Farming With Habitat – Carex Sedgelands
An agronomist once told us to destroy the Carex grasslands in our
Home Valley, “nuke it”, he said, “burn it then spray it then burn it
again, that’ll get rid of it”, he gestured enthusiastically, “it’s
rubbish, your sheep won’t eat it”.
I thanked him for his time and promptly ignored his professional
advice – thank goodness I didn’t pay for it.
Carex isn’t loved around here, on the farms of the Snowy. It’s
missing from most farms landscapes now. In fact it’s so
uncommon that it is now considered an endangered ecological
Carex is it’s genus name – people call it cutty grass. It’s a fitting
common name – run the long, straight leaves through your fingers
in the wrong direction and you can slice your finger open in one of
those deep wounds that takes a second to bleed and an age to stop.
Carex is a tall and rough, tussock–type grass. It typically grows in
the floor of valleys wherever the water flows. It slows down the
water movement through the valley – the dense grasses hold the
water up, deflecting its potentially eroding energy.
The agronomist was right – our sheep don’t eat it, or at least they
don’t eat the grass. But in spring when the growth is fresh and
green the sheep skip from tussock to tussock sweeping the sticky
flowering heads into their mouths with their thick but agile
In autumn and in spring, when our chubby ewes lamb down their
tiny babies, they often do it among the Carex tussocks, hiding their
bright white babies from potential predators. And on a windy day
ewes place their lambs downwind from a clump of Carex.
In summer and autumn, the shade provided by the Carex tussocks
creates a micro-climate where pockets of green grass can still
prosper when the rest of the paddock is brown. Our sheep search
between the Carex to find these succulent remnants of spring.
In all seasons the Carex provides sheltering habitat for Brown
Quail, Golden Cisticola and Superb Wrens. They take to the sky
when the dogs play together in a game of leap and chase.
Last spring, while walking with the big dog in the Home Valley
Pepe found a mound of fluffy duck down feathers. He stuck his
long Maremma snout into it and snuffled – it must have felt lovely
on his inquisitive nose and, to a dog, it probably smelt fabulous as
Finding this beautiful fluffy pile made me find out about Wood
Duck nests. Wood Ducks – they are the ones where the male has
the lovely chocolate brown head – nest in large hollows in
eucalyptus trees usually near water. At Highfield each year they
nest in astonishingly tall twin Blakley’s Red Gums that tower over
the Carex-nestled main spring-fed dam.
The parent Wood Ducks line their nest hollow with copious
amounts of down that carefully conceal their precious eggs.
Incomprehensibly, soon after hatching, the fluffy ducklings launch
themselves from their nursery hollow to the ground where the
adults lead them to safe, dense vegetation and then onto water. Our
Carex grasslands provide such protective cover to the newborn
Each year the numbers of Wood Ducks increase in the Home
Valley – we are very glad they like the Carex as much as we do.
Footnote: This piece was contributed to ‘Rescue’ a project by Gretchen Miller in association with Landcare Australia. It was chosen as one of 10 pieces to be recorded and feature in a podcast. If you’d like to hear my reading of this story and Judy Rapley’s fine sound production head over Landcare Rescue.