“There must be a better way to make the things we want, a way that doesn’t spoil the sky, or the rain or the land.” – Paul McCartney
HERE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Two-thirds of Highfield protects Box Gum Grassy Woodland – a critically endangered habitat listed as an endangered ecological community under the Australian Government’s Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999.
Box Gum Grassy Woodlands have been drastically reduced in area and highly fragmented clearance due to disturbances such as cropping, pasture improvement, heavy grazing by domestic stock urban development and transport infrastructure, leaving them severely depleted and fragmented with only 5% still intact in its former range.
The remaining one-third of Highfield is largely native grass pasture.
Disturbingly native temperate grasslands only exist in 1% of their former range and yet are not protected. These statistics have resulted in us considering the whole of Highfield as a site for environmental repair.
This is our purpose, our motivation. At Highfield, everything we do is aimed at addressing the climate and extinction crisis, increasing biodiversity, protecting our soils and improving the health of our waterways.
Here are some of the projects we are working on. Many of these projects were made possible by Incentive grants available from Local Land Services and Landcare Australia, which provided partial funding. But your purchase of our Farm Produce, and your stay at Kestrel Nest EcoHut also help us fund these works.
A SUCCESSION PLAN FOR PADDOCK TREES
The large old trees you see in paddocks? Research indicates that they are estimated to all die within 40 years.
These mighty trees are all that is left of the former habitat before it was cleared for agriculture. They are also incredibly important in supporting a huge range of wildlife, from birds and insects to lizards and geckos and microbats. Their deep roots allow for the infiltration of water into the soil.
We are actively adding trees to our paddocks to create a succession plan for these trees and homes for the wildlife that depend on them.
We space the new trees in such a way as to link the old paddock trees together to create stepping stones for small birds to move across our valleys. And, of course, these trees benefit our sheep, dogs, and us by providing shade.
At the time of writing, we have added around 130 new native trees to our paddocks, all aimed at linking habitats together. We add around 20 new paddock trees a year. There is still so much to do, but we are getting there.
REVEGETATING BARE HILLS
When sheep are nervous or at night, sheep like to gather on the tops of hills. They feel safer there, they can smell danger in the wind and gather tightly together. For years and years and years, because there were too few paddocks generations of sheep before us gathered on the top of a hill we now call Sheep Camp Hill.
This resulted in the hill being bare of any ground cover except for a few straggly trees. The hill stank with accumulated manure. When it rained, there was no ground cover to slow the water down so that it could be absorbed by the soil, it ran off the hill in great streams of manure-laden slurry. This water ran off the hill with great velocity opening up erosion points at the bottom of the valley. Something had to be done.
We fenced off the Sheep Camp Hill from our sheep so that the hill could recover. At first, nothing but giant weeds grew. As each year passed the weeds grew smaller, and as time passed the weeds were replaced by native grasses. We didn’t spray the weeds with herbicide at all. We let natural ecological succession transition the hill from bare and heavily manured soil to an environment where grass would grow.
Now the hill is fully covered in grasses and the erosion points in the valley below have healed.
PROTECTING CAREX SEDGELANDS & ENHANCING FARM DAMS
Carex Sedgelands are an endangered ecological community. They protect the bottom of our valleys where rainwater gathers and runs off. They help slow the water down and therefore assist in water infiltrating into the soil, thus protecting valleys from potential erosion.
The dense growth also provides incredible bird habitat for quail and golden cisticola, and scrub wrens.
However, sedgelands are not highly regarded in conventional agriculture. Instead of being considered a valuable plant protecting water courses and land from erosion, they are considered a plant to be eradicated in favour of growing grasses that livestock can eat.
We were advised to destroy this habitat, instead we have protected it.
We also value this habitat for the role it plays in enhancing the water quality in our farm dams. Carex filters the water making it cleaner for our livestock to drink and for the tortoises, fish, yabbies and water birds that use our dams.
HELPING THE TURQUOISE PARROT TO RECOVER
The Turquoise Parrot (Neophema pulchella), is a small and exquisitely coloured parrot. While its numbers have increased after an assumed extinction in the 1920s, the bird is still classified as ‘vulnerable’. As if it needed a further blow, much of its natural habitat was destroyed in the Black Summer Bushfires including habitat on Highfield Farm.
Shortly following the fires, an assessment was done to identify bushland habitat that didn’t burn – little pockets that escaped the inferno. These remnants provide safe haven for bushfire survivors and become sites for the spread of survivors back into the broader habitat when the woodland recovers from fire. An important unburnt remnant was identified on Highfield.
The Turquoise Parrot prefers to nest in hollows that form in dead tree stumps and dead wood, such as these are the first to be destroyed in a bushfire.
To assist the Turquoise Parrot with recovery, Highfield was delighted to receive a Landcare grant to assist. We received state-of-the-art Habitech Nest Boxes designed to mimic the bird’s specific nesting needs and installed them scattered through our unburnt remnant. In addition, we received funding to revegetate an adjacent creekline with plants that are known food sources of the Turquoise parrot. In total, 1,000 native plants were added during the winter of 2022.
The Turquoise parrot is commonly seen near our house in the warmer months. Join David on a Bird Watching Tour to get to see these gorgeous birds. Here is a segment that appeared on the ABC about our project.
RESTORING JIMMYS CREEK
Jimmy’s Creek is a small ephemeral stream that runs through both conservation and farmland near the entrance of Highfield. Prior to our time at Highfield, the vegetation around the creekline was cleared to facilitate livestock access but leaving the creek open to erosion. In 2021 and 2022, two of the recent wet La Nina years, intense rainfall over a short period resulted in destructive flash flooding. The banks of Jimmy’s Creek, unprotected by vegetation, were deeply eroded.
A long-term project is now underway to restore Jimmy’s Creek. The eroded vertical banks of the creek have been bevelled, and a program of planting has begun to revegetate the area. Around 700 plants have already been added, with another 300 or so to go in. In addition, in the spring of 2023, a planting of stream-protecting Phragmites will go in.
In addition, to facilitate the growth of these plants and to protect the banks from erosion from livestock use, the creek will be fenced off from livestock.
In a few years, when you enter Highfield, you will enter the property through a corridor of native plants along Jimmy’s Creek, and these native plants will protect Jimmy’s from future climate-change charged weather events. We cannot wait to see the transformation – what an inspiring way it will be to start your stay here.