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Landscape rehydration

The following is an article written for the Yass Tribune by Kate Wilson, President of the Yass Landcare Group.

Yass Landcare Group members and friends participated in a hands-on field day on the property of Mike and Denise McKenzie on Sunday 22 September. It was a great opportunity to see the work that has recently been carried out on their property – the second part of a two phase project to counteract gully erosion.

Workshop participants gather at an engineered structure which reinstates floodplain connectivity

Workshop participants gather at an engineered structure which reinstates floodplain connectivity.

The field day was led by project manager, Cam Wilson – a man with a mission to restore landscapes. Cam learned what he knows about landscape and water from working for two years with Peter Andrews, author of Back from the Brink, and Peter Marshall, who brings a scientific understanding of hydrology with effective practices.

Cam demonstrated how leaky weirs of various constructions can hold back the water in the landscape, rehydrating the surrounding land and allowing the water to slowly filter through the landscape. In big rain events, flood water is slowed and held suspended in such leaky weirs. This reduces erosion and prevents sediment from being carried down into the river.

Cam showed willing participants how to build fascines – bundles of logs tied together and placed in the gully. This technique is especially useful at the head wall of erosion and if carefully constructed, can stop erosion creeping back up through a paddock.

Logs being strapped together to create fascine bundles

Logs being strapped together to create fascine bundles.

A series of fascines tied together to create a solid grade control structure, slowing flows, capturing litter & sediment and providing improved conditions for biological rehabilitation

A series of fascines tied together to create a solid grade control structure, slowing flows, capturing litter & sediment and providing improved conditions for biological rehabilitation.

A log step under construction, with geotextile fabric lining the gully headwall

A log step under construction, with geotextile fabric lining the gully headwall.

The completed log step provides an armoured drop at the head of the gully, buying time for the long term solution of dense vegetation above to establish

The completed log step provides an armoured drop at the head of the gully, buying time for the long term solution of dense vegetation to establish above.

Some Landcare members also planted poplars under Cam’s direction, by simply digging a hole with a crowbar and plunging a cutting into the ground. The cuttings were taken from male trees which do not produce seed.  Although they are not a native tree, they will grow up quickly and can be coppiced many times over, producing large quantities of material for use in leaky weirs. If lopped during a drought, the leaf is equivalent to Lucerne in feed value and the bark high in micronutrients.

Yunan poplar established as pole cuttings under the guidance of Peter Marshall during a 2011 field day.

Yunan poplar established as pole cuttings under the guidance of Peter Marshall during a 2011 field day.

Perfect timing for the establishment of poplar cuttings, taking advantage of the moisture levels which are enhanced by the engineered structures

Perfect timing for the establishment of poplar cuttings, taking advantage of the moisture levels which are enhanced by the engineered structures.

A staggered planting of poplar cuttings will in time create a filtering net, while regular coppicing will provide materials for the construction of regular leaky weirs along the gully floor

A staggered planting of poplar cuttings will in time create a biological filtering net, while regular coppicing will provide materials for the construction of regular leaky weirs along the gully floor. The canopies will also provide shade to the North facing gully walls, the improved microclimate allowing ground cover to establish.

Cam has also overseen the construction – or rather the resurrection – of a chain of ponds on the property. He has converted a wide valley floor, overrun with river tussock, into a series of ponds with the help of an excavator. He is planting native trees and shrubs, along with grasses, rushes and sedges to create a diverse wetland for biodiversity. The sound (and sight) of frogs was delightful. Mike and Denise hope the wetland will attract numerous bird species too.

Newly constructed chain of ponds at Nanima Gold

Newly constructed chain of ponds at Nanima Gold.

Observing the new chain of ponds from up close

Observing the new chain of ponds from up close.

The Gorgeous Gullies Project was funded through Landcare Australia by Leighton Holdings.

To learn more about Cam Wilson’s work, check out his website at www.earthintegral.com

If your Landcare group is interested in conducting a workshop on low cost erosion control strategies please contact Cam to discuss possibilities.

