News & Updates

  • Nov, 2022

    Four decades of looking after the land pays dividends

    Beef producer Gordon Williams used to have eyes only for his cattle – now, he’s more likely to be studying the ground, the trees and pasture to gauge how his farm is tracking.

    In response to an episode of dieback in the 1980s that caused widespread devastating death of trees, Gordon and his father started planting trees and shrubs on their 1200-hectare farm, Eastlake, south-east of Uralla on the NSW New England plateau. Forty years later, Gordon is still planting trees and reaping the benefits for his farm.

    Gordon Williams next to one of the revegetated ridgeline shelter belts on Eastlake

    ‘It was really a thing of necessity because the country was bare, open and windswept,’ Gordon said.

    Initially planting strips of radiata pine and other shrubs purely to get some shelter back, over time the Williamses moved to planting natives.

    By the late-80s, Gordon could see the benefits with the revegetated shelter belts cutting wind speed, benefiting the pasture and livestock. As a result, Gordon took a long-term view to do some planting most years. He also subsequently introduced a range of other improvements on his farm like subdivisions based on slope, aspect and soil type to better manage pastures.

    ‘We have done a lot of things to develop a whole farm plan that is an integrated management approach.

    ‘The farm is always run at 75 to 80 per cent of maximum carrying capacity, which suits us. We look after the land at that capacity and it gives us a good long-term net financial return,’ Gordon said.

    The shelter belts at Eastlake are clearly visible from the air

    Farmers like Gordon are part of a network of thousands of landholders across Australia who are actively managing their land to support nature. Australia’s latest State of the Environment Report, released in July 2022, recognises the critical role that private land conservation is playing in protecting our unique wildlife and habitats.

    In the early days, most of Gordon’s revegetation efforts were self-funded. For the last 20 years he has received Landcare and NSW Local Land Services funding which he estimates has covered roughly one-third of the cost of plantings.  

    Gordon also receives around $15,000 in annual payments for 72 hectares of his farm that are under a 15-year Conservation Agreement with the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT). Landholders with BCT Conservation Agreements receive payments and support to manage native vegetation and biodiversity on their land.

    Gordon says it is a form of insurance that helps stabilise the farm while also supporting biodiversity, which in turn helps make the farm more resilient and sustainable. Gordon has plans to permanently protect a further 24 hectares through a conservation covenant with another 100 hectares already protected for nature in shelter belts or regenerated ridgelines.

    ‘It is not just about planting some trees or looking after an area that is interesting; it is about opportunities for getting some income and making the farm more productive and resilient over time,’ Gordon said.

    Cattle grazing on mixed native and introduced perennial grass pasture next to the 72 hectares of the Conservation Agreement

    While the farm is now leased out, Gordon maintains a very active role in its day-to-day management.

    One particular area of interest to Gordon is the increasing numbers of woodland birds found in the revegetated shelter belts and ridgelines.

    ‘I can’t say exactly how much a 40m windbreak is going to return me in dollars and cents because it’s got some small woodland birds in it.

    ‘I think that it does add something, plus the shelter for my livestock and pasture, but it is part of the whole big picture – the systems approach to managing the farm,’ Gordon said.

    Across Australia, one-third of woodlands have been degraded. In temperate regions, including the New England Tableland, up to 80 per cent of woodlands have been cleared. Habitat loss is a major threat to native birds and the populations of some of our most threatened birds are declining. Over 50 species of woodland birds are listed as threatened in NSW.

    Scarlet Robin (Petroica boodang) on a fence at Eastlake. Scarlet Robins are a woodland bird that is listed as Vulnerable in NSW

    The woodland bird population at Eastlake has been monitored over three seasons. One of the birds that has been spotted at Eastlake is the Little Eagle (Hieraaetus morphnoides), which is currently listed as Vulnerable in NSW and the ACT. Little Eagles, which are one of the world’s smallest eagles, live in woodlands and open forests, often along river corridors.

    To help the ensure the survival of the Little Eagles, actions including revegetation with diverse native species, weed control and management of grazing pressures are recommended – just what Gordon has been refining at Eastlake.   

    After 40 years, Gordon shows no signs of slowing down. With farmers like him showing the way, there is good news for those living off the land and for our threatened animals and plants.

