Chief Executive Officer, Landcare Australia Limited. Sydney NSW
The Landcare Movement In Australia
Landcare is all about empowering the individual or community group to identify and solve their local landcare problems.
Australia is leading the world by establishing the network of landcare groups throughout the nation. Many do not realise the powerful tool we now have at the 'coal face' to achieve substantial adoption of better landcare techniques.
Landcare is up and running and Australian agriculture can show the world how to become cleaner, greener and sustainable.
The national awareness campaign is awakening the sleeping giant of community concern and placing those caring hands around Australia to reverse the soil and water degradation that is costing the Australian economy well over $600 million a year in lost production alone.
A landcare ethic is developing throughout the Australian community.
In spite of difficult times, over 700 landcare groups have formed across the nation and are getting on with the job of repair. There are many things that can be done that don't cost money.
Landcare Australia Limited was set up as an unlisted public company by the Commonwealth Government in response to approaches from the National Farmers' Federation and the Australian Conservation Foundation to undertake two primary objectives:
to develop a landcare ethic amongst all Australians;
to encourage the corporate sector and the public to invest in Australia's future by providing financial assistance for awareness campaigns and 'on the ground landcare projects'.
Today I am going to talk to you about the insidious and sometimes dramatic soil degradation that is occurring across our land and the valuable role that trees play in landcare.
Since European man arrived on our shores over 200 years ago, only about 2mm of soil has been formed (that is the thickness of a pencil lead) and the rate of erosion has been increased tenfold. We are losing our soil 500 times faster than it is being formed.
As land carers we know that unless we reverse what is happening to our land and its resources the productive base of our agriculture will be lost.
"Tree loss has been the cause of almost every aspect of land degradation in Australia. Tree replacement will be essential if we are to redevelop the fertility of many of our degraded soils and maintain sustainable systems of agriculture" was a comment made to the House of Representatives Committee of Inquiry into Land Degradation in 1989.
As estimated 20 billion trees have been cleared in Australia since 1788, or approximately one-third of the trees present when the First Fleet arrived on our shores.
Since only 10% of the Australian continent is arable we need to protect our productive base for this and future generations.
Both irrigation and dryland salinity is increasing at an alarming rate.
We have now reached a stage where between a half and two-thirds of our productive land requires treatment for land degradation.
I commend the corporate companies who have recognised both the importance and the effectiveness of the landcare movement to address the problems.
BP Australia has joined forces with Landcare Australia to improve information flow between landcare groups across the nation and fund "on the ground" community group projects. The BP Landcare Challenge provides a newsletter and video magazine featuring landcare group successes and 25 "on the ground" projects will receive BP funding this year.
Telecom, a computer company, and Landcare Australia are developing a computer network pilot trial (Landcare NET) which will eventually link landcare groups, advisers and researchers together on a national network to speed up technology transfer.
Telecom, BHP, Ford Australia and Ansett are sponsoring the Landcare Australian Awards which will be fully televised next year.
A recent national Morgan Gallup poll indicated that there is a growing awareness of landcare in the rural sector (40%) but less recognition in the urban community (10%). However, almost 90% of the population support the concept of landcare.
Significant attitudinal changes and action have to start with the individual.
The actions of each individual count towards the solving of our great landcare problems. The individual who stops the dumping of rubbish and pollutants in a stream contributes to the improvement of the whole river catchment.
The irrigator who applies water to his paddock only to satisfy the crop's needs and does not add to the ground water contributes to lowering the water table and reduces salinity.
For us to achieve the quantum changes in attitudes we need to get substantial "on the ground action" - we must muster the whole Australian community behind landcare.
There is no question that the 80% of our population who live in the cities and larger country towns are major contributors to pollution of the waterways, the loss of valuable fisheries wetlands, soil erosion and the covering of substantial areas of prime agricultural land with concrete - all landcare issues.
This year's awareness campaign is therefore targeted at the urban community, using the successful technique adopted in the anti-smoking campaign and the promotion of health and fitness and applying them to landcare.
You will all be seeing a lot more of the Landcare logo and the messages it stands for.
The Valuable Role Of Trees In Landcare
Trees provide the key to solving some of the landcare problems facing the nation.
The removal of trees in a recharge area of a catchment above certain valleys has resulted in a rise in the water table and gradual salinisation of lower areas. This phenomenon is particularly prevalent in southern and western Australia but is gradually appearing throughout the continent.
Replanting trees or deep rooted perennial grasses (such as phalaris) can correct this problem in the long term. Trees are nature's water pumps which have the ability to lower water tables quite significantly. It has been calculated that an average tree will transpire 22 litres of water per day.
Agroforestry using salt tolerant species provides one answer to the huge areas of salt affected soils that are increasing due to irrigation and dryland induced salinity. Areas that otherwise would remain a saline desert can be brought back to life and yield a return to the landholder.
The reduction of ground cover due to tree clearing, cropping and hard grazing results in the loss of topsoil, organic matter and fertility. In a drought situation the decision to keep stock or sell should also take into consideration the effect of hard grazing on the long term productivity of the paddock. It is the insidious loss of topsoil that is the problem which often goes unnoticed.
Some grazing and cropping practices have increased the erosion rate tenfold and it has been calculated that we are losing topsoil 500 times faster than it is being formed. Australia is a fragile continent with shallow topsoil and the long term effects of removing trees, cropping and incorrect grazing management are taking their toll.
The long term effect of clearing trees and cropping or using superphosphate on a legume-based pasture has resulted in soil becoming acid in predominantly higher rainfall areas. The build up of nitrates, which are removed in product or leached through the profile, cause gradual acidification of the soil and pasture and crop productivity can be reduced. The use of liming materials needs to be considered where this becomes a problem. Deep rooted trees recycle nutrients from lower levels in the soil and keep a balance.
It is not the use of superphosphate or legumes that is the problem in itself, but the lack of balance in our system. Liming materials have not been used where appropriate and too many trees have been removed from the production system.
A major joint project between New South Wales and Victorian Agriculture and CSIRO is addressing this issue with a major extension project to alleviate the problems.
Production, Protection and Aesthetics
Proper farm planning for long term landcare is a principle that all landholders could adopt. If a landholder is in the position of tree clearing or planting, he should consider the following guidelines:
• mark out, on a farm plan, all remnant vegetation that needs protection and all areas that should never be cleared or need replanting - too steep; erodible soils; potential salting; useful timber; scenic value; wildlife havens;
• on the land that can be cleared - keep 20% of the original tree population in 100 metre wide strips. These should connect the water courses and retained timber on your and neighbouring land;
• do not clear slopes greater than 18%;
• keep treed cattle camps reasonably large;
• legally, you can't clear within 20 metres of the banks of recognised water courses, but 50 to 100 metres is better for landcare;
• the cheapest way to fence remnant vegetation is in a triangle, preferably 1 ha or more in size.
More Trees for Greater Profits
• The rocky knob which produces lower pasture production needs to be replanted or left under trees to act as cattle camps for protection and better productivity.
• Research has shown that wind breaks along fence lines increase crop and pasture productivity and improve weight gains.
• Agroforestry can provide reasonable long term returns even on country that otherwise would yield very low productivity. It could be an answer to some of our landcare problems (salinity) while providing a return to the landholder.
• Fenced remnant vegetation areas provide a source of seed for further planting and can act as a fire break (reduces wind velocity) as well as emergency shelter for stock (24 hours).
• It is accepted fact that a well treed property often increases its value by 25% so it makes good economic sense to strategically plant trees on a property.