Farming With Habitat – Carex Sedgelands

The carex in the floor of the Home Valley

The carex in the floor of the Home Valley

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

community.

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.

Carex slowing down the potentially eroding power of water

Carex slowing down the potentially eroding power of water

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

tongues.

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

well.

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

fluff-bomb ducklings.

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.

Our carex sedgelands

Our carex sedgelands