    Read more stories of landholders actively managing land for nature.

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  • Oct, 2022

    Gathering at Gang Gang

    Close to 30 landholders with conservation agreements, plus a sprinkling of other guests, braved some recent rainy weather to visit ‘Gang Gang’, a property near Gundaroo in NSW, to see the results of 17 years of landscape restoration.

    Close to 30 landholders and guests enjoyed the opportunity to visit Gang Gang

    Owners Sue McIntyre and Jon Lewis showed visitors around Gang Gang’s 50 hectares of woodland, grassland and forest they have been actively managing for biodiversity conservation since 2005.  Sue and Jon shared information on a range of topics including using fire for ecological purposes, creating fenced exclosures to manage native herbivore grazing, and eucalypt thinning. The visitors left with inspiration for managing and enhancing their own conservation agreement areas.  

    Host Jon Lewis (second from right) discussing results of ecological tree thinning trials at Gang Gang

    At Gang Gang, Sue, who is a botanist and ecologist, has increasingly shifted her attention from the world of academia to restoring Gang Gang’s natural environment.

    Applying the observational skills she has honed as a scientist, Sue sets clear objectives for the land, manages environmental threats such as undertaking weed management, and monitors outcomes closely. Sue freely shares what she learns on the Gang Gang website ensuring that others can learn from her decades of experience.

    “Our 15 years of daily contact with this land, and the intensive manual work to restore it, has given me a level of satisfaction and ecological insight that even exceeds my very rewarding 20-odd years as an ecological researcher,” Sue said.

    “The establishment of a conservation covenant in collaboration with the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust has raised the likelihood of the property being passed on to future sympathetic managers, and we have confidence that our efforts will not be wasted.

    “Our patch of critically endangered grassy woodland is one tiny sample of a once vast ecological community, but it supports viable populations of grassland species that are rapidly disappearing elsewhere.”

    Host Sue McIntyre (left) discussing her research on macropod exclosures at Gang Gang

    We asked Sue about the significance of private land conservation in tackling the challenges highlighted in the recent State of Environment Report.

    “There are many creative conservation actions that private landholders can achieve with little cost, which are difficult for managers of public reserves to achieve. Examples include timely, small-scale burning that is responsive to local conditions, as well as prompt responses to weed incursions. Use of temporary exclosures to protect grazing-sensitive wildflowers is another rewarding form of small-scale management that private landholders can easily do.”

    Cool burning at Gang Gang (credit Jacqui Stol)

    Sue described the importance of perennial grass cover in controlling erosion during heavy rain events, such as were experienced on the day of the event.

    “On the part of the catchment that we manage, there was no erosion caused by the heavy rains that broke the incredibly severe drought of 2017-19, and the water coming off it ran beautifully clear.”

    After the property tour, attendees carpooled back to Gundaroo to get dry again and shared stories over dinner. The evening wrapped up with a presentation by ACT Government Senior Ecologist, Laura Rayner, on the plight of the nationally vulnerable Superb Parrots.

    Even the wet weather didn’t deter the visitors

    Read more stories of landholders actively managing land for nature.

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  • Sep, 2022

    Inspired by success

    Inspiration is a word that Brad Page uses a lot. Brad and his partner Jane McKenzie bought a block of scrub on South Australia’s Fleurieu Peninsula in 2017 and have been committed to restoring its native vegetation ever since.

    Brad and Jane’s property with the house in the foreground
    Brad and Jane’s children, Adam and Sarah, in an area infested with pines and blackberry

    Brad is inspired by seeing the changes that come about when he can access grant funding to tackle the immense weed challenges on his land – the result of little active management for the 20 years since it had ceased being a productive farm.

    The 84-hectare property has a Heritage Agreement covering 83 hectares and was purchased through the Nature Foundation‘s BushBank Revolving Fund.

    Heritage Agreements provide landholders in South Australia with practical advice and financial incentives to help protect native vegetation. Currently there are over 1,600 landholders permanently protecting more than 1.8 million hectares through Heritage Agreements in South Australia.

    “We bought this awesome place and can’t believe how lucky we were,” Brad said.

    “But it was incredibly weed infested – the gorse was 3 to 4 metres high – and there is blackberry mixed in with the gorse and pine trees because we are next to a pine plantation.”

