Recreating the Country blog
Managing Grasslands and Grassy Woodlands in temperate Australia. Why we're losing the battle to save them. Part 2 - who cares?
The cost of not caring.
The majority of Australians aren’t aware that we’re losing the battle to save Australia’s biodiversity.
Most of them live in cities where ‘wild’ Australia has been banished and a close encounter with nature might be seeing a Brush-tail Possum on the roof or a Magpie caroling on the front lawn in the morning.
For the future to see the majority of Australians caring about our native vegetation and the wildlife it supports, we need significant changes in our national attitude and to our culture.
Here are some of the ways that a caring culture could be nurtured;
Captivate young Australians.
At the top of my list is raising the profile of Australian plants and animals in schools.
When Australian children are captivated by the beauty and wonder of our wild plants and animals from a young age, our future will be assured.
When they appreciate that our unique and diverse ecology supports us and our lifestyles
they will give the natural environment the importance it deserves.
Wouldn’t it be delightful if each Australian child was given a personal totem plant and animal to learn about, understand and care about as they progressed though our education system?
The animal and plant would likely become part of their personal identity. Children would go out of their way to see their animal and plant in the wild. They would likely move mountains to protect them.
This simple measure would provide our wildlife with what it desperately needs - advocates to speak up for them when they are under threat.
And its very likely that children need a regular connection with nature to support their mental and physical health.
Nature deficit disorder is a phrase proposed by Richard Louv in his 2005 book ‘Last Child in the Woods’. His book develops the idea that children's mental & physical health and personal development is suffering because they are spending less time exploring ‘wild places’.
Louv argues that regular time spent in natural places has a positive effect on children’s attention span, stress reduction, cognitive development and their ability to be creative. It also generates a sense of wonder and a connection with the earth.
Future voters. Without happy childhood experiences in the natural environment, children are less likely to want to protect wildlife when they are voting adults.
To read more about the importance of ensuring that all children grow up having a positive attitude toward our environment, you could read the article;
‘Landcare, who cares’- charting new directions>
Even as adults, regular contact with wild environments is likely to be critical to our mental health. Landcare farmer Doug Lang explains in his very honest and revealing book ‘The Nature of Survival’, how planting trees and watching wildlife return to his farm at Balintore in south west Victoria, was pivotal to his recovery from severe depression and tragic loss.
To read more about Doug's story click here
To read more about nature and health try this great article published on the ABC Science website recently called 'Bushwalking is really good for you. Sure, it's relaxing — but it boosts your biology too'. Click here;
Raising the profile of native flora and fauna with adult Australians.
Can you imagine a clever marketing campaign that links Australian pride with the things that are unique about the Australian bush?
I'd encourage Wil Anderson, from ABC’s Gruen, to throw this challenge to his guest advertising experts to solve in 'the pitch' segment of his show.
More seriously, if governments wanted us to care more about Australia’s fabulous flora and fantastic fauna, they have the mechanisms to do it, but I think it’s a can of worms that they would prefer not to open.
But I live in hope! Come on Malcolm, you could be the first Australian Prime Minister to ‘save a billion trees’, and grasslands and endangered species and......
Promoting the idea of environmental stewardship.
A steward recognises their duty of care of the land and that their tenure is temporary. Environmental Stewards would be funded by governments to manage natural areas on their properties. Our taxes would be well spent supporting farmers to maintain a healthy environment as everyone would benefit in a future Australia.
Stewardship is not a new idea. It has been discussed in Landcare circles since it began in 1986. Paying farmers to maintain landscape amenity is a common feature of agricultural policies in the northern hemisphere, but its taking much longer to gain support in Australia. There are examples of the Australian government ‘testing the water’, but the Conservative political parties in recent times seem to have turned their backs on the idea.
For example the Environmental Stewardship Program (ESP) was part of the Australian Government's $2 billion Caring for our Country initiative in 2007. It provided incentive payments for land managers on private land for long term protection of high value environmental assets.
ESP was run in NSW and Queensland from 2007 - 2012. As a result of this program, 150 farmers are being paid to conserve the threatened Box Gum Grassy Woodland ecosystems for 15 years - the last contract will end in 2027. A similar program was run in South Australia to conserve the Peppermint Box Grassy Woodlands and Iron-grass Natural Temperate Grasslands.
These threatened ecological communities are matters of national environmental significance, with only five percent or less of the pre-European extent remaining. Conserving these grassy ecosystems helps a range of native plants and animals that rely on them for habitat.
This was an inspired program that accepted that a long term commitment is needed to repair and protect endangered ecosystems. Unfortunately it was discontinued.
