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Monthly Archives: November 2012

It’s hard to encapsulate all that is happening on Peter and Kate Marshall’s property Sunningdale in one go, but the following series of photos will give you a bit of a taste.

Peter is a pretty special guy. He’s got an understanding of the wider landscape processes which equals Peter Andrews, but he’s also a trained forester and is as widely read and knowledgable as anyone I have met. Add that combination to a desire to fix up some of the considerable degradation caused by his family in past generations and his wife Kate who is equally passionate and equally keen to heal their landscape and you have a pretty powerful combination.

Since commencing their work 22 years ago, the Marshall’s haven’t had it easy. Despite recognition from some of the top mycologists, hydrologists and foresters from here and abroad, within their own community they were largely ostracised early on, from members of the farming community on the one hand because they were seen as the thin edge of a green wedge, and from members of Landcare network on the other because they were using exotic species which Peter knew to have more potential in some land repair roles. Electric fences were cut, waterways were poisoned, authorities were called resulting in the threat of large fines, their children were bullied on the school bus and nuts were even taken off tractor wheels.

An amazing sign of the times is that on Friday night, the Marshall’s received a Champions of the Catchment award from the Upper Shoalhaven Landcare network. This award was introduced to recognise those who have done outstanding work in land repair which differs from the standard few lines of Eucalypts which usually fit the award criteria.

The next day, a tour of their place was conducted. “This is uplifting” was the way that one participant summed it up. Here’s a glance at a small portion of the uplifting work they they have carried out.

Peter leads off the tour, past the considerable biomass produced by Salix and Populus species after only 11 years of growth. These trees moderate the climate significantly through wind protection and transpiration effects.

Here, Salix plantings replicate the gallery forests which existed at the time of European settlement. Exotic species have been chosen due to the changed conditions making the original dominant species, Casuarina, very difficult to establish (heavier more acidic sediment, hare and rabbit predation, reduced frost protection due to complete deforestation and a dehydrated landscape).

Higher on the slope, Casuarinas have been easier to establish. Here, the ones in the background are being pruned for valuable furniture timber as are a wide range of other farm forestry species, suited to different sites on the property

Pinus radiata are pruned up for better quality timber. They were originally established due to their recognition by the tax man, but the focus has changed over time with the most valuable crop now below the ground, in the form of edible mushrooms such as slippery jack and saffron milk cap.

Here the group observes the understorey of ferns which has established beneath Blackwood and local tea tree. This site was dense with blackberries only 12 years without a tree in site. Seed filled brush mattresses of Leptospermum and mud encapsulated seed balls of Acacia were the main reveg techniques used.

Due to the repair of the main creek, the floodplain has rehydrated. These flats have been excavated to tap into the groundwater, creating a mosaic of water and earth, rich in biodiversity in some places…….

……..and planted out to useful agricultural crops in other places such as cricket bat timber or it would be perfect for ducks, fruit and veg if someone wishes to start an enterprise.

Fodder trees are grown in the hydrated landscape, the leaves and bark of which are devoured by goats and sheep. The left over woody biomass can either become material for building erosion-repairing fascines, or innoculated with saprophytic edible mushrooms like shitake.

A number of methods are used for establishing pole plantings while stock are in the paddock such as these tech-screwed tyres.

Wire mesh can also be used to protect trees from ringbarking

One of the Marshall’s most valuable and successful crops is the black truffle. This is a new orchard which has been established this season, using locally adapted oaks with excellent form for light penetration, and innoculated from a portion of their own truffle stock which they put aside this season.

These oaks were a pleasure to plant into the well prepared bed. This site was like concrete when Peter and Kate first purchased it, but after successive rips with the Keyline plough and a series of green manures, you couldn’t ask for a better start to life if you were a tap-rooted tree.

A number of stands of monopodial bamboos have been established for a variety of uses across the property including soil stabilisation, building material, fodder, biochar production and garden stakes which is an enterprise their daughter Rita runs.

What was once a bare walled gully is now a stabilised chain of ponds

This large world class wetland was created on another one of the hydrated flats, which now has black swans nesting. This particular piece of extensive work seems very altruistic, which it is based on the desire to reverse some of the degradation caused by each of Peter and Kate’s families over the generations, but this area of beautiful wetland habitat also offers significant hydration benefits to the surrounding landscape, with groundwater essentially backing up the slopes.

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Article and images Copyright Cam Wilson, Earth Integral, 2012

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Gravity’s always doing its best to take your fertility to the bottom of the hill. The following images explore a couple of ways to reverse this ever-present process, hopefully bringing a more positive slant to the old saying, “Pushing faecal matter uphill”.