    Sarah and Adam with mature gorse, which has since been mulched and sprayed

    Gorse is one of Australia’s declared Weeds of National Significance and is considered one of Australia’s worst weeds.

    Patches of gorse on the block were up to 30 metres wide and 80 metres long.

    “They spanned a fence, but you wouldn’t even know there was a fence there,” Brad said.

    In one particular patch, Brad and Jane discovered a 4-metre high grass tree that they had never seen.

    Many property owners consider gorse eradication a lifetime’s commitment, but Brad hopes to achieve it in 5 years followed by ongoing manageable maintenance. With the funding and support he has received from the Hills and Fleurieu Landscape Board and the Revitalising Private Conservation in South Australia program, Brad is on track to reach that goal.

    “I’ve got a spray unit and spend many days on the back of that thing. But it would be debilitatingly depressing if we were just doing it that way.”

    With access to grant funding, contractors are brought in to mulch the weeds. With the right knowledge and equipment they break the back of the tasks. As a result, Brad believes that seed production of the gorse has largely stopped.

    “They bring in a giant lawnmower on a bobcat. It is a godsend. It just drives through the gorse and turns it into wood chips out the other end.

    “Then I drive the quad in there with the trailer and spray. I can spray an acre of gorse regrowth in a day.

    “Without that it would just be so overwhelming,” Brad said.

    Gorse mulching machine in a large patch of mature gorse
    After mulching

    Inspiration is not just something that Brad takes from the gains achieved. It is also something he provides to others.

    Over time Brad has researched how to effectively kill the pine trees on his property. Following poisoning, the pine trees turned brown initially and then fell within 5 years, with the changes noticed by the locals.

    “The scale of change on our place is incredible and people see it because we are on a hillside,” Brad said.

    Word spread and others contacted Brad for information about the techniques he used.

    Brad poisoning a pine tree

    It is not all weeds and poison though.

    Supported by friends and family, Brad and Jane have planted banksia seedlings and installed nest boxes for pygmy possums that are found on the block. They have also planted thousands of various threatened plants to create a seed stock for others.

    The gang of supporters after planting
    Mt Compass Oak-bush seedlings growing in an area that was infested with a mature stand of gorse

    When Brad and Jane retire to the block, Brad expects that the ongoing maintenance will be manageable and he hopes to be able to provide support to their neighbour to tackle gorse.   

    When Brad and Jane first bought the block, they didn’t like what they saw and felt it was not enjoyable to walk around it.

    “It was tough looking at it before because it was so overwhelmed. But with a lot of funding support and a lot of hard work from us, it’s now a completely changed place and it’ll be manageable for our kids if they want to keep it when we’re gone.”

    Read more stories of landholders actively managing land for nature.

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  • Aug, 2022

    Lifelong nature lovers leave legacy

    Brenton and Amanda Whittenbury are the proud owners of 2 parcels of protected land in South Australia’s mid-north region thanks to the generosity of Brenton’s aunt and uncle who left money for conservation in their estates.

    Patricia and Vern Whittenbury whose legacy now protects 2 parcels of land
    Morning mist covers the valley where Brenton and Amanda manage land for nature

    Brenton’s Uncle Vern and Aunt Pat were both keen nature lovers – Vern’s interest was in native plants and Pat’s was birds. According to Brenton, they spent much of their free time travelling Australia chasing birds and looking for plants.

    When Vern passed away in 2012, he left some money for conservation in his will. Coincidentally, Brenton happened to see an ad in the local newspaper for some blocks of land for sale by the Nature Foundation.

    Brenton suggested the idea to Pat, and after inspecting a few, they selected a 45-hectare block of land with an existing Heritage Agreement – this is the name given in South Australia to in-perpetuity protection on the title of the land, known in other states as Nature Refuges and Conservation Covenants.

    Heritage Agreements provide landholders in South Australia with practical advice and financial incentives to help protect native vegetation. Currently there are over 1,600 landholders permanently protecting more than 1.8 million hectares through Heritage Agreements in South Australia.

    While Pat owned the block and was able to visit it many times, it was Brenton and Amanda, supported by family and friends, who took on the task of managing the land.

