to participate would vary if contracts included carbon sequestration. A minority of respondents said having to undertake this particular activity would make them more reluctant to get involved, mainly due to the institutional uncertainty around carbon markets. One reason for this could be the length associated with carbon contracts, as the survey results indicated that the increasing contract length was a disincentive for participation.

    Some contractual risks were also identified – for example if people signed up to a contract and then there was a three-year drought, they would wantto be able to allow cattle access to all areas of the property. For others, fluctuations in cattle prices and the amount of payment on offer were the main concerns.

    How much payment is required?

    The level of stewardship payment on offer for the hypothetical conservation options ranged between $1 and $32/hectare/year, which reflected the range of grazing land productivity across the tropical savannas. As expected, land productivity was a key factor in determining the amount of remuneration required. Less productive land including rocky areas, steep terrain, scrub and unimproved country were offered up more readily than more productive areas such as the Mitchell Grass Downs in Queensland. Farm size did not have a significant influence on people’s willingness to participate but did affect the amount of land able to be offered.

    Key findings

    Across the sample, pastoralists were more likely to engage:

    • The higher the stewardship payment on offer;
    • The shorter the contract;
    • The less productive their land was; and
    • If the contracts allowed a degree of flexibility.

    They were less likely to engage the:

    • Higher the conservation requirements;
    • Longer the contract; and
    • More productive their land was.

    Contract flexibility is emerging as a key feature that will encourage participation.In the context of the research, contract ‘flexibility’ meant that if there were exceptional natural circumstances, people could negotiate with the funder to suspend their contracts for one year to allow cattle to graze the conservation area without incurring a penalty. If contract suspension was granted, they would forfeit the stewardship payment during that year, and suspension would not be granted more than one out of every five years.

    The survey also measured attitudes and risk perception, and found a correlation between intrinsic interest in biodiversity, and the likelihood of participation. There was also a correlation between support for payment for biodiversity conservation activities and participation. The profitability of a business did not have a significant impact on willingness to participate.

    Management implications

    While some graziers and pastoralists were reluctant to engage, across the industry there was significant interest in contractual biodiversity conservation. One advantage of investing in biodiversity conservation in northern Australia, is that due to the size of the properties, if you find the right investment partner you can buy a lot of conservation. This is a key benefit compared to investing in some of the southern states where the properties are much smaller. On the flip side, inviting participation in a conservation program by auction in the north might not work so well because there is much less competition. It’s more a question of negotiation.

    In terms of monitoring contract compliance, the study did not find a general preference for either self-monitoring, or external contractors monitoring biodiversity activities. There was a high level of diversity among pastoralists and graziers in the way they considered contract features, so flexibilityis the key. For example contract length might be a disincentive for most, whereas some might be looking for a longer-term contract to improve income security.

    Future challenges

    Professor Greiner said the large distances travelled as part of her field work had been rewarding.

    “It refreshed my appreciation of the vastness of the tropical savannas and the diversity within them. I got a pretty good first-hand account of how tough it is to be a pastoralist or grazier, and the climatic and economic difficulties and distances people face.  There were properties I visited that were in excess of 15,000 square kilometres, so that’s a lot of land. It means that the decisions of one land manager can have regional-scale implications for biodiversity. It is very encouraging that the north Australian grazing industry has shown genuine interest in the concept of providing on-farm biodiversity conservation in return for payment.” Professor Greiner said.

    Pastoralists appreciate being asked to provide input into the design of conservation programs rather than being confronted with a top-down approach. This research provides an early snapshot of the opportunities on offer, and how to go about setting up potential programs and contracts. It could even have the flow-on benefit of keeping people in regional areas, and bringing people back.

    On-farm activities will need to be tailored to whatever the investment objective is, but the take-home message is that the investment market is good.  Here is what some of those participating in the project say about the value of investing in this type of research:

    “It is important for land conservationists like us that this research is being done. We have to stay viable and ensure the land we leave for future generations is healthy.”

    “This is an out-of-the-box way of thinking to turn around the decline in the productivity of our land. [Contractual biodiversity conservation] can be adopted Australia-wide. Any money incentive takes the pressure off the business and enables repair of the land.”

    “It would be cheaper for the government to pay graziers [to look after country] than to run national parks. I am driving around in a battered old ute, work a lot more hours and earn way less per hour than a [public service] ranger.”

    “If the biodiversity conservation contracts were to be made available, that would definitely be a feasible option to look at. You would be a land manager and still make a living. It would make life on the land a lot more enjoyable.”

    “This is a great idea. If you can get it to happen it’s even better.”

    “This research is good because governments tend to just force things on people. It is good to have input, for the researcher to meet people and talk about these things. Let’s hope that they take note of the research!”

    Find out more

    This research was funded by the Australian Government as part of the National Environmental Research Program. For more information about the project, go to http://www.nerpnorthern.edu.au/research/projects/12 or email romy.greiner@cdu.edu.au.

    Amy Kimber

    Amy Kimber

    Story written by Amy Kimber, National Environmental Research Program

     

     


    [1]Woinarski, John C.; Green, Jon; Fisher, Alaric; Ensbey, Michelle; Mackey, Brendan. 2013. “The Effectiveness of Conservation Reserves: Land Tenure Impacts upon Biodiversity across Extensive Natural Landscapes in the Tropical Savannahs of the Northern Territory, Australia.” Land 2, no. 1: 20-36.