This is a floodplain at Baramul stud, hydrated by the Natural Sequence Farming work completed by Peter Andrews. The pasture in the foreground is obviously lush and will provide some very decent feed, however, the tan coloured biomass in the background is equally interesting

This photo was taken standing on the back of a ute which Peter directed straight through this stand of Phragmites. The scale shows the considerable biomass produced as a result of the landscape hydration

Peter had said to me on many occasions that reeds make the best compost. So one day I gave it a go and what do you know, it did (and I’ve made my fair share). This was mainly cumbungi, but I’ve had similar results with Phragmites too.

A forage harvester, baling or in the gut of a cow are a few ways of moving the material up the landscape so that the compost is useful, as Peter Andrews mentions when talking about mulch farming in Back from the Brink.

Another plant that’s synonymous with water are willows, and the more fertile it is the better they grow.

Drop a willow near stock and see what happens. Sheep will strip every bit of bark off, as they have here on Peter and Kate Marshall’s property. Their sheep come to the sound of a chainsaw, as did the stock of a few people I have met, especially during the drought. That’s the time it’s valuable and research by the Kiwis has shown that with protein levels similar to lucerne, poplar and willow can maintain lambing rates during drought periods.

Because you’re close to water, the woody material which might otherwise get in the way can be used to fill in gullies and build more fascines and brush mattresses for erosion control.

With a feed value comparable to lucerne, poplars are another tree that grow on well-hydrated land, which stock will devour. The bark is especially high in trace minerals which are mined from deep down.

There are many varieties of poplars which can be used for different purposes, Populus trichocarpa being one which also provides useful timber.

Populus alba (silver poplar) is another, this stand provides good windbreak even when dormant, while the upright form minimises shading of pasture.

Pasture grows right up to the base of most poplars. The nutrients mined from deep down by the poplars are returned to the surface via leaf drop, enriching the soil beneath.

Browse blocks are utilised by the Kiwis which if grazed often enough don’t require felling with the chainsaw.

Using a number of tyres tech-screwed together, the Marshalls are able to establish poplars while the stock are still in the paddock. A large piece of cardboard eliminates grass competition during establishment. Tyres are removed when the tree is first pollarded.

Another use for a well hydrated floodplain is cricket bat willows. These ones are inoculated with white truffle, hence the oyster shells as a free, slow-release source of calcium.

Bamboo is another plant which does a fantastic job at stitching creek banks together, the foliage providing good fodder while the poles have a huge range of uses, one of which is a good cellular structure for biochar production.

And where do the stock head when they’ve got a gut full of all this? Up the hill of course, Nature’s anti-gravity nutrient transport service. Recognising this pattern, Martin Royds has realigned his fencing to facilitate this nutrient connection between watercourse (filter zone) and hilltop.

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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 © Campbell Wilson, Earth Integral, 2012

The processes which existed in intact chain of pond systems at the time of Euro settlement, and those described by Peter Andrews in Back from the Brink are evident in this roadside gutter.

In this case, a ‘leaky weir’ formed (spilt asphalt from roadworks), slowing the water enough for sediment to drop out. This provided a bed for a wetland (weeds and grasses) to establish in the channel, which in turn captured more sediment, growing larger wetlands and so on.

The moisture and organic matter trapped by the wetland create ideal composting conditions and beautiful black soil begins to develop (Good enough for these two worms to decide to start a family)

When the flow is obstructed by the vegetation in the ‘wetlands’, it’s forced from the channel onto the floodplain (road). As the flow spreads and slows on the rough, well vegetated surface (blue metal chunks), bulk biomass and fertility from the wetlands is deposited. Here, the biomass has accumulated on contour, similar to this other post.

 

Copyright Cam Wilson, Earth Integral 2012

There are many different ways that Peter and Kate Marshall have turned degraded sites around on ‘Sunningdale’, setting landscape rehydration and repair processes into action.

One of the methods was this series of vegetated earth banks, which are situated in a second order gully, higher in the catchment. The photos tell the story.

Fabric protecting the 8 newly constructed earth banks in 2004. Sedges were pinned on top of the material, the rhizomes binding the banks together

In 2012, the vegetation is well established and the banks have remained stable, in a fashion very similar to those in an intact chain of ponds. The ponds are beginning to shrink as the sedge and rush marches into the water, providing valuable wetland habitat as they do

Here, sediment and algae is caught by the sedge covered banks during a small flow event, providing material and nutrients to assist with further vertical growth of the banks

In this photo, the shovel has cut down to the fabric which remains below the surface, showing the material which has built up. Sediment caught and trapped by the tussocks, rhizomes and root mats of the sedge, as well as their bulk organic material, help the banks to grow in height

As a result of these simple earthworks, the ponds and wetland plants themselves provide valuable wetland habitat, whilst also improving the drought resilience of the landscape through the lateral hydration of the surrounding floodplain In time, as the banks continue to aggrade, this will provide further benefits by returning flood flows to the floodplain surface.

