The title of my posting is Chris Williams'book about Australian Farmers,Conservation and the Land care movement in Australia, which are creating a new green wedge of improved bio diversity through private farmland of our immense continent.
Chris is also currently the Bush Protection Director for Trust for Nature in Victoria, an organisation whose objective is to preserve “Nature in Perpetuity” for all future generations. Trust for Nature assists private landholders set up legally binding covenants on private land by setting aside areas to be held in trust for nature. Larger acquisitions of entire properties are similarly covenanted.
His publication is of particular interest, representing the “cutting edge” into the parenial problem of mankind’s uneasy relationship with nature and how we might dream a new sustainable life on a fragile earth. A country boy at heart his infectious enthusiasm has him immersed at the “grass roots” level of research alongside the farmers and communities.
Before commenting more specifically on his findings I thought it would be helpful to provide some brief agricultural aspects about Australia.
Australia is one of the most urbanised countries in the world with dense populations on the eastern seaboard. The country is fragile, dry and one without the rich volcanic soil seen in many other parts of the globe, except for a few isolated pockets. This is the legacy of 4 billion years under the sea which washed out most of the soils nutrients. The aboriginals occupied the land prior to colonisation for 45,000 years but the early settlers shaped the landscape in the shadow of English and British farming practices, with extensive tree felling and overgrazing with sheep and cattle. The combination of tree felling and irrigation raised the water levels causing salination problems in many parts of the countryside.
Australia has not subsidised farming as occurs in Europe and North America, so farmers have become more experimental and adaptive than there counterpart’s overseas. Hence they are considered the most efficient and environmentally conscious in the world to day.
Old Land New Landscapes
Chris Williams introduces us to farming communities linked through a common vision. Their local Land Care groups ensure farms are not only sustainable, but set aside corridors of up to 12% of the land as sanctuaries for nature. Land Care was introduced in 1989 as a government funded imitative which enable groups to receive grants and technical advice to help better maintain the native landscape and set up the vital corridor sanctuaries which interlink the properties within each respective land care group. There are 4,000 community Land Care Groups currently engaged at many different levels.
One of the more exciting projects was the reintroduction of an endangered species, the “Bettong’, into a specifically designated sanctuary on one of the properties where their population quickly increased from 10 to 100. Land Care Groups continue to learn about nature and how to maintain their ecological system within their farm whilst making a farming living. The prospect of serving two masters might seem as if it would be adversarial but the long term benefits point to a much greater overall production if less of the land is used.
Naturally enough there will not always be general agreement between farmers as to the best way to farm alongside nature. There is the large scale technologically based farming that is more reliont on chemicals versus those in favour of a more bio diversified approach that relies more on nature for its sustainability.
The conclusion that Chris Williams reaches is for the communities and Nation to accept there is no common panacea or methodology going foreword. Rather what’s needed is a partnership approach with nature itself. We need to make a covenant with nature, to respect and learn at both the grass roots areas on the farm, in the communities and at the highest levels of society. The old landscapes will never reappear fully, but we can,in our dreaming, create a new landscape, one that will last for ever, but we will need to respect our partner, Mother Nature.
I would like to end on a positive note with the remarks by Jarred Diamond last year when he talked about Australia and what had changed from 40 years ago when he was last here. It was all about the Land, he said, the new spirit within the country that acknowledges it is not here for us to do with it whatever we please.
We have a responsibility to preserve it for ever. He saw grounds for cautious optimism.
I also see the same conclusions in Chris Williams inspiring Book “Old Land, New Landscapes”.
I think Old Land, New Landscapes is essential reading for anyone with an interest in the preservation of our natural environment. I recommend you read the book, which can be purchased on amazon