Landcare 2014 Champions of the Catchment

At the annual Landcare Champions of the Catchment dinner held at Garan Vale last Friday night three awards were announced for 2014.

The awards went to Martin Royds and Patricia Solomon at ‘Jillamatong’, Lyn Ellis and Murray McCracken and the Jaqua Creek Landcare Group.

The full ‘place stories’ that were presented at the dinner follow...

Martin Royds and Patricia Solomon are the present custodians of Jillamatong, which is a 457 ha property just 5km from Braidwood. Their principal role at Jillamatong is as regenerative farmers, working the landscape to build soil biodiversity and a productive business both environmentally and economically.

They are principally a beef cattle operation running up to 1000 head of cattle.

The soil in Jillamatong is granite based, the climate is variable and Martin and Patricia are adapting the farm to climate change by introducing the principle of Natural Sequence Farming. This slows the water down into the landscape allowing soils to hold more water, and higher carbon levels, making them cooler in summer and warmer in winter. By doing this it creates better ground cover, greener grass and greater biological activity in the soil. After years of this approach, there are over 80 different types of herbs and grasses in the pastures.

In the 50s, the farm had just two paddocks. When Martin’s grandparents bought it they built up to 12, and it is now increased to over 50 paddocks. This supports rotational grazing, moving the cattle every couple of days depending on the season and the pasture.

Patricia was living in inner Sydney before she came to the farm and all she had was a worm farm Martin had given her so she was keen to upscale in moving to Jillamatong.

Martin and Patricia have learned and taught holistic farming techniques through field days and other training. The starting point was an holistic farm management course after which they incorporated holistic principles and set goals for building biodiversity pasture cover into the business and incorporating biological products rather than chemicals into farm management.

Martin and Patricia have found that organic processes are a lot more positive than chemical based farming. Holistic farming processes build biodiversity and soil and achieve healthier animals by focusing on what you want and not on what you don't want, and, by doing this you actually tend to achieve the desired outcome. Each day there are many things to do, from planting trees, to moving the cattle or even changing the grass species. All are continual learning journeys. Landcare has helped greatly along the way by holding courses where they have met experts in various fields from Eileen Ingham, Peter Andrews, Christine Jones, Martin Stapper and more.

In contrast, chemical approaches always seem to be about killing, chasing and poisoning. Martin and Patricia have found that if you focus on weeds you usually end up with more weeds. Chemicals also cost more money and without them, the bottom line of their farming has improved.

Patricia has enhanced the field days by recognising the importance of quality food. Attendance is greater at their field days because of this.

The cow is the primary tool. Through managed grazing cows can be used to

encourage desired pasture species and feed the soil their faeces, urine and while

trampling unwanted weeds. Thus build soil and pasture biodiversity.

This approach delivers a farm landscape that Martin and Patricia enjoy working in.

For Martin growing up, the success of a farm was how many cattle you’re farming. The new indicators include how they feel on the farm—whether they are hearing or seeing more birds, whether the soil is getting more spongy and when it rains if there are more worms running down the cattle tracks.

It is a pleasure when strangers drive down the driveway saying “we have been looking at this property for a long time and want to know what you are doing… we want to be able to do that.” The challenge that Martin and Patricia face to answering that question is knowing what has made the biggest change since they have tried so many different things, it is hard to pin point the exact formula. There is no real formula, only a palette that they keep working on. So now the water that leaves the farm is clear, there is a higher diversity of pasture, more bugs in the soil and greater biodiversity of birds around the farm. This, and the increased soil moisture provides

resilience of the grass which grows all year round.

A key benefit of this approach is the ability to fatten cattle throughout the whole year. That allows Jillamatong to produce healthier cattle which provides the consumer with healthier beef so they in turn become more healthy.

The future is looking exciting with farmers nutrient dense food they can focus on quality rather than quality. To produce healthy food you need healthy soil and in Martins case bio-diverse pasture. This leads to sequestering C02 and producing cleaner water with a bi-product of less pollution, erosion and weeds. This leads to a healthy resilient landscape.

Lyn Ellis and Murray McCracken have run the nursery at Currajuggle Creek for the

past eighteen years together, growing native trees and shrubs since 1995. Situated in the foothills of the Budawang mountains east of Braidwood in the middle of the forest, their plan was to try and create an enterprise to make a living without leaving home. They set out to try

and change the landscape around Braidwood by increasing diversity and habitat and to provide more shade and shelter for livestock.

They started out by cutting bush poles, making eucalyptus oil and baskets on the sidelines before the nursery gradually became more successful and the primary focus of their work.

