From soggy paddock to paradise

Can you spot two black swans and a flock of wood ducks and moorhens?

Can you spot two black swans and a flock of wood ducks and moorhens?

Stretching a temporary fence across an adjacent paddock in the warm winter sun, I was captivated by the scene through the tussocks. Two black swans were gliding across the water, a mob of moorhens were stretching their long orange legs, while a dozen or so wood ducks gathered a little way off.

It wasn’t always this way. This is, or was, paddock 17.  One of the lowest parts of the farm, paddock 17 was often under water and when we investigated the soil, we found it was a potential acid sulphate soil (PASS) with high levels of salinity. The safest thing to do was leave it alone, so we fenced it off and, one November, planted 800 moisture-loving plants with the help of a Landcare grant and the hard work of the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group volunteers.

The next two seasons were the wettest on record and I thought we’d lost the lot. We moved the fence out further and the Wellington Shire offered some extra money to replant the margins. Well, it’s all taken off – even some of the first plantings I’d given up on – and we now can boast a magical on-farm ephemeral wetland habitat.

Put yourself in the paddock with me for a few seconds and listen to this:

 

Finding pleasure in the small stuff

Gully reflections

Smile at the small stuff

The silver lining to the devastation of the flood is that I’m enjoying some of the farm’s special secret spots. The relentless hunt for shorts in the fence bring me to lovely quiet places like this where time seems to stand still and there is no mobile reception.

I’ve been impressed to see how well the trees planted last summer with the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group fellows have not only coped but thrived in the wet conditions.

9 month old trees

Only nine months after planting, these trees are firing on all cylinders

Even trees that I gave up for dead are emerging. The wetland was planted out with 800 blackwoods, melaleucas and swamp gums two years ago. The hardy melaleucas are staging a comeback after months of at least partial submersion!

New trees in the wetland

Swamp paperbarks emerge from the morass

The favoured maxim might be “don’t sweat the small stuff” but I must admit to savouring the small stuff, especially when it’s such an important part of the big picture.

Caring for Our Country requires a team effort

If it takes a village to raise a child, it takes a country to take care of its land.

Our family has set a target of planting at least 1000 trees on our dairy farm every year but we’ve only been able to do it with a lot of help.

  • Greening Australia helped me develop a whole farm plan and funded the refencing of 11ha of remnant vegetation plus 800 trees that our friends helped us to plant.
  • Our local Landcare group provided a good chunk of the funding for fencing off and revegetating a wetland that volunteers from the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group came down from the city and planted with us.
  • The West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority funded kilometres of fencing and thousands of trees along the gully and anabranch, plus connecting wildlife corridors.
  • Again, the volunteers from the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group came and planted 1200 trees for us last year.
  • The Wellington Shire Council funded the planting of trees along the roadside bounding our farm a year ago and has funded more work in the wetland this year.

We are so, so grateful for all this help. Revegetation is an expensive affair that involves a lot of planning and hard yakka. It’s so worthwhile! This is one of the trees planted by Bruce, Chris and David of the VMLG last October.

Six month old tree

The trees will provide wildlife habitats, help to keep the water table healthy, protect our rivers and the ocean and make a small contribution to reducing carbon pollution. They will also make our cows more comfortable in unpleasant weather and enhance the beauty of our landscapes.

With all this in mind, it was a relief to hear that the doomsayers’ predictions of funding cuts to the chief national environmental program, Caring for Our Country, that helps to fund all this work failed to materialise in the federal budget. There are unwelcome cuts (on top of previous cuts) but it is still here.

People who drive conservation by walking the talk

Three men drove up to five hours (each way) to get to our farm and then worked tirelessly all day for nothing except the sense of satisfaction that comes with doing something good.

David, Chris and Bruce are members of the Victorian Mobile Landcare Group, which is unique because rather than being a collective of environmentally-aware landholders keen to make their properties more sustainable, this is a group of environmentally-aware volunteers who plant tens of thousands of trees all over the state.

As they explain on the group website, VMLG members are “people passionate about land care through responsible 4WD use, we are a non-profit association tightly affiliated with Landcare Australia and 4WD Victoria”.

Last year, the VMLG helped us plant 800 trees and we were wrapt that they could come again this year to add 1200 more. Here they are at the start of the day, ready to get stuck into planting.

Victorian Mobile Landcare Group volunteers

Victorian Mobile Landcare Group volunteers: Bruce, Chris and David (L-R)

Bruce, Chris and David soldiered on in the rain (“just one more tray,” eh Chris?), stopping only for an hour-long BBQ lunch. I was proud to have Zoe working alongside these fellows who do so much more than talk about their commitment to the environment.

Bruce shows Zoe how to plant trees

Bruce shows Zoe how to plant trees

At the end of the day, we had created two wildlife corridors and shelter for the cows – a great outcome for the environment, our animals and the landscape. One tree was set aside for Zoe and ceremonially planted in the garden to remind us of the day.

Members of the VMLG and Zoe with a ceremonial tree

Members of the VMLG (David, Bruce and Chris) and Zoe with a ceremonial tree

Thanks guys. We couldn’t have got this done without your help. Thanks also to the West Gippsland Catchment Authority for spraying and 800 metres of fencing and to the Yarram Yarram Landcare Network for the donation of 400 trees.