The Environmental Farmers Network acknowledges that native vegetation provides many services to the landholder and the broader community. As well as providing shelter for stock, it helps to mitigate dryland salinity and control wind and water erosion and water logging, it captures carbon and improves water quality as well as providing habitat for native birds and animals.
EFN recognises that many types of native vegetation have been significantly depleted by landuse change over the past 160 years and many types are under threat of complete extinction.
EFN will encourage the protection and enhancement of native vegetation on farms by:
Seeking the support of Federal, State and Local Government agencies in assisting landholders implement sustainable practices.
Encourage Federal and State Governments to establish market based mechanisms that trade in ecosystem services so that landholders can be rewarded for providing services that benefit the broader community eg carbon trading.
Promoting the adoption of environmental best practice on farms through farm planning which acknowledges the importance of native vegetation.
Increasing awareness in both urban and rural communities of the importance of native vegetation.
Encouraging research to identify beneficial uses of native vegetation eg low input grazing systems.
Water resources in many catchments are being consumed at unsustainable levels.
Ensuring ongoing river health and water quality for this and future generations will depend on our ability to equitably share this resource among the competing parties including the environment.
All segments of our community have a role if not an obligation to play a role in the protection and enhancement of our riverine environment.
EFN will work with the community and all levels of government to promote the following principles:
- Efficient use of water in rural, urban and industrial segments of our community.
- Water use measurement for all entitlement holders.
- The return of flows to our stressed rivers and streams and the need to monitor and evaluate the outcomes of environmental flows.
- Recovered environmental water entitlements and stream flow management plans for rivers and streams.
- Improved farm management techniques and revegetation to improve water quality.
- Recycling of waste water by rural and urban users.
- Fencing and agreed stock management plans for rivers and streams with Crown Land frontages for the protection of water quality for downstream users and river health.
Wetlands are naturally occurring depressions in the landscape that periodically hold water. When wet they support an array of macro and micro organisms (plants, animals, invertebrates, insects etc).
A large number of wetlands occur on freehold (private) land; many have been drained for agricultural purposes. Carefully managed wetlands are a national asset. They are important wildlife refuges providing many benefits to farmers and the public.
EFN supports a range of management strategies to improve wetland condition. (Examples are given at the end of this paper.)
Public benefits to be paid for by the public and private benefits by the landholder.
EFN encourages any support that would assist private landholders to more effectively manage wetlands to improve conservation values. This support could be technical, financial, research, labour etc.
EFN expects wetlands on Crown Land to be managed for a range of outcomes with conservation as the overriding consideration if conflicts occur (eg passive recreation activities preferred to power boating on shallow systems).
EFN encourages private landholders to consider recreating wetlands where they once occurred naturally. This often can be done with minimal cost.
EFN supports any review of drainage schemes with the aim reinstating wetlands. Compensation may be needed to support this program.
1. Exclude the wetland from the farming operation. Normally this means fencing for stock exclusion while maximising the setback from high water mark (prefer at least 20 metres). Have access to the wetland for management purposes (eg fire fighting, removing unwanted animals, pest plant and animal control).
2. Place appropriate signage on access (eg no fertilizer) and have farm plans for contractors that clearly locate the wetland.
3. Do not fertilize or physically disturb wetlands and avoid using chemicals near wetlands.
4. Use the wetland only as an emergency shelter in bad weather.
5. Treat wetlands as a separate land class. Fence and manage to achieve both agricultural and conservation benefit. Graze only when the wetland is dry to minimise wildlife impact preferably with sheep rather than cattle.
Why bother retaining dead wood?
Wood is valuable, alive or dead. Dead wood is an essential part of many non-farmed ecosystems. Clearing native vegetation for farming has changed ecosystems and caused loss of biodiversity and species extinctions. Further losses of native vegetation, including dead wood , will exacerbate the problem; the more depleted of wood the landscape becomes, the greater the effect will be on ecosystems and biodiversity.
Dead timber includes fallen branches, sticks, rotten logs, solid logs, standing dead trees, and stumps.
The term "dead wood" is misleading as it implies the wood is no longer useful. However dead wood is in the phase of "life" where it is releasing into its surroundings all the energy it captured during its life. The valuable energy stored in wood is released or converted slowly as wood-eating plants and animals such as fungi and termites digest the wood and are themselves eaten by other life forms. The slow breakdown of the wood in a large log supports a web of living things from worms and beetles to birds, lizards, frogs, bats, possums and gliders for decades or longer. In contrast, when the wood is burnt, none of the energy goes into this food web. It goes rapidly into the air as carbon dioxide contributing to greenhouse gases.
Dead wood is also valuable habitat for birds, lizards and echidnas; it provides
- Shelter from predators and nursery for young of ground-dwelling animals
- Nesting hollows for arboreal species
- Shelter from weather
- Perching sites for bird, roosting sites for bats.
Larger logs and standing timber provides excellent shelter for farm animals off shears and in cold wet and windy weather. They can save stock from dying and reduce feed requirements when feed can be a limiting production factor. Fallen timber reduces surface wind speed and therefore the likelihood of wind erosion and traps air-born soil and vegetable material.
To preserve and improve biodiversity we need to retain as much dead wood as possible on farm. However many landholders regard dead wood as "rubbish". Sticks, rotten logs, solid logs and even furniture grade logs are sometimes burnt just to "tidy up" in paddocks well away from buildings where fire risk might have been a factor.
Why does Biodiversity matter?
EFN agrees that sustainable populations of native animals dependent on dead wood are an asset. But EFN considers that value of biodiversity and the overall health of the system we rely on is not accurately indicated by the current economic measures. It also believes that we have an obligation to not eliminate native populations from the land, and that we must design profitable farming methods around our remnant biodiversity. This contrasts with allowing biodiversity space only if it can give measurable benefits, such as adding to our profitability.
Keeping wood unburnt also stores carbon in a solid form, with benefits for our budget of greenhouse gas emissions. So, we suggest that farmers:
- Wherever possible, avoid "cleaning up" dead wood. This includes solid logs, hollow logs, standing dead trees and fallen branches.
- Work around the timber in the case of eradicating rabbits or foxes. Roll the log over or drag it aside to get at rabbit burrows if necessary.
- Move the timber permanently aside if necessary, for machinery work.
- Avoid piling up timber, as this creates rabbit harbour that is harder to work on.
- Adjust your ideas about dead wood. Instead of seeing it as messy and as rubbish, see it as an energy or food source, and safe place for native animals, and a valuable representative of the previous landscape which we should accommodate in our farmland, for the reasons referred to above.
- Make sure timber does not catch fire if you carry out any burning off.
- Make house "heat-seal" improvements and give it more thermal mass to reduce the need for firewood.
Croppers who consider that they cannot afford not to clear the last few paddocks of fallen timber could consider whether they would be prepared to work around the timber if it were alive. Dead wood is just as valuable as a live tree in terms of the other life it supports.
Farm Management Plans should take account of dead and fallen timber.
EFN to promote the retention of dead wood on farms as a best practice.