Disclaimer: Where water flow is concerned there are substantial risks involved. While the information and images we publish are formulated in good faith, with the intention of raising awareness of landscape rehydration processes, the contents do not take into account all the social, environmental and regulatory factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice.  Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained within as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Images © Cam Wilson, Earth Integral, 2013

John Ives

The work of John and Robyn Ives on ‘Talaheni’, showcased yesterday at the ‘Soils For Life’ field day, was a huge vote for the benefits offered by decisions based on time spent monitoring.

A self confessed eccentric with a background in ag science, John has applied his scientific methodology to getting to the bottom of some of the most pressing problems on his property.

Clever management of soil, water, plants & animals based on his findings have resulted in:

  • the virtual elimination of dryland salinity in one of the most susceptible areas in Australia
  • an increase in soil organic carbon (SOC) from below 1% to around 4% (that’s higher than some high profile regenerative farmers in far better soils)
  • some of the best wool on the planet (based on wins in international competitions).

Read more about the Ives’ efforts in:

Talaheni Case Study by Soils For Life

Salinity Management in a variable landscape, CRC on Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity, Salt Magazine.

Dam Salinity: A report card on our risk and progress, John Ive, Agribusiness Chain V10, p 42

Can drought really help your revegetation effort?, John Ive, Agribusiness Chain 2007.

Talehani reveg before & after

Whenever I’ve heard Paul Newell’s name mentioned, there has been nothing but respect from those present.

A lifetime in agricultural research and as a wheat and sheep farmer in various locations has lead Paul to be well qualified to develop ‘Landsmanship’, a practice, discipline and philosophy based on an ‘applied ecological’ approach to agriculture.

Paul’s land management approach has been described as NSF (Natural Sequence Farming, a term which he coined) without bulldozers, with biological elements skilfully utilised in time and space to reinstate landscape function to essential soil, water, vegetation and biodiversity processes, within a productive agricultural environment.

Below is a link to a paper on the Natural Sequence Farming website, written by Paul, along with esteemed ecologist, Professor David Goldney.

“Natural ecology should become the highest discipline in a farmer‘s mind. Much like the disciplines of medicine facilitate healing of the body of people we love, similarly, understanding ecology can help facilitate the health and well being of the body of land and water systems we love as our living habitat landscapes, since each farmer, so we are told, wants to leave his or her land in better condition than when he/she inherited or purchased it.”

A presentation of the practice, discipline and philosophy of Landsmanship, by Paul Newell and Professor David Goldney

This post is a pictorial example of how to apply P.A. Yeomans’ Keyline-patterning for deep ripping, direct drilling or tree planting. It is meant to hopefully help clarify the subject a little for those who’d like to apply keyline patterning to their landscape in some respect, as I’ve seen and heard a number of incorrect applications and explanations floating around the internet. Nice to have a few clearer digital images too.

For a rundown on other aspects of Keyline design, a good starting point is to check out Abe Collins and Darren Doherty’s article, Keyline Mark IV, or visit Ken Yeomans site, http://www.keyline.com.au, where you can purchase Yeoman’s book, ‘Water for Every Farm’.

Finding the Keypoint and Keyline

If you would like to take advantage of the water distribution benefits offered by keyline pattern cultivation, identifying the keypoint and keyline are critical.

(Click on the first image to see a larger slideshow)

Application of Keyline patterning for:

Cultivation (i.e. Deep ripping, Pasture Cropping)

If you’ve decided to rip a paddock to help ease 100 years of compaction (having properly assessed the suitability of the landscape for this practice), or you’re direct drilling for a Pasture Crop, it doesn’t take a great deal more effort to do so on a keyline pattern. Here’s how I go about it.

Tree Mounds

Utilising keyline patterning for setting out tree rows can be very advantageous for any situation where equidistant rows are favourable, particularly where machinery is utilised in management of the inter-row.  There are two well known proponents of this method: The first is Darren Doherty, (many would have seen the image iconic image taken of the Tree Crop paddock on George Howson’s agroforestry property, Dalpura Farm), Mark Sheppard is another.

Here’s an example of how to set out a 4 lane tree belt using keyline patterning.