If anyone is interested in spending some time working on the Marshall’s property, feel free to contact us and we can put you in touch.

Or, if you’re interested in getting these processes happening once again on your land, contact us to find out about our design, consultancy and implementation services.

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, 2012

When building natural capital (including beef or wool), increased potosynthesis is the goal of any land manager. Available moisture is, of course, a key factor.

At the time Europeans settled in South-Eastern Australia, many broad upland valleys were described as chains of ponds or swampy meadows. There are a few of these well hydrated, very productive systems, effectively drought proof systems still remaining (for example the Hazell’s property), but the majority have been severely eroded and subsequently drained (click on the following for an outline of the degradation process, in diagrams or the scientific literature).

At Tarwyn Park, Peter Andrews demonstrated the potential primary production benefits from reinstating the original floodplain processes and rehydrating the surrounding landscape.

One way of doing so is by raising the alluvial water table through lateral infiltration (as described in the post Floodplain water storage). The speed this occurs depends on the soil type, but if it’s going to happen any time soon the main driving factor is a fairly constant supply of water from the catchment above.

High in the landscape, inflow from the catchment above is generally only available for a short period of time. Where this is the case, the effectiveness of relying solely on a lateral hydration approach is limited, as a severely drained landscape will take a considerable time (maybe several lifetimes) before the water table is raised high enough to enhance plant growth on the floodplain.

Where short sharp bursts of runoff are available, the fastest return can be achieved by reinstating the old flood flows. Water spreads out across the landscape once more, soaking into the floodplain for the extended use by the plants and soil life. Sediments are also deposited, the process which has made floodplains the rich production zones they are worldwide. Basically, it’s recommissioning nature’s flood fertigation system.

In an intact landscape, there are predictable locations where floodwater is more likely to top the banks, just as there are locations where it’s likely to re-enter:

On a macro-scale, floodplain flow patterns are often closely related to the ridges intruding into the floodplain (Tane, 1999)

Where multiple ponds exist between the major landscape features, braided flood flows (red arrows) generally exit the downstream half and enter the upstream half of a pond (P Hazell, personal conversation)

When siting structures, an understanding of these processes is the key to getting the most bang for your buck. A structure in an inappropriate location may get the water up onto the floodplain, but it will soon spill back into the gully, maybe even worsening the existing erosion. In contrast, a well positioned structure results in the flow heading away from the watercourse, spreading into a more passive flow and hydrating the floodplain surface before re-entering the stream sometimes hundreds of metres downstream.

On Gunningrah, Charlie and Anne Maslin have sited their structures as well as anyone I’ve seen with this goal in mind. Having taken inspiration from Peter Andrews on ‘Australian Story’ and attending a Natural Sequence Farming field day, Charlie has since constructed around 40 leaky weirs on Gunningrah (For more information about the Maslin’s farming prowess, see their profile in the Soils for life case studies).

There are a range of positive results which the Maslins have achieved depending on the landscape position of the works, but the following couple of examples are a good demonstration of utilising the original flooding processes mentioned above.

(Note: To avoid hefty fines, it’s important to adhere to local watercourse regulations. In many places there are few restrictions on ‘dam walls’ within first and second order streams other than the harvestable rights of the property)

Poplar site

Flow had become contained within the incised channel, taking shortest path it could towards the ocean. The only moisture available to the surrounding floodplain was what fell from the sky

An earth wall structure intercepts the flow in the channel, reconnecting it with the floodplain. The flow re-enters more than 500m downstream, with the potential to irrigate about 6 ha of pasture.

The poplars indicate the path of the incised channel, the flow now spreads out across the floodplain

Looking upstream at the same structure, the flow spreads significantly across the paddock.

Debris in the middle of the paddock, around 50m from the main channel.

Hayshed site

Flow path before the works….

….. and afterwards, back to how it once was

An aerial view of the flow before the works were completed, contained within the incised channel

An earth wall intercepts the channelised flow, spilling onto the surrounding floodplain. For an idea of the extra water harvesting potential which results, 0.25 Megalitre is stored for every 25mm of water that’s accepted by the landscape per hectare. A healthy topsoil can receive far more than that.

In case you’re still wondering “How can water flow away from the main watercourse? Isn’t that always the lowest point?” It is in a young landscape, but Australia’s pretty geriatric as far as watersheds go.

In Back from the brink, Peter Andrews talks about water flowing on the high ground (of the floodplain). This phenomena was observed by plenty of early explorers and it’s also well accepted in the scientific literature. In short, when a watercourse spills its banks, the water slows down, depositing the heaviest sediment. In time, a natural levee is built as seen below.

If you’re interested in getting these processes happening once again on your land, contact us to find out about our design, consultancy and implementation services.

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, 2012

References

Tane, H. 1999. Catchment Habitats and Landscape Ecosystems. Centre for Catchment Ecology, 1: 1-12