    Brenton and Amanda Whittenbury showing off the sign which shows that their property is managed under a Heritage Agreement

    When Pat passed away 5 years later, she also left money to be used for conservation purposes. At the time, the neighbouring block of land was for sale, so Brenton and Amanda purchased it, strengthening Vern and Pat’s legacy.

    The total amount of land that the Whittenburys now protect is 90 hectares, with 80 hectares of that under Heritage Agreements.

    Brenton and Amanda have now built a house on the second block of land and visit fortnightly, voluntarily undertaking the significant work to conserve and restore natural habitats.

    The new house watches over the protected landscape

    The initial focus was on weeding and fox control but attention is now shifting to replanting and removing boundary fences and rubbish. While the land was originally grazed, only small pockets were cleared.

    ‘Where it was cleared, it is just like a paddock, so we’re revegetating in there. We are planting a couple of hundred seedlings each season, so we’re just working our way through that’, Brenton said.

    The signs are good that the initial plantings have been successful.

    ‘When there’s only 2 or 4 of you and you’re only up there every second weekend, things don’t happen overnight.’

    But Brenton can already see the difference their work has made.

    ‘In the cleared areas that are no longer grazed, you can see the plants coming through, even in the parts where we have not done any planting. It is just the natural progression of things.

    ‘Down in the creek where we have cleared rubbish, it certainly looks a lot better’, Brenton said.

    Amanda watering new callistemon tubestock during the autumn planting this year

    Looking forward, Brenton and Amanda will continue to tackle the work and will apply for grants to support them where possible.

    ‘We’ll eventually get to a point when it is mostly done and we will just need to maintain the perimeter fence and keep an eye on the weeds.’

    They are also looking to the future and thinking about how to ensure that this legacy can be retained and managed by the family.

    One of the many positive changes that Brenton has noticed over the decade that he and his family have been managing this land is that there are more birds on the property – something that both Uncle Vern and Aunt Pat would definitely be proud of.

    Read more stories of landholders actively managing land for nature.

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  • Jul, 2022

    Meet Louise and David – landholders managing a precious place

    Although we live in tumultuous times, those at the frontline of saving our native species continue to quietly get on with the job.

    Farmers Louise Freckelton and her partner David Bray are some of those who are actively protecting threatened plants and animals.

    On their farm, Highfield Farm and Woodland, at Mt Adrah, 170 km west of Canberra, a conservation covenant permanently protects two-thirds of the 330-ha farm. The remaining one-third produces award winning lamb, beef and chicken alongside eco-tourism accommodation.

    David Bray and Louise Freckelton with Livestock Guardian Dog Orsa and Poddy Dorper Raymond, by Lean Timms

    For Louise and David, farming and conservation go hand in hand.

    “For us, we can’t imagine farming without conservation,” Louise said.

    While the focus of the conservation covenant is on protecting the Box Gum Grassy Woodland – one of Australia’s rarest habitats – multiple other species benefit.

    “The conservation efforts don’t stop at the boundary of the conservation and farming land. We treat the whole place really.

    “We are doing all sorts of projects, mostly with Landcare, to reintroduce paddock trees, fence off dams, protect waterways and revegetate old sheep camps,” Louise said.

    Dusky Woodswallow nest on Highfield Farm and Woodland. The Dusky Woodswallow is vulnerable in NSW, by Louise Freckelton

    Since moving to Highfield in late-2012, Louise has seen extensive recovery of native wildflowers as well as re-establishment of wattles, kurrajongs and yellow box eucalypts.

    Louise believes that the improved biodiversity is linked to the overall health of the farm.

    “We have 140 different bird species here and they help control insects. The trees provide shade and shelter onto our paddocks.

    “So it’s a whole range of benefits that we see,” Louise said.

    A project with Murrumbidgee Landcare is revegetating a part of Highfield’s conservation area that was not burnt during the 2019/2020 bushfires. The small parcel of unburnt remnant was spared the devastation that occurred across much of the farm and elsewhere. The project includes improving habitat for the Turquoise Parrot by installing nest boxes, as well as tree planting and pest control.

    Once prevalent across eastern Australia from Mackay to Melbourne, the Turquoise Parrot is now listed as vulnerable in NSW.