The same sort of approach can be taken for larger plantations, but there has to end up being some stub rows, or else the runs can get ridiculously steep and be erosion hazards in their own right.

Before you do any sort of hillside cultivation or earthworks which encourage more water to soak into a hillside, make sure you check the local environmental conditions carefully, particularly the presence of dispersive or slaking soils, saline seepage or the occurrence of slips in the local region. Entire hillsides of topsoil have been lost by ripping in the wrong place.

Disclaimer: Where water flow is concerned there are substantial risks involved. While the information and images we publish are formulated in good faith, with the intention of raising awareness of landscape rehydration processes, the contents do not take into account all the social, environmental and regulatory factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice.  Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained within as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Please visit and ‘Like’ our Facebook page to hear about future posts.

Article and Images © Cam Wilson, Earth Integral, 2013

Weeping Willow

“I believe that the presence of willows along streams in agricultural zones can be shown to be almost universally preferable to cleared streams in those zones. I would also suggest that even relatively low-disturbance eucalypt-Acacia dominated riparian vegetation may not have compelling benefits over willows under many circumstances.” (Wilson, 2007)

It would be fair to presume the comment above had been made by Peter Andrews, Natural Sequence Farming originator and outspoken champion for the much maligned willow. In fact, this statement came from Dr Michael Wilson, a stream ecologist who supervised numerous PhD and Masters research projects in Ballarat, Victoria, during the early 2000s, comparing streams flanked by willows; 100 year old, multi-strata, native regrowth, and cleared land with introduced pasture.

The full paper which is linked to at the bottom of this article goes into more detail, but here’s a summary from Wilson (2007) to give you the gist:

- On average, willow-lined streams had a higher retention of sediment (187t more/km) and organic matter (30t more/km) than the native forest.

- “Willow-mediated aggradation in these channels is converting them from incised channels to in-fill channels that are more characteristic of pre-European conditions”.

- Litterfall of willow and native-reveg reaches had a similar annual distribution pattern due to the not-so-well-known summer dominant leaf drop habit of many Eucalypts.

- The annual weight of leaves, twigs, bark and flowers was very similar at the willow and native sites.

- With similar annual litterfall amount and distribution, coupled with dense shade patterns in the seasons of maximum productivity, the overall metabolism (and resulting biological oxygen demand) was also very similar.

- Root mats of willows were found to provide beneficial habitat to native fish in the absence of large woody debris.

- There was a disproportionately large association between pool-riffle sequences and willows, formed by the root mats of the willows.

“Pool-riffle sequences are extremely valuable habitat and for that reason alone it is worthwhile (maintaining willows). But it becomes even more valuable when it can contribute to ideas focused on restoring the whole of the floodplain complex in agricultural landscapes.”

“In all the streams we have studied, clearing willows will mobilise sediment, nutrients and organic matter, will make heterotrophic streams more autotrophic, will threaten habitat values for invertebrates and fish and will threaten pool-riffle sequences. Native vegetation planted where willows are cleared will take many decades if not hundreds of years to mature, for the canopy to close over and for significant limb fall to occur.”

View the full article:

Click here to view the full article, Willows: Weeds of Retention 

Wilson, M., 2007. Willows: Weeds of Retention. Proceedings of the 1st Natural Sequence Farming Workshop. ‘Natural Sequence Farming: Defining the Science and the Practice’, Hazell, Peter and Norris, Duane, Bungendore, NSW,  2007. http://www.nsfarming.com/workshop/

“Let’s bring back slavery!” is the basic conclusion of putting together two bits of information I’ve come across in my inbox today.

The first was an article linked to today on a post that I follow titled “Aussie farms may need Asian labour, report warns”. The main reasons sited in the report were due to retirements of an ageing farming population, coupled with more attractive wages in the mines for young workers.

Meanwhile, at the ABARES conference yesterday, major exporters complained about our lack of competitiveness on world markets, blaming the strong Aussie dollar of course, but also the fact that “we don’t have the luxury of a $7 per hour minimum wage” (in comparison to the USA).

