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Bringing back the box gum grassy woodlands

Australian agriculture faces a big challenge: to produce more food to feed a growing population while using fewer resources, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, coping with climate change, and looking after natural ecosystems. (4:05)

  • 20 December 2011

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Learn more about Restoring box gum grassy woodlands in farming areas.

Glen Paul: G'day, and welcome to CSIROvod, I’m Glen Paul. I've travelled to Boorowa in New South Wales with some CSIRO Scientists who are working with local farmers to try and re-establish the once prolific, but now endangered, box gum woodlands. 

In pre European settlement the box gum woodland was an extremely diverse part of the landscape.  However the lower fertile foot slopes and flats that supported these woodlands were also the areas generally preferred for cropping, pasture, and infrastructure development.

But it’s more than just the aesthetic value in providing natural landscapes, it’s now been realised that these native ecosystems can provide real value and benefit to farmers.

CSIRO, along with project partners, industry, and farmers, are working to restore box gum woodlands.

Dr Cunningham: There’s a big project that’s being funded by the Commonwealth Government through their Caring for Our Country program, and it’s a big collaborative project which is really exciting. There’s CSIRO, there’s Sydney Uni also doing some of the research side, there’s a couple of Government Agencies like the Department of Environment in New South Wales, and the Department of Primary Industries in New South Wales. 

The whole thing’s being managed by Landcare New South Wales. We’ve got Greening Australia helping us with the re-veg. We’ve got a grassy box woodland communication and management network, and a really exciting group of people working together with the overarching goal of having productive landscapes that also help conserve grassy box woodlands, with each project focussing on a slightly different element of that challenge.

Glen Paul: A box gum woodland can provide shelter for stock, pasture, and crops, a seed bank for further tree and native grass regeneration on the property, a habitat for birds, mammals, and insects that eat insect pests, and assist in the management of rising water tables and salinity.

Jacqui Stol: So what we’ve done here is we’ve actually planted one of the really common box gum woodland species.  Now this is a white box.  A lot of tree planting going on, a lot of farmers really concerned and interested in the biodiversity, and how to get trees on farms.  In this changing climate where we may be getting a drying climate, how are we going to ensure their growth and survival?

We also would like to trial this with a lot of the native wildflower species, these species that use to occur in this area.  We had up to 60, a hundred different wildflowers, grasses and so on – how do we get them back into the soil; how do we get them growing; how do we get them thriving in this environment, because the farmers want to know these things now. There’s an increasing interest now in how you can sort of conserve some of these native biodiversity, as well as get the production out of a paddock like this.

Glen Paul: The continuous heavy grazing and trampling of remnants of box gum woodlands by grazing stock has resulted in erosion and other changes. Farmer Gary Johnson is keen to reverse this.

Gary Johnson: I had to do something about it – I wanted to do something about it – and so it was only through some training that I did in holistic management that gave me an understanding of what I could do, what positive things I could do to regenerate my landscape.

Glen Paul: For the plants to grow effectively the team are trialling various ways of getting moisture back into the soil, including by using biochar or mulch, and the native Redleg Grass.

Dr Cunningham: We're really out here working with landholders who are interested in doing a bit of landscape management if you like, re-veg, and we’re trying to work with them to come up with ways of getting re-veg happening so that we get the plants back that we want, but also maintain productive farms for those landholders. 

Glen Paul: The project team will now monitor the site over the next two years. So if you’d like to find out more about the work CSIRO is doing in helping farmers revegetate their land, just visit our website at www.csiro.au.