FEATURE ARTICLE: BIODIVERSITY ON THE FARM
Government funded projects to improve biodiversity on farms
When famous English poet William Cowper wrote in 1785 “Variety’s the very spice of life, that gives it all its flavour” he could well have been writing a definition for biodiversity and its relationship with agricultural production.
However, as the word biodiversity was not coined for another 200 years, it is the more modern and scientific description that prevails today : biodiversity “is the variety of all life forms on Earth: the different plants, animals and micro-organisms, their genes, and the terrestrial, marine and freshwater ecosystems of which they are a part” (consultation draft version - Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-20).
Biodiversity is essential for our existence and is intrinsically valuable in its own right. It supports economies and cultures and forms the basis of our primary production industries, such as agriculture, forestry and fisheries, and provides services to those industries.
Despite the work of governments, conservation groups and individuals, biodiversity in Australia is still in decline. It is therefore important that as the stewards of 54% of Australia’s total land area, farmers continue to adopt and maintain practices that will protect and conserve the variety in our ecosystems.
Protecting and conserving biodiversity
Farmers are intimately connected to the land and depend on healthy ecosystems to provide soil health, nutrient and waste recycling, pollination from insects, sediment control and clean water. The consultation draft version of Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2020 has identified climate change, invasive species, loss/degradation of habitat, unsustainable use of natural resources, changes to the aquatic environment, and inappropriate fire regimes as key threats; all of which will impact significantly on farmers and farming.
To secure an environmentally sustainable and profitable future, farmers need to continue to employ a range of strategies. Depending on local issues, land managers should secure and enhance critical intact habitats; restore ecological function to critically degraded landscapes through sustainable practices; increase cover of native vegetation to enhance ecological connectivity across fragmented landscapes and build local knowledge and capacity for long-term stewardship of the environment (consultation draft version of the Australia’s Biodiversity Conservation Strategy 2010-2020).
The good news is that work is already underway and while these practices to protect habitats may not be new they are being better measured. In the Agricultural Census of 2005-06, 7% of Australia’s farmers reported that in the previous 12 months they had collectively fenced off 1.3 million ha of degraded or saline land areas, trees and shrubs, creeks and rivers, and remnant vegetation with 35,800 kilometres of new fencing to protect these areas from grazing. At the same time, 4.2 million trees and shrubs were planted for nature conservation purposes and a further 6.3 million for the protection of land and water areas.
The ABS Natural Resource Management Survey, 2006-07, identified that natural resource management practices to prevent or manage weeds, pests and land and soil were employed on 94% of Australian farms with 65.8% of land managers reporting they had improved their natural resource management practices during 2006-07. Of these, 89% reported doing so to increase productivity, 88% to achieve farm sustainability and 75% to improve environmental protection.
Results from the 2007-08 ABS Agriculture and Resource Management survey of agricultural businesses showed that of the 417.3 million hectares of land managed by agricultural businesses, 9.2 million hectares had been set aside specifically for conservation/ protection purposes by just over 50,000 (36%) of the land managers.
In addition 63% of all agricultural businesses reported making one or more land management changes over the last 5 years to address land and soil related problems on their holding. In relation to land management practices to protect the natural environment, 52% of agricultural businesses reported undertaking activities to protect native vegetation, 45% reported activities to protect wetlands and 49% reported activities to protect river or creek banks. Of the 110,585 land managers involved in stock grazing, 69% monitored ground cover in paddocks with 57% of these having a minimum target for ground cover levels.
There are a range of Commonwealth, state and territory and local government programs directed at improving biodiversity on farms. Listed below are some examples of federally funded programs.
New South Wales
Rangari Creek biodiversity increase: Planting of 1,500 native trees and shrubs to stabilise the creek banks and create a wildlife corridor. Benefits: erosion halted and increase in the birdlife.
Jarrahmond Landcare Group create plant corridors: Conserved pockets of wildlife habitat were connected to create a continuous native corridor. Benefits: habitat provided for threatened and endangered fauna and agreements from landholders to maintain the improvements and increase biodiversity on their farms.