To be equally controversial, Haikai Tane (Adjunct Professor of Ecology & Landscape at the Chinese Academy of Sciences) also likes to to discuss the targeted immigration of Asian farmers for a completely different reason: as a highly professional skill-base with the ability to knock food security on the head.

How’s this for a possible scenario:

  1. Take a town, any town, big or small.
  2. Find a local hobby farmer with a drained floodplain on their land.
  3. Take the horses off, which the kids don’t ride any more and are just flogging the landscape.
  4. Work on the incised channel and rehydrate the floodplain.
  5. Give a skilled migration visa to an Asian terraquaculture farmer
  6. Make that farmer and his family rich, while providing a steady rental income to the landholder.
  7. Fresh vegetables, fruit, ducks, fish, shellfish, pork, mushrooms and rice are available to the local town.
  8. And, just quietly, your compost dunny will probably get emptied for you.

Jumping back to the westerners, Joel Salatin is an inspiration to many, including myself. His ‘stacked’ enterprises and landscape repair achievements seem pretty impressive in the face of the set-stocking monocultural paradigm we’ve been used to. Production wise, if you do the figures, he’s producing 1.37 tonnes per hectare of saleable product (and that’s live weight for the poultry). If you subtract the weight of the grain that’s being imported to feed poultry and pigs, a rough net export (poultry guts included) is 0.4 tonne per hectare.

Compare this with the traditional terraquaculture farming systems in China. Total productivity in floodplain valleys employing paddy pond pig terraquaculture has been reported by a leading Chinese Academy of Science professor at 40-50 tonnes/ha/annum. In mountain regions, trellis vine-terrace garden-orchard forest terraquacultures often exceed 10 tonnes/ha/annum (Tane, 2008). Different climates I am aware, but pretty interesting figures nonetheless.

The catchment drainage paradigm which was imported with the Western pastoralism mindset saw the saturated ‘chain of ponds’ and ‘swampy meadow’ environments in the upland valleys of South-Eastern Australia as an impediment to food production and productivity. Subsequently, they were drained.

Peter Andrews has raised awareness of the potential for rehydrating these drained environments, and there are others who have achieved equally impressive results. While the grazing culture will remain and, as Andrews and others have shown, it can still be very compatible with rehydration strategieswe now live in a very multi-cultural country. With that multiculturalism has come a broadening of our pallet and the foods that turn up on the average Australian’s dinner plate. Post rehydration, which can happen in a short period of time, perhaps it is worth considering the diversification of management in sections of our landscape as well, to match our plates.

For more on Terraquaculture, visit the website

Tane, H. Terraquaculture: Introducing the culture, craft & science of Farming water flowing through the landscape, 2008.

Below are some photos and videos taken along a transect of the floodplain on Peter and Kate Marshall’s property. I hope you enjoy these images (taken 36 hrs after a 180mm overnight event), with the creek running crystal clear and spread out across the floodplain on Sunningdale.

To put what you’re seeing in context, most other watercourses in the region are restricted predominantly to the channel due to the erosion and incision caused by past land management practices. Although man-made, the hydrology in this landscape is much closer to the way it operated pre Euro settlement, in an intact chain of ponds or swampy meadow system. The noise of the frogs in the videos is testament to the significant aquatic and wetland habitat which has also been created.

Photo locations taken across a transect of the floodplain at Sunningdale

Locations of photos taken across a transect of the floodplain at Sunningdale. (For some scale, the image is 350m wide, and the main channel located at the meandering tree-line, flowing from bottom to top).

To flick through a larger slideshow of the images, click on any of the thumbnails below

Short video locations taken across a transect of the floodplain at Sunningdale

Locations of short videos taken across a transect of the floodplain at Sunningdale

Finally, another interesting little clip is of the ground literally bubbling as the subsurface flow rehydrates the gravel and sediments below the surface. This stored moisture benefits the land’s production and drought proofing resilience, while also providing a more sustained base-flow to the landscape below.

See the articles tagged as Key floodplain processes for more information on what is being achieved from a landscape perspective.

Please visit and ‘Like’ our Facebook page to hear about future posts.

