Green is not always good

Our farm hosted some very distinguished guests yesterday.



I am so glad they arrived now and not two weeks ago. The farm’s stunning Land for Wildlife Dam is sanctuary for many beautiful birds but, for the first time in living memory, the dam succumbed to an algal bloom that looked more like a massive acrylic paint disaster.

Algae on January 30

Algae on January 30

The stuff was brilliant green and, while not smelly, it was not a welcome sight. Excess nutrients and warmth can combine to bring about algal blooms that leave waterways toxic for weeks or months. Here’s how the water’s edge looked yesterday. A lot better but still not clear.

Algae February 12

Algae February 12

So, what to do? Experts say to exclude stock from the dam and create a buffer to prevent fertiliser runoff – and that’s already done. Next, we will emulate the sewage wetlands of Melbourne’s newest housing estates and plant dense stemmy vegetation upstream of the dam that will encourage “good” algae and strip nutrients from the water as it passes through. It will mean more wildlife habitat and safer water. Good for everyone!

Gracious visitor to the farm

It’s an understatement to call it wet here at the moment. We have a mini-flood across the river flats and the dam is overflowing so last night I started up the siphon again and look who I saw!

White bellied sea eagle

Her Majesty, the White Bellied Sea Eagle, seated on her (or is that “his”?) throne.

Apologies for the photo quality – it was getting dark and the eagle was right in the centre of the dam, which is a big ask of my farm-going point and shoot! To appreciate its majesty, take a look at these photos of the white bellied sea eagle.

I was very lucky indeed to see it. According to a DPI fact sheet, the eagle is very rare here:

The total Victorian population is thought to be extremely low: possibly only 100 breeding pairs survive (R. Bilney pers. comm.). Distribution records indicate two population concentrations – approximately 25 pairs around the
Gippsland Lakes and 25 pairs around Corner Inlet – and a further 50 pairs scattered throughout the rest of Victoria.

The bird is about the size of a small wedgetail, with a wingspan of up to 2.2 metres. Like the wedgie, this one was harassed by smaller birds as she literally took off into the sunset.

Sea Eagle in Flight

Off into the blue yonder

Simple stupidity reigns supreme

The paddock wrapped around the dam has suffered from months of saturation – to the point where about half a hectare has been unusable. It sits in the path of the dam spillway and the record wet of 2011 left the dam overflowing all year.

Spillway mess

The spillway "swamp"

Now, there’s a way to avoid this. A small manual diaphragm pump sits on the dam wall and allows us to siphon water over the edge through the natural waterway that runs through the heart of the farm.

It hasn’t been used for years but I have memories of my thin elderly father getting it going very easily. When Wayne and I had a go last autumn though, the thing just flipped up and down so ridiculously easily we knew it wasn’t sucking properly. A quick investigation revealed a perished rubber diaphragm, which we had replaced. Then the PVC pipe through the dam wall turned out to be broken. Fixed that. Ready, set, still no go. It was so hard to pump that Wayne turned beetroot red with the effort and finally, the cast lever arm snapped in the willing arms of Rob the plumber.

Turns out the diaphragm was upside down and now even Zoe can work it.

Working the siphon is much easier now

Working the siphon is much easier now


Flowing siphon

At last, the water flows (where we want it)

And the stupidity? If this whole litany of mini-disasters wasn’t enough, I was soooo excited to get it going today that I forgot I was flooding tonight’s paddock and had to stop it again a mere 45 minutes after doing a victory dance. Ah well. As @Sam_Grains would say, “Keep calm, farm on”.

Why bother being green?

Land for Wildlife dam

Our Land for Wildlife dam

Our farm dam is a real jewel. Flanked by trees planted almost 30 years ago, it’s a beautiful 8 acre stretch of water that hosts an enormous range of bird species. The farm is only about 10km from the coast and the internationally significant Corner Inlet Ramsar site, so our dam hosts both inland and sea bird life – it’s not unusual to see cygnets gliding across the ripples behind their parents while pelicans roost above them. Dad had the foresight to register the dam under the Land for Wildlife program back in the ’80s to help protect the birds.

The dam sits at the heart of the farm, which is bounded by native state forest to the south and the Albert River to its north. The farm also incorporates 27 acres of remnant forest, a wetland and revegetated gully. We’re planting more trees every year.

Why? First of all, because of the much denigrated “warm and fuzzy feeling” that giving something back to nature brings. It’s not all about economics when it comes to the place you love! Second, because I firmly believe trees add to the sustainability not just of the planet but of our small patch, creating micro-climates that will protect people, animals and pastures as we endure increasingly more variable weather patterns.

Unfortunately, it’s really expensive to plant trees – allow $7 per metre for fencing, then spray for weeds, $1.10 per tree in a tube, plus the hard yakka involved with getting them in the ground – and you’re up for thousands of dollars in the blink of an eye. That’s nothing to complain about but it does limit the amount we can plant each year.

Fortunately, we can sometimes get grants for extra plantings and some volunteer groups make the plantings physically possible. These people, like the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group should be nominated for sainthood. Last October they came to help us plant 800 trees and are volunteering to help us again this year. Not everybody walks the talk like they do!