Case Study - Agroforestry

12. Ratharney: Supporting biodiversity and connectivity through riparian revegetation and shelterbelts

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At a glance

Owner Chris and Claire Headlam
Property name Ratharney
Location Southern Midlands
Property size 1,800 hectares
Enterprise Merino wool

Key points

  • Native vegetation is part of the regenerative approach to agriculture at Ratharney.
  • Establishing native riparian areas and nature corridors have been priorities.
  • Monitoring and adaptive planning have been key during the tree planting process.

Background

Ratharney is a merino wool production farm owned and operated by Chris and Claire Headlam. They have worked with horticulture and bushland regeneration specialist, Bill Higham, since 2019 to establish a whole-of-farm revegetation plan and carry out plantings on the farm.

A regenerative approach to agriculture is embraced at Ratharney, with a focus on restoring soil health and enhancing biodiversity through native plantations.

Planning for success

During his work at Ratharney, Bill has undertaken planning activities to better understand existing native vegetation on the land and identify opportunities for development. Taking arial photographs of the property and surrounds has been a key step.

‘From arial photographs we could identify areas of remnant vegetation. The photos also showed fencing on the farm, the waterways, the paddocks,’ says Bill, ‘you gather it all up and work out priorities from there.

‘We identified native vegetation not just on Ratharney, but on neighbouring properties that we could link up with to allow for movement of animals through vegetation corridors. We also noticed unused corners of blocks that could be sacrificed.

‘That initial planning stage is a brainstorm: working out areas, working out sizes, thinking roughly how many trees we can plant there,’ says Bill, ‘it’s all open to investigation’.

From these observations, Bill has assisted Claire and Chris to establish a whole-of-farm revegetation plan for Ratharney, detailing the areas to be planted, monitored or maintained each year for the next 15 years.

Riparian plantings

With two waterways running through Ratharney, the team sought funding from NRM North’s Tamar Action Grant to fence off riparian areas, with the goal of establishing native plantings and reducing nutrient loads going into the waterways.

‘Prior to fencing, the condition of the semi-permanent Ratharney rivulet was poor,’ says Bill, ‘sheep had been roaming through and there was not a lot of existing vegetation.

‘Once we got funding, we walked the rivulet and worked out the different soil conditions. We broke up the areas into wet and dry, upper banks and stream banks.

‘Then I came up with a species list of plants suitable for those environments,’ says Bill, ‘we planted by species, focusing on eucalypts for the canopy species first, then shrubs and small trees for the mid-story, and some sedges along the stream margins.’

Staying responsive

Bill talks of the importance of monitoring plantations, to adapt and respond to successes and challenges.

‘It’s about planting and seeing what happens, then keeping it flexible and tailoring our approach going forward,’ says Bill. We see what the soil moisture is like, what species has worked, and refine our plans for the next year.

‘In our first year, for example, we sourced plants from about four or five different suppliers, to assess the quality of the stock that came through. The next year, we just went to one supplier based on the quality of the plants we got. Quality of stock is really important.

‘When we go into drought years, when there’s really no point in planting, we put down that year for monitoring; we might plant a small amount of trees in areas we know are wetter, then go around fixing up guards on areas we’ve already planted.’

Multiple benefits

The benefits of planting trees are multiple, and feed into Claire and Chris’ regenerative approach to agriculture at Ratharney.

‘We’d expect to see an increase in insect and bird life from the plantations,’ says Bill, ‘in particular honeyeaters and those types of birds that feed off trees, as well as ground birds.

‘With increased biodiversity, you’ll have an increase in pollinators if you’re growing crops and fruit trees, and in animals that can act as pest control: predators for the “nasties” in your environment. Those are big benefits that we see.

‘We also see an increase in water retention in the soil,’ says Bill, ‘planting an area with trees and allowing their roots to penetrate deep into the soil allows water to penetrate deeply too, rather than it all running off straight into the river.

‘Plus, areas of woodland or native forest, alongside open crop or grazing land, create an aesthetically pleasing environment.’

Planting for the environment

Bill believes farmers have a unique opportunity to make a difference in enhancing biodiversity and protecting the environment.

‘I think farmers have a massive role to play,’ says Bill, ‘farms are typically large areas of land, so you have scale. With that scale comes the ability to create corridors and large areas of habitat, which is important for species to survive.

‘For me, planting on farms is working at the coalface. We’ve all seen the effects of climate change, so actually getting out there and planting trees is important.

‘Anyone can benefit from native vegetation on their land. And it helps not just yourself, it helps others.’

For resources and advice about establishing and managing trees on your property, contact Pierre Defourny at pdefourny@tasland.org.au.

For resources and advice about establishing and managing trees on your property, visit treealliance.com.au or contact Private Forest Tasmania’s free hotline 1300 661 009