Disclaimer: Where water flow is concerned there are substantial risks involved. While the information and images we publish are formulated in good faith, with the intention of raising awareness of landscape rehydration processes, the contents do not take into account all the social, environmental and regulatory factors which need to be considered before putting that information into practice.  Accordingly, no person should rely on anything contained within as a substitute for specific professional advice.

Article and Images © Cam Wilson, Earth Integral, 2013

A stroll, post flood

A stroll, post flood

Increasing atmospheric CO2 levels during the industrial age have gained a lot of exposure in the link with a changing climate. An area which has received far less attention are the significant changes to both local and global water cycles and vegetation patterns during the same period of time.

Water For the Recovery of the Climate – A New Water Paradigm (Kravcik et al, 2007) explores the science behind the very direct links between vegetation and both temperature and precipitation.

It’s a read I highly recommend and it can be downloaded by clicking on the title in the paragraph above. So that the time-poor can get the gist, I have included a number of the diagrams from the paper in a slideshow at the bottom of this article.

Here’s a very simple summary as well:

1) At any given time or place on the planet, there’s a certain amount of solar energy hitting the surface of the earth. That energy can be put to two very different uses.

The distribution of solar energy on drained land and on a landscape saturated with water (Kravcik et al, 2007)

At one extreme, a bare soil (or concrete, steel, etc), the majority of that energy is absorbed and re-radiated as (sensible) heat, warming the local environment.

At the other extreme, a saturated wetland, the majority of that energy is utilised by plants for photosynthesis, with the resulting transpiration drawing (latent) heat from the surrounding area.

So the sun’s energy is used to either power a landscape-scale radiant heater (above left) or a landscape-scale evaporative air conditioner (above right).

2) Of the average 720mm of precipitation that falls on land, the input from the sea is about 310 mm (the large water cycle). Hence, the land provides the larger part of its own precipitation (410 mm) from its own land-based evaporation (the small water cycle).

Small water cycle

Kravcik et al (2007)

Therefore, a drained and dehydrated landscape, coinciding with relatively shallow rooted plants (ie conventional western agriculture) ultimately means less rain over the land, in a (not so) positive feedback loop.

A landscape which is primed to accept whatever rainfall or overland flow that arrives and to send that moisture through actively growing plants, means more rain over the land in a (more) positive feedback loop.

More soil moisture = more evapotranspiration = more precipitation = more soil moisture etc

The radiant heater mentioned previously means less rain; the evaporative air conditioner, more.

In closing, a couple of short paragraphs from the paper:

“The renewal of the domination of the small water cycle, which is advantageous for humanity, vegetation and the land, depends on the renewal of the functional plant cover of a territory and water surfaces in a country.”

“With sensible management of water and vegetation we can curb climatic change on the local level; if we can act in the same way across larger areas, perhaps we can expect a tempering of global climate change.”

We’re in the business of landscape-scale air conditioners, so if you’re interested, please get in touch. Or, visit and ‘Like’ our Facebook page to hear about future posts.

 

Reference:

Kravcik M., Pokorny J., Kohutiar J., Kovac M., Toth, E, 2007. Water For the Recovery of the Climate – A New Water Paradigm

Click here to download a pdf of the paper

Click on the images for a slideshow of the diagrams from the paper.

For those who haven’t seen it, the following is a series of You-tube clips with Peter Andrews interviewed quite skilfully by Martin Royds at Baramul Stud. These clips, put together in 2007 by Paul Cochrane and the Natural Sequence Association, are one of the best overviews of Peter’s observations and hypothesis.  

Peter Andrews and Martin Royds discuss a leaky weir at the Natural Sequence Farming demonstration at Barramul Stud

Peter Andrews and Martin Royds discuss a leaky weir at the Natural Sequence Farming demonstration at Barramul Stud

(The following clips are placed in the same sequence as they appeared on the original DVD)

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Introduction

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Rock Walls

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Weeds Pt1

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Weeds Pt2

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Deenergise

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Floodplains

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Wetlands 1

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Wetlands 2

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Tall Plants

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Runnels

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – End of the flow

Peter Andrews at Baramul Stud – Erosion

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