To read more about this stewardship program click here.
Sensible innovative real-estate development.
The momentum of city growth and housing development seems relentless. Our expanding cities and towns have to be built somewhere, though who wants more and more suburban sprawl? There is perfect logic in building up instead of building out and making maximum use of the land that's already occupied for housing.
If we have to have houses on remnant grasslands, then protect large areas by designating them as well managed public parks and reserves.
Why not incorporated native grasslands into private gardens around the homes that are built there? What a stunning suburb that would be!
There is enough productive farmland being developed for housing around our cities to provide for those of us who want a cottage garden and a bed of roses.
Dr. Paul Gibson Roy, who is an expert on restoring grasslands, eloquently expressed his vision for Australian cities and towns of the future;
'Australians revel in their green landscapes, be they public parks or home gardens. However, this urban diversity is most often predominantly composed of non-native species. Exotic plants (and animals) will always be a part of our landscapes. There is no shame in this. But there is no reason why more of a balance cannot be struck. One that sees our native flora more used where exotics now are. As in the US, native grasses and wildflowers should be a part of our public spaces, our lake sides, our grand parks and gardens' (2015 Churchill Fellowship report on his study in U.S p67).
To read Paul's full report click here
Strict laws preventing clearing of native vegetation at local, state and federal levels.
Protecting our Australian natural heritage should be a priority and above politics. If not now, then when? We have to take direct unflinching steps to limit future losses while other environmentally friendly cultural changes take root over the coming decades.
Self regulation and less red tape doesn't work as can be seen in N.S.W. and Queensland where native vegetation clearing has stepped up a notch since the laws were eased.
We need a lot more people on the ground to facilitate flora and fauna protection.
Public servants working in the areas of sustainability and environment for the Federal and State Governments are too few, are undervalued and have very little job security.
Shrinking departments. For the past decade the various government departments concerned with the environment have been shrinking. Commonly people that leave or retire are not replaced. This results in fewer people to manage our environment and to support motivated volunteers and community members.
Underpaid professionals. Environment workers are doing work that is critical to protecting our quality of life, yet they are among the poorest paid professions in Australia. My view is that they should be among the most highly paid Australian professions. This would guarantee the long term commitment of enough gifted creative minds to navigate our way out of the environmental disaster that we seem to be heading for.
Short contracts instead of permanent employment. Young Australians motivated to work protecting our magnificent and unique environment are often employed under short term contracts for one or two years. Planning a future, buying a house and providing for a family, the basic tenets that our Australian society is built around, are not feasible under this sort of employment structure. With this level of job insecurity provided by governments, why would young Australians contemplate a career working to protect the environment?
Recognise the huge cost to future Australians of mismanagement
if we continue to turn our backs on these environmental problems.
What will be the cost of dealing with rising sea levels in all the coastal cities and towns of Australia - and its already happening.
Preventative action will be too late then.
Australians are aware of what it is that makes us unique and what brings visitors to this country.
It’s not our long culinary history and ancient buildings that we associate with a holiday in Europe and Asia.
It’s our unique plants, animals as well as the climate and landscape that gave birth to them.
Yet with our current laissez-faire attitude we are putting at risk the fundamental ingredients that make us who we are.
Over 200 years ago, the British who colonised this country set about systematically replacing the original Australian flora and fauna with plants and animals from their homeland and other countries. Today we would call their actions ignorant and misguided.
How will future generations of Australians judge our lack of action, at a time when climate scientists, ecologists and marine biologists are trying to impress on us, that the weight of evidence is beyond doubt. We need to change our attitudes and care more about our run down environment?
Australia's natural environment is like an ailing grandmother whose house is desperately in need of repair. She’s suffering and her cherished home is getting hotter in the summer and colder in the winter with no relief in sight.
Her precious native garden is overrun with exotic weeds and the diverse and beautiful native birds, that once lived in her garden, filling the air with their beautiful song, have been eaten by the neighbour’s three pet cats.
She’s put a sign up in her window that says,
‘Please help me’
but passersby are too busy to take any notice because they’re all hard working Australians with mortgages to pay and they can't spare any time.
They don’t know that granny’s house and garden is the crumbling keystone that is holding their disconnected worlds together.
Part -3 of this grasslands series will be posted in February
If you need a brief escape from reality, Chapter 5 of 'Seeds the monthly Chronicle' has just been posted. Click here to explore>
Stephen Murphy is an author, an ecologist and a nurseryman. He has been a designer of natural landscapes for over 30 years. He loves the bush, supports Landcare and is a volunteer helping to conserve local reserves.