Kin Kin Creek rescue effort: Landholders combined to save a shrinking sub-tropical rainforest. Benefits: landholders able to develop vegetation corridors linking property and regenerated rainforest, as well as attracting rare fauna.
Sustaining the South programme: Undertaking of activities including fencing native vegetation and wetlands, farm forestry and planting of native vegetation. Benefits: creation of wildlife corridors and the establishment of windbreaks providing habitat for native species and tangible shelter and production benefits for the landholders.
Moora landholder revitalises farm environment: Controlling a salinity problem on a mixed stock and grain farm near Moora with the planting of 10,300 trees and the erection of 8 kilometres of fencing to protect remnant vegetation. Benefits: remnant vegetation protected and the spread of salinity reduced.
Protecting King Island's natural environment: Providing incentives to land managers to protect and restore high priority bush and streams on their properties. Benefits: protection for 1,000 ha of bushland and 40 kilometres of river-side vegetation as well as rare species. Water quality also restored.
Saving an oasis: Landowner and Landcare group fenced off nearly 8 kilometres of a permanent freshwater lake and established 6 watering points away from the lake to supply cattle. Benefits: prevention of foreshore degradation and provision of a safe haven for migratory birds while still providing for livestock.
Australian Capital Territory
Rebuilding Reedy Creek: Restoration of creek with tree plantings, fencing and rock to establish wildlife corridors, minimise erosion, regenerate ground cover and grasses and improve water quality. Benefits: stabilised creek, improved water and an increase in bird and butterfly numbers.
Agricultural Commodities, Australia, 2005-06
16.40 FARMER ACTIVITY SUPPORTING BIODIVERSITY, Percentage by state and territory-2007-08
|Land set aside for conservation(b) |
|Activities to protect natural environment |
|Protect native vegetation(c) |
|Protected wetlands(d) |
|Protected river and creek banks(e) |
|Land management practices undertaken |
|Managing soil salinity(f) |
|Monitoring ground cover in paddocks(f) |
|Surface water management(f) |
|Intensive effluent management(f) |
|Manage soil acidity(f) |
|Applied lime(g) |
|Applied dolomite(g) |
|Planted acid tolerant crops or pasture(g) |
|Changed fertiliser type(g) |
|^ estimate has a relative standard error of 10% to less than 25% and should be used with caution |
|* estimate has a relative standard error of 25% to 50% and should be used with caution |
|** estimate has a relative standard error greater than 50% and is considered too unreliable for general use |
|- nil or rounded to zero (including null cells) |
|np not available for publication but included in totals where applicable, unless otherwise indicated |
|(a) Includes ACT. |
|(b) Land conserved as a percentage of total area of agricultural holdings. |
|(c) Agricultural businesses protecting native vegetation on holding as a percentage of all agricultural businesses reporting native vegetation. |
|(d) Agricultural businesses protecting wetlands on holding as a percentage of all agricultural businesses reporting wetlands. |
|(e) Agricultural businesses protecting river and creek banks as a percentage of all agricultural businesses reporting rivers and creeks. |
|(f) Agricultural businesses undertaking specific land managemment practices as a percentage of all agricultural businesses. |
|(g) Agricultural businesses undertaking specific soil acidity managemment practices as a percentage of all businesses managing soil acidity. |
|Source: ABS Land Management and Farming in Australia, 2007-08 (4627.0). |
Land Management and Farming in Australia, 2007-08,
Natural Resource Management on Australian Farms, 2006-07,
National Biodiversity Strategy Review Task Group, Australia's Biodiversity Conservation Strategy, 2010-2020 - Consultation draft
Victorian Resources Online, Biodiversity in Agriculture, last viewed 21 October 2009, <http://www.dpi.vic.gov.au
Caring for our Country, Australian Government funded projects, last viewed 21 October 2009, <http://www.nrm.gov.au/projects