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When a scientist, farmer and prison crew go fishing together: targeted extension on the Longwood Plains.

Doug Robinson, Ms Susan Sleigh, Dr Chris Williams and Mr Mike Gooey


In contrast to production-focussed extension programs, which are often pro-active and engage with landholder or commodity groups , extension that deals with natural resource management (NRM) is often reactive, focusing on individual landholders as opportunities arise. Here we describe a pro-active biodiversity protection program that is being applied across an agricultural district in northern Victoria.

The Longwood Plains comprise 120,000 hectares of predominantly cleared (97%) freehold land. Despite the extent of habitat loss, the Longwood Plains still support significant populations of threatened flora and fauna, particularly within the network of roadside corridors and creeklines that bisect the landscape. The Longwood Plains Biodiversity Project identified biodiversity values for protection and restoration, from vegetation communities to particular species, as well as major threats to these values and ways to address these threats.

Based on mapping of key assets and values, the project officer and scientist identify sets of landholders to target for works and security measures. For priority sites, we offer all of the fencing materials and the services of a prison Landmate Gang to erect the fence. If landholders also wish to undertake low priority works on their land, the project officer offers them an Environmental Management Incentive grant but responsibility for materials purchase and fence construction lies with the landholder.

In the four years that the project has been running, 74% of targeted approaches (n = 92) have resulted in on-ground works, including four sites protected through statutory conservation covenants from Trust for Nature, one site purchased as a new conservation reserve and the remainder fenced and re-vegetated. These results contrast dramatically with past projects in the district where only one tenth of the area of land was being protected each year. A new monitoring project now aims to assess the effectiveness of this targeted approach for biodiversity.

Critically, the project demonstrates that biodiversity protection can utilise all the principles of extension normally associated with agriculture (including methodological debates and diversity), and from this begin to demonstrate nature conservation as form of ‘community development’.

Three Key Learnings: (1) NRM and biodiversity protection agents can help facilitate change by embracing pro-active extension methods; (2) Landholders respond well to asset-based mapping of what constitutes ‘nature’ on their properties; (3) Nature conservation has emerged as a new and legitimate land-use in a traditional farming district with a community development component emerging through strong connections to the Landcare movement and use of broader community programs such as prison-release projects for labour needs

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