THE FEDERAL AGRICULTURE Department under David Littleproud is acting on recognition that much Australian biodiversity/habitat lies on private land, farm land, and that private landholders must be engaged to stem the catastrophic level of native plant and animal removal and decline since colonial times.
Paying farmers for the costs of on-farm habitat restoration starts with six regional ‘Australian Farm Biodiversity Stewardship’ pilot projects. NSW will focus on the Central West. The intent is to roll out the program to other regions thereafter.
This is part of the government’s Agricultural Stewardship Package that aims to rely on market mechanisms and private investment to restore/retain aspects of original landscapes and habitat — presumably with added urgency following the 2019–2020 drought and bushfires.
An example of investment the government wants to leverage, said Littleproud, are ‘carbon farming’ schemes where businesses/investors, and governments, pay landholders to sequester carbon leading to measurable carbon credits or offsets. This works by managing trees and grasslands with little stock activity or ploughing. “We are already trailing the Carbon plus Biodiversity Pilot in these regions, which is seeing new plantings that can provide an income from biodiversity and carbon.”
Trialling methods for effective biodiversity restoration on production properties is the related objective. The federal government provided $22.3 million in the 2021 budget to start these pilot projects that will run for 10 years alongside the Carbon plus Biodiversity Pilot. The new program will prioritise funding for projects with the most biodiversity benefit per dollar.
The NSW west: it’s down to the private sector
The habitat restoration goal has been applauded by the Nature Conservation Council of NSW which notes that in the central west of NSW almost 90 percent of the original vegetation was cleared for grazing and cropping.
Said spokesperson Chris Gambian: “In some districts less than 5% of the pre-European vegetation cover remains, much of it in poor condition, and the amount of bushland continues to decline due to land clearing.
“Relatively little of this immense region is protected in national parks or travelling stock routes and opportunities to add to the parks estate are very limited. Much of the best unprotected remnant habitat in the Central West is on private land.
He noted that while many farmers are responsible land stewards, some cannot afford to do what is required. Incentives can lead to a landscape-scale effort.
Funding will reportedly be available for management costs of conserving high-quality patches of remnant native vegetation from a few hectares to over 200 hectares.
The Australian National University is involved with creating measurable processes and benchmarks. Activities might include fencing, replanting, weed and “pest” control, according to the government’s press release. Replanted wildlife corridors and connectivity are also mentioned.
As everywhere, the devil will be in the detail. Will fencing be wildlife friendly? Is “pest” control code for, as now, getting rid of native grazers, wombats, cockatoos, dingoes or other native animals considered inconvenient to stock and crop production?
Opportunity to expand ecological knowledge
Biodiversity includes all these. They evolved with ecological roles (like contributing nutrient recycling, seed dispersal and friable soil structure) that modern management has barely studied. This program has the opportunity to extend ecological understanding of the native systems around remnant native vegetation and how to retain them. For more details or to apply go to website.
IMAGERY: Maria Taylor