Farmers in Victoria’s south east are seeing a wide range of benefits – and not just environmental – in an ambitious project created to reverse the loss of native vegetation and, potentially, a number of local flora and fauna species.
Six years ago, the Bass Coast Shire had less than 15 per cent native vegetation coverage and more than 150 local flora and fauna species were classified as under threat or endangered.
The alarming statistics spurred the local council into action, and by 2018 it had developed the Bass Coast Biolinks Project in partnership with Bass Coast Landcare Network (BCLN).
The Biolinks Project provides landscape connectivity, by linking remnant patches of indigenous vegetation using biolinks (wildlife corridors). This plays an important role in biodiversity by encouraging the movement of wildlife and allowing for genetic diversity in breeding populations, but the plan also sees agricultural outcomes for the farmers partnering with BCLN on the project.
Today, the Shire has one million more trees and species are being spotted in greater numbers and local farmers couldn’t be happier.
“There are just so many good reasons to do this. If you are using the term sustainable agriculture, this is the very basis of it,” said farmer Paul Speirs, who has been involved in the Bass Coast Biolinks project to take on vegetation loss headfirst.
“It’s right for the landscape, it’s right for protecting vital assets on your farm, the water and the soil and it’s right for all the other animals which used to inhabit these areas which didn’t have a chance because there was no habitat left.”
Already BCLN has engaged more than 100 farmers to plant more than one million trees, with 55 farmers signing up in the past year after seeing the project’s success.
“Last year was a bumper year – we wanted to plant about 85,000 plants and ended up planting about 320,000. It was an unexpected outcome, but the network was so successful at getting landholders on board, they were able to increase their number of plantings,” Bass Coast Shire Council’s Coordinator for Land and Catchment, Diana Whittington, said.
“Farmers see what other farmers are doing and see the benefits of shade and shelter and getting the biodiversity back in the landscape and they want to get involved.”
BCLN executive general manager Dave Bateman said the benefits of lifting vegetation coverage and increasing species diversity to farmers through the biolinks included:
- Increased shade and shelter for livestock
- Enhanced paddock design due to fencing off creeks and gullies which lifts animal welfare outcomes
- Improved waterway resilience to flood risk and climate variability
- Reduced sediment run off entering waterways
- Increased erosion control
- Improved living and working conditions on-farm
Paul Speirs, who is also a BCLN Board member, has been revegetating his Archies Creek property for almost 35 years focusing on creating wildlife corridors.
“As an animal welfare issue, it’s worthwhile doing revegetation because it looks after the animals on both sides of the fence – your stock and the wildlife,” he said.
“Steep slopes are often not good pasture and can be dangerous for cattle, so through creating biolinks all our creek lines and steep slopes have been revegetated and now I have more grass than my cattle can eat - and they are very happy cattle.”
Due to the sheer size of the plantings and quick growth of indigenous plants in the region, native vegetation coverage is increasing by around three percent a year.
With the Biolinks Project on target to increase the native vegetation coverage in Bass Coast to at least 30 percent, Dave Bateman said its ongoing success is due to farmer support and the host of volunteers taking part in planting days.
“Because the project enables revegetation across a widespread area and different properties in a planned way, the majority of the plantings in the Biolinks Program are completed by volunteers including Landcare members, school students and corporate groups,” Dave said.
“Bass Coast Landcare Network organised the biggest planting in our history as part of this program with 200 school students planting 20,000 plants in a session. It was a remarkable achievement.”
To support volunteers and maximise on-ground works, BCLN has leveraged funding from Bass Coast Shire Council to engage additional partners including Greening Australia, the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority, Melbourne Water and The Federal Government’s 20 Million Trees Program.
“By partnering with even more farmers in the region we are keen to see the Bass Coast Biolinks Program continue to grow into the future,” Dave said.
Find out more about the Bass Coast Biolinks Program and how you can get involved by email: [email protected] or phone: (03) 5678 2335.
Watch a short video about Paul's involvement in the biolinks program on YouTube.
This article was produced as part of the Landcare Farming Innovations in Agriculture Series. Supported by the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program, the Landcare Farming Innovations in Agriculture Series is managed in partnership by Landcare Australia and the National Landcare Network.