They developed a business plan with clear goals and generally followed those goals. Along the way they received support from the Catchment Management Authority (now the South East Local Land Services), the Upper Shoalhaven Landcare Council and local Landcare groups whose contacts with farmers helped find places for the trees to go. They also benefited from grants to farmers under the National Heritage Trust, One Billion Trees Program, Farming for the Long Haul and the National Landcare Program.

Living in the bush with plenty of water and shelter seemed like the perfect place to build a nursery. They faced a few challenges throughout the years, from birds, insects and other creatures eating the seeds and seedlings.

Each year it seems like a different pest causes most of the problems. One year it was a hare eating trays of seedlings every night and another it was tiny insects eating the plants. Although rain was usually plentiful, every 5 to 10 years they faced drought, causing the creeks to dry up and making watering the nursery difficult. One year they were over-extended and had to cart water in to water the plants. This was unsustainable, and so it set the upper limit for the enterprise, which they have never gone over again. The complexities of working within the natural ecosystem means there is always something keeping them on their toes.

A Catchment Management Authority land assessment of the Braidwood Granites helps give an idea of the positive change brought about by Currajuggle. The assessment suggested that about 1 per cent of remnant vegetation remained around the Braidwood Granites area by the 1990s, and that trees and shrubs from Currajuggle have roughly doubled that area.

In the early days, local farmers planted pines and native trees wherever they wanted to, but sometimes the natives failed to thrive. Collecting seeds from local native plants for the nursery gave Lyn the opportunity to observe which native plants grow where in the landscape around her. These observations now form part of the nursery conversation so people get great advice about what species will do best on their site. This has led to more successful plantings around the local landscape.

Lyn and Murray are grateful for all the support and encouragement from the staff at the Catchment Management Authority (now the South East Local Land Services) and Landcare over the years, ordering trees from them for their projects and grants to local landholders. These people include Peter and Donna Hazell, Peter McAdam, Rebecca Bradley, Kate Park, David Rush, Richard Stone, Rebecca Hall, Matthew Dickinson, Frank Exon, David Hilhorst, Sky Kidd , Andy Taylor, Kristy Moyle, Felicity Sturgiss and Su Wild River.  

The Jaqua Creek Landcare Group is a small group which has achieved a lot in a small area over two decades. Ken and Diana Moran came to the area in 1980 , buying a block of land with beautiful natural flora as well as sheet and gully erosion.

When they first moved to the farm, the Soil Conservation Service helped them to correct most of the gullies by putting in dams and a concrete flume. This was the start of a long process of improving the soil and landscape of their property. For the first ten years they planted 2000 pine trees each year in badly eroded areas.

They joined the Goulburn Field Naturalists Society, gaining a better understanding of the natural beauty of the environment. This started their efforts to plant native species, rather than the pine trees.

In 2001, Jacqua Creek flooded twice within a couple of months, each time eroding badly, both within the creek and up its tributaries. Ken and Diana wondered how to prevent further erosion, and started the Jacqua Creek Landcare Group. Other members who have been a big part of this process include Julia McKay, Annabel Scholes, Pat Miller and Bob Everingham.

Jacqua Creek Landcare Group members have very different approaches to farming and land management, but they have all agreed on a strategy for creek improvement which has endured for a decade and delivered strong outcomes. Natural Sequence Farming techniques have been the focus, driven in particular by Julia McKay, and supported by her 40-year association with Peter Andrews—an expert in Natural Sequence Farming.

Following this approach, several in-stream structures have been put in place to de-energize the stream at high flow times and to allow water to spread the flow and rehydrate the flood plains.

Brad Davies from Sydney Water, and Rebecca Bradley from the Southern Rivers Catchment Management Authority (now South East Local Land Services) helped them with creek surveys, sill designs and approvals aiming to reinstate the creek to what it was before the 2001 floods. An ideal outcome for the group would be to further reinstate the creek to the pre-

settlement levels, although this is more difficult because of regulations for fish passage and other considerations. The Catchment Management Authority and Upper Shoalhaven Landcare Council assisted in securing Natural Heritage Trust I and II grants, to put in trees and fences around Jacqua Creek. They then put in more in-bed structures further up the creek. In only 6 months before they could see the improvement from the in-bed structures, which had become almost invisible due to the raised creek bed level. The group now aims to create more permanent pools for habitats for aquatic species and increase vegetative cover to reduce evaporation.

Raising the creek, slowing the water, rehydrating the land, and replanting native species have all helped to increase the biodiversity. Water birds are coming up the creek into different areas, rather than staying at the Jacqua crossing. Vegetation now covers a lot of land that was once dry grazing paddocks.

The future benefits for Jacqua Creek and the people who are connected to it will have clearer water and more regular water that will last longer. Farms will have a much more productive agricultural environment which will make their farming enterprises more sustainable.