    A recent community workshop at Highfield brought together local landholders, bird lovers, school children and ecologists to see the work underway for the Turquoise Parrot.

    The story of the nesting box project was recently aired on ABC TV and online.

    At Highfield Louise will continue to focus her attention on the Turquoise Parrot, the Box Gum Grassy Woodland and all the native species on her farm.

    “I now have 330 ha where I can have an impact on the world.

    “If you can see revegetation happening, or if you can see more water birds visiting your dams, or more birds nesting in your paddocks, or whatever the measure is, it gives a great deal of work satisfaction and pleasure,” Louise said.

    Read more stories of landholders actively managing land for nature.

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  • Jun, 2022

    South Australians share their successes

    More than 50 landholders from across South Australia braved the cold on a recent winter’s evening to attend a forum in Mt Barker to share advice about caring for nature on their land and to inspire others to follow in their footsteps.

    Farmers Peter and Angela Sharley are actively protecting the natural environment on their small cattle farm, Pambula, on the Fleurieu Peninsula and shared their story at the Mt Barker forum.

    “We run a balanced farm and we want to do better for the soil, the water and the wildlife that we can all enjoy,” Peter said.

    “When we started here 30 years ago it was barren but we have worked hard to revegetate the farm.

    “You make mistakes along the way and there are things that have worked and things that didn’t. I was interested to hear other people’s stories, to know what others do on their land.”

    Peter Sharley undertook 20kms of direct seeding in 1997

    Farmers like Peter, as well as tree changers and lifestyle block owners are part of a growing number of people who are keen to permanently protect wildlife habitat on their own land through Heritage Agreements. (Schemes in other states are known by other names.)

    Heritage Agreements provide landholders in South Australia with practical advice and financial incentives to help protect native vegetation. Currently there are over 1,600 landholders permanently protecting more than 1.8 million hectares through Heritage Agreements in South Australia.

    Private land conservation has been undergoing a reinvigoration in South Australia since 2020 thanks to the Revitalising Private Conservation SA Program (RPCSA). The first round of funding in 2020 was oversubscribed with 336 landholders submitting applications.

    A further investment of $6m announced in the recent South Australian State Budget will mean more support for landholders to protect and manage native vegetation on their property.

    The RPCSA program brings together a partnership of South Australia’s leading environmental and agricultural producer organisations, including Nature Foundation, Livestock SA, Conservation SA, Nature Conservation Society of South Australia, and Trees For Life. The program is led by Nature Foundation working closely with the Department for Environment and Water which funds the program.

    The forum in Mt Barker was the first of a series that are being planned for other states. We will be advertising these forums on our Facebook page and invitations will be emailed so keep an eye out.

    Dam and native agreement vegetation has recovered magnificently where cattle once grazed at Pambula

    Permanent protection arrangements vary from state to state, but there is no federal framework or investment. As the international community prepares for the UN Biodiversity Conference (COP 15) later this year and with the new federal Labor government’s pre-election commitment to a domestic target to protect 30% of Australia’s land and 30% of its sea by 2030 (30X30), landholders like Peter and the others who attended the forum and the broader private land conservation sector are ready to accelerate their work.

    Read more stories of landholders actively managing land for nature.

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  • Feb, 2022

    National parks are not enough – we need landholders to protect threatened species on their property

    Over the last decade, the area protected for nature in Australia has shot up by almost half. Our national reserve system now covers 20% of the country.

    That’s a positive step for the thousands of species teetering on the edge of extinction. But it’s only a step.

    What we desperately need to help these species fully recover is to protect them across their range. And that means we have to get better at protecting them on private land.

    Read more on The Conversation

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  • Aug, 2021

    These historic grasslands are becoming a weed-choked waste. It could be one of the world’s great parks

    Volcanic plains stretching from Melbourne’s west to the South Australian border were once home to native grasslands strewn with wildflowers and a vast diversity of animals. Today, this grassland ecosystem is critically endangered.

    To protect the last remaining large-scale patch, the Victorian government proposed the “Western Grassland Reserve”. But in June, a damning Auditor General’s report revealed this plan has fallen flat.

    With weeds choking the native grasses and many animals now locally extinct, the deteriorating reserve represents a failure of imagination.

    Read more on The Conversation

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