Peter Forster outlined he and Christine's on-farm achievements in the October 2012 Upper Hopkins Land Management Newsletter.
Christine and I came back to the family farm in 1982. We built a house on "Captains Creek" a block which was historically used to run the wethers. It is part of the volcanic plains bioregion and has been modified by "improving" the pasture so that most of the native grasslands have been destroyed. In addition the creek was severely eroding with active heads near the eastern boundary and widening with bank collapse. The 360 ha block had some (about 20) very old red gums and one yellow box tree mostly along the waterway. The erosion was probably caused initially by ploughing in "lands" to drain the swampy low sections of waterway that had no defined course. Gorse had taken over about one kilometre of creek side.
We were keen to improve the land and vegetation condition and having completed a farm planning course started our conservation work by fencing the creek and revegetating with native species. This took many years with government assistance and without assistance if wool prices were good. Our first tree planting on the creek was with the assistance of Don Rowe and Ararat College students. The benefits of creek fencing included stopping most of the erosion, subdivisional grazing advantages and easier stock control. Other benefits included seeing new bird species colonising the changed vegetation types and sheep could shelter from bad weather along the fenced creek sides. The gorse is now controlled but new seedlings are still popping up requiring spot spraying with a back pack on a regular basis.
We completed the 3km of creek fencing with stage five funded by a "Corridors of Green" grant which many other Upper Hopkins members participated in. At the same time as creek fencing we were also putting in windbreaks for sheep to use especially off shears having lost many ewes in March one year. Most paddocks now have protection from the elements on the west and south sides. An addition to wind breaks has been fencing to land type and then creating woodlands on stony areas that can never be cultivated. We intend to use these areas for grazing once the trees are properly established.
The major downside to all this conservation work is that we have been too successful in habitat creation and kangaroos are building up numbers quickly. It has been necessary to obtain permits to reduce numbers by shooting. As to fire hazards I believe the property is less likely to be completely burnt out as windbreaks and tree plantings slow wind speeds and give fire fighters a chance to control fast moving grass fires. Often fires stop at wind breaks as sheep camps bare the down wind side out providing a natural firebreak. It will certainly be trickier to fight a fire as you cannot just cut a fence and chase the fire through dense treed areas.
Overall I believe the farm is a much healthier environment now than when we arrived in 1982. It is better for humans, farm animals and native wildlife. Our farm gives much pleasure in terms of watching for new bird species colonising changing habitats created by our annual plantings. As a matter of interest reviewed our farm plan a few years back and there was almost nothing I would do differently if I started from scratch. It shows you the value of farm plans in farming sustainably in both economic and environmental senses.
The above photos of Peter Forster’s property “Captains Creek” show what farm planning and hard work over 30 years can achieve. The black and white photo is from 1971 while the photo right was taken in late 2010.
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