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Published: 2009

Grassroots as important as ever says Landcare pioneer

Mary-Lou Considine

Landcare’s 20th birthday celebrations from 7 to 13 September this year provided an opportunity for Australians to reflect on the movement’s significant legacy.

One of the legacies of Landcare is the way it brings young and old together to work on local conservation initiatives.
Credit: Landcare

It was Landcare that introduced thousands of farmers and others with a connection to the land to ideas like whole farm planning, fencing to land type, collective neighbourhood approaches to rabbit and weed control, and planting indigenous trees for salinity control and gully stabilisation.

Today, around 100 000 volunteers – members of more than 6000 Landcare and Coastcare groups across the country – continue to plant trees and shrubs on degraded land, fence off streams and gullies to protect regrowth, establish wildlife corridors, set up sustainable farming research trials and restore wetlands.

The Landcare national program began in 1989 when – with impetus from the National Farmers’ Federation’s Rick Farley, the Australian Conservation Foundation’s Philip Toyne and others – Prime Minister Bob Hawke announced government support for a national program, declaring the 1990s as the Decade of Landcare and pledging an unprecedented level of national funding for landcare and nature conservation.

‘They were heady days, infused with optimism underpinned by the solid foundations of community enthusiasm, bipartisan support, the NFF–ACF partnership and a decade-long funding commitment,’ recalls Australia’s first National Landcare Facilitator, Andrew Campbell, now a consultant.

While there is no doubt about the subsequent success of Landcare, Campbell is concerned that governments may undervalue the contribution of Landcare in future land conservation policy.

‘For me it is common sense that lasting improvements are more likely to arise where the people whose everyday decisions and actions most influence the problem, are involved in developing and implementing solutions,’ he says.

‘In many districts, Landcare has changed community norms about what it means to be a “good farmer”.

‘Landcare has also played a crucial social role in developing joint approaches across farm boundaries and in building partnerships between landholders and government, between full-time and part-time farmers, between country and city dwellers, and between young people and older people.

‘There is much to be gained from taking the best elements of the Landcare approaches of the Hawke–Keating era and rejuvenating them for the next decade and beyond, as part of a more comprehensive re-think of agriculture, environment and natural resource management in this country, in rural, urban, peri-urban and coastal areas.

‘A bipartisan commitment to rejuvenate the Landcare movement, building on the local and regional community base for environmental action over the next decade, would be an apt way to mark the 20-year anniversary of the launch of the Decade of Landcare.’

Published: 2009

Northern water assessment informs development capacity

Helen Beringen

It either doesn’t rain or it pours up north. Such variability is one of the challenges identified in the first consistent, analytical water assessment of northern Australia released from CSIRO’s Water for a Healthy Country Flagship. The work is informing thinking about the development capacity of the region.

Regional coverage of the Northern Australia Sustainable Yields Project.
Regional coverage of the Northern Australia Sustainable Yields Project.
Credit: CSIRO

Rainfall and runoff variability are just two components of a comprehensive review of water resources for water policy decisions which form part of the assessments undertaken by the Northern Australia Sustainable Yields Project.

Released by Parliamentary Secretary for Water, Dr Mike Kelly, at the RiverSymposium in Brisbane on 21 September, the study resulted from a March 2008 agreement by Council of Australian Governments (COAG) to extend the CSIRO work on sustainable water yields and availability that had been completed in the catchments of the Murray-Darling Basin.

Dr Kelly said the research would be a valuable resource to inform decisions about the conservation and development of northern Australia’s water resources.

‘From Broome in Western Australia to Cairns in Queensland, the Northern Australia Sustainable Yields (NASY) reports provide important information on current and likely future water availability in northern Australia,’ he said.

Despite popular perceptions that northern Australia has a surplus of water, the research found the extremely seasonal climate with continuously high temperatures meant that the landscape was annually water-limited, with little or no rain for three to six months every year, and very high potential evapotranspiration rates.

‘Northern Australia experiences high rainfall during the wet season, with most falling near the coast and with year to year amounts that are highly variable,’ said project leader Dr Richard Cresswell.

‘Runoff follows a similar pattern to rainfall, with most surface flow approaching the estuaries, with potential inland dam sites receiving less and quite variable amounts of water and suffering very high evaporation rates.

‘The very few river reaches that flow year-round are mostly sustained by localised groundwater discharge and have high cultural, social, ecological and developmental value,’ he said.

‘Groundwater may offer potential for increased extractions for development, though the highly dynamic nature of shallow aquifers, which rapidly fill during the wet season and drain through the dry season, means there is little opportunity to increase this groundwater storage and careful management is required where these groundwaters also provide sources for the few perennial rivers.’

Dr Cresswell said future climate predictions for the north suggest that evapotranspiration was likely to increase while rainfall was likely to be similar to historical levels, which were lower than the last decade, particularly in the west.

Speaking to ABC Rural, Joe Ross, Chair of the federal government’s Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce (charged with finding new development opportunities in Northern Australia), said the CSIRO report confirmed that expectations for food production in the north have been ‘over the top’, and that there would be limited opportunity for broad-scale agriculture in the tropics.

The Taskforce’s submission to the government later this year will take into account the central findings of the CSIRO teams’ work. ‘It covers not only the amounts of water in northern Australia, but also what impact there’ll be on the livelihoods of the community of northern Australia, in particular, one of the main constituents being Indigenous Australians,’ Mr Ross said.

The Northern Australia Sustainable Yields Project is part of the Australian Government’s Northern Australia Water Futures Assessment (NAWFA), a five-year program to develop an enduring knowledge base to inform decisions about conservation and development of northern Australia’s water resources, so that any development proceeds in an ecologically, culturally and economically sustainable manner.

More information:

Dr Richard Cresswell:

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