The Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare blog is intended as a collaborative effort. Over time we hope to post stories and articles by various contributors (see our collaborate-contribute page). For our very first of these we are fortunate to hear from Mr Peter Marshall.
Peter and Kate Marshall were recently awarded by the Upper Shoalhaven Landcare Council as one of four inaugural ‘Champions of the Catchment’ in recognition of their approach to sustainable farming. For a video introduction, try this link to an ABC story from 2013.
Peter is an innovative farmer well known for his pragmatic views on the use of non-native species in land restoration and agro-ecology. He is also known for his outspoken disregard for nativist doctrines in Natural Resource Management. He is a trained and experienced forester and he and his family produce a diverse range of products (and support a diverse range of wildlife) on their 500 acre farm near Braidwood. Perhaps the most notable of these products is their famous truffles sold under the name of ‘Terra Preta’.
Here, Peter shares his reflections upon some negative experiences with nativism that touched him very directly:
Reflecting on Bicentennial Park, Braidwood
Aldo Leopold said something to the effect of “a disadvantage of an ecological education is that one then lives in a world of wounds”; meaning that a trained ecologist may see broken ecosystems where another person may just see pleasant landscape. And so it has been at Bicentennial Park (on Braidwood’s Monkittee Creek) over the decades.
I knew the place since the mid 1980’s. We lived in a house overlooking it from 1990. In those days the big willows gave deep shade, there was little in the way of weedy understory. The few blackberries we saw we just grubbed out. The big wall of willows along one side of the grassy space and the row of houses across the road created the sense of a big landscape room. Lots of travellers stopped there, our kids played there most afternoons. It was our dreaming place and we loved it.
But different people see different values in landscapes. For example, a Landcare Coordinator once looked at a ruined streamline on our farm, incised and broken-banked after a century of overgrazing and said, “this is a pristine alpine riparian zone, you may not interfere with it”. Apparently he saw some gum trees and that to his perspective was good. ‘Gum tree good’.
The same man took me to Warri bridge (on the Shoalhaven River) to show me the bad diversity. ‘Look at this terrible diversity’, he said. Took me a while to understand he was looking at willows. He thought he saw a different leaf form, indicating a terrible willow hybrid which was poised to eat up the river. ‘Willow bad’.
We had walked into river-water. When my boots dried they stank from the sediment which had been suspended in the water. I thought this bad, all that soil going to the sea. We saw totally different things at the same place and time.
The reductionist mind set of ‘gum tree good’, ‘willow tree bad’ would not have mattered, except this person had authority, funding and followers. Arrogance and ignorance on crusade.
I tried to stop the destruction of the willows at Monkittee Creek. But ‘willow tree bad’ had been whipped up into ‘willow must be eradicated’ and lots of nice people had swallowed the story. You can find the letter in Tallaganda Times where the Chairman of the Landcare group debunked my silly proposal to use willows as a successional and bioengineering tool.
We came home one day and our favourite place was destroyed. A wonder what a Kato can do in a day.
It’s a pity that the planners hadn’t bothered to check with the people who lived in the street. Many were old folks who had lived their whole lives looking onto the tranquil scene. They were deeply hurt, grieving the loss of their place. From a generation who respected authority, they kept their distress private, but it did the reputation of Landcare no good at all.
Still, Mr Chairman was eradicating a terrible species; he need not consider the social consequences of his actions.
We were grieving too, and moved away. But we couldn’t escape the Willow Warriors, the fad had lost touch with reality and become an ideology.
Next the two Himalayan Cypress outside the Court house must go. People were so cowed by the new orthodoxy of ‘gum tree good, all exotics bad’. Those trees are only there today because I personally stood in front of a chain saw while making phone calls. Would it have been a better streetscape without them?
Willow sawfly managed to fly 2,000 km against prevailing winds in 2004 to arrive at Flood Creek and outside my kitchen window. Amazing journey for such a tiny fragile insect.
The fastest conversation stopper was to say the word ‘willow ‘ with a positive inflection. People would flinch “That’s a terrible weed!” You aren’t allowed to say anything good about them, you pervert.
My family were reported to the Government for private river repair work and threatened with huge fines. A nonsense charge as it turned out, but a shocking message about how a silly fad can turn into something terrible. Terrible waste of money, time, talent, trust, tranquillity.
Then began the native tubestock planting days. A mix of non-endemic gums (adding genetic pollution to the list of outrages) and other species; apparently chosen by committee, rather than for suitability to site conditions. One expert banned planting Casaurina littoralis on the basis that littoralis meant seaside, so it was out of place. Yet Boorowa mix wasn’t?
The sad old cycle: no planting preparation and no follow up resulting in dead chopsticks in milk cartons.
Then a new crew of nice, well motivated folks would arrive some years later and do it all again, and again. Was it four times or five?
Yes, poison was used; badly, by untrained operators. Useless anyhow against the masses of weeds invading the suddenly-sunny ground.
Now a word about park design, which is such an important discipline it is taught in universities:
One block up the hill is a beautiful park. Well spaced trees, form pruned to lift up a big sheltering canopy. Deep shade and a feeling of quiet comfort. People love it. But none of this was reproduced at Bicentennial Park. Because the nativist mindset completely precluded use of the nicest sheltering species god gave us. Nasty exotics!
I do not wish to offend the nice people who planned and planted the park but all I see nowadays is an incoherent, fruit salad planting of scrub; a fire risk on the urban edge. It has none of the values of a lovable park.
No top shelter, no feeling of big forest rooms, no borrowed views. No deep shade during the hottest part of the day. A huge safety issue as the gums start dropping branches on hot days.
No integration into the riparian zone. In fact, no justification for the waste of lots of money, decades of time and the heartache of the whole sad affair.
The saddest thing to me? Lessons not learned. The pointless destruction of these few hundred yards of creek line is being repeated a thousand fold all over the state. By the same people who wrecked my special place.
What a world of wounds.