David Holmgren visits Flood Creek

Last Wednesday, Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group were privileged and delighted to be visited by David Holmgren, co-originator of the Permaculture concept. David had been in Canberra attending a panel discussion and screening of the film ‘Surviving Earth’ as well as giving a public lecture titled ‘Future Scenarios and Solutions’, a topic he discusses in his stimulating book ‘Future Scenarios’ (free to read online). In order to maximise the value of his trip to the ACT and southern tablelands region David also visited Braidwood to touch base with our group and get to know a few of the local Landcarers.

We were especially glad to get his input regarding our plan to conduct a ‘Non-Destructive Revegetation Trial’ along part of Flood Creek, which hosts a diverse natural assemblage of non-native species, including an overstorey of mainly crack willow (Salix fragilis). Knowing how damaging and ineffectual willow removal has been (and continues to be) across southeast Australia, Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group are keen to demonstrate some non-environmentally-destructive landcare alternatives.

Flood Creek Aerial

Aerial view of Flood Creek with the densely vegetated section of riparian Crown land which was the focus for David’s visit shown at centre.

On the way to Braidwood, after collecting David from near Bungendore, we were able to visit Mulloon Creek Natural Farms to observe the ‘Natural Sequence Farming’ work that was conducted there in consultation with Peter Andrews in 2006. Tony Coote (owner of Mulloon Creek Natural Farms) showed David around some of the restorative leaky weir structures which were put in place during the first stage of this project. It is simply astonishing to see the ‘before and after’ photos of Mulloon Creek and to realise just how well-vegetated and productive the creek and flood plain have become since these works were completed. The next stage of this project will see an extension of NSF-based landscape repair on neighboring properties further downstream.

Once we got to Flood Creek, in Braidwood, we were joined by a small group of interested Landcarers to walk the site and to discuss past and future Landcare projects in this area. David’s hometown of Hepburn has a similar semi-urban creek, called Spring Creek, where David and other members of the Hepburn community have been working for over a decade on their own community forest management project.


David discusses different age classes of the willows at Flood Creek.

One of the first impressions that David shared about our site was how verdant and fertile it appeared. Due to the effective sequestration of nutrient runoff from higher in the catchment (including the town), the soil and soil-water conditions are significantly eutrophic. David’s suggestion was that these high nutrient levels may well prove an impediment to the introduction of many native overstorey species, which generally are not adapted to them. Jokingly, someone suggested we could always flush those nutrients downstream into the Shoalhaven River and Tallowa Dam if we really wanted to, just by killing the existing non-native vegetation!

Reidsdale’s own Peter Marshall, pointed out that the recent loss of some of Flood Creek’s big willows had opened gaps in the canopy allowing (arguably) less desirable plants like privet, box elder and hawthorn to proliferate in the newly available sunlight. His suggestion, therefore, was that one of the important things to achieve at this site is to establish other useful overstorey species that would bring back the shade. It was pointed out that most native species, especially local eucalypts would be unsuitable to this task due to the sparse shade that they provide. Being adapted to hot and dry conditions, eucalypts will often turn their leaves at right angles to the sun to avoid loss of moisture, thereby effectively allowing more light through. This is why you often see blackberry thriving and spreading under eucalypts, but this doesn’t occur under trees providing dense shade.

Flood Creek path

A view of Flood Creek vegetation from the Landcare path. Note numerous gaps in the previous overstorey of willows and a dense profusion of  mid-storey shrubs.

David spoke to us about the potential for real willow management, here and across southeast Australia. This would see willows actually managed for productive benefit. This idea can be contrasted with the inappropriately (mis)named “management” presently practiced by some NRM agencies (which is actually just pointless and counterproductive eradication). Regular coppicing of willows can provide a great deal of highly nutritious and sustainable fodder for local livestock. As well as this, vigorously-regrowing willows will more actively absorb excess nutrients, which are then effectively withdrawn from catchment runoff.

A side benefit of coppicing that I have noticed is that regrowth on coppiced crack willows is much sappier and less brittle than twigs on mature, unmanaged trees, hence coppice management may also help to allay fears of spread by snapped-off vegetative ‘cuttings’. Coppicing is a management technique we may utilise at Flood Creek in future, after alternative overstorey species become established and promoting succession is considered desirable.

Within Flood Creek

A view from within the Flood Creek incision. Native phragmites, baumea, carex and Paspalum distichum coexisting below the willow canopy with Ranunculus repens, ivy and Myriophyllum.

Another important point that David emphasised was that Willows (especially the crack willows so numerous around Braidwood) are a pioneering species; they establish and grow rapidly, stabilising soil, and sequestering nutrients, but then collapse, leaving gaps within the canopy for other willows or new tree species to grow through. In the case of Flood Creek it seems this has been occurring over the last 20 years or so (there is still some contention as to whether willow senescence here may be partly due to human intervention). In working with this pioneer species, in a non-destructive manner, we may now have the opportunity to influence our little forest towards an even more diverse, useful and aesthetically-appealing system. It seems strange that some people are determined to work against natural processes of succession and diversification by returning pioneer riparian forests to degraded agricultural pasture or urban wasteland (or, perhaps, degraded agricultural pasture or urban wasteland, plus a few native seedlings). Why not recognise and simply augment the natural productivity and biodiversity that is already present?

Several desirable plant species were proposed for use at Flood Creek as part of our Non-Destructive Revegetation project. Given the diversity of aspect, light exposure, existing species and structure, it will not be a case of us simply converting this entire area to a forest of “X”. It is the nature of non-destructive revegetation that Flood Creek will continue to be a diverse riparian system. Future landcare activities in this area should only add to the existing biodiversity and habitat value.

David at Flood Creek

David addresses the group beside one of the pools within the Flood Creek incision.

One of the main goals for this project is to clearly demonstrate (to ourselves, to the wider community, and to ‘the-powers-that-be’) that the establishment of native vegetation can be achieved by natural succession, without the need to turn an existing riparian forest into an ‘ecological ground-zero‘ first. Because of this there will certainly be a number of native species utilised as part of our non-nativist trial.

And why wouldn’t there be? Non-nativist Landcare is an inclusive, logical and holistic approach based upon a sound assessment of existing ecological realities. Bunyas, tea-tree and casuarina are all potential candidates for use in this area and other natives will no doubt be suggested as we continue to observe and interact with this site. Suitable non-native trees will also be utilised and, since many of these can be planted as advanced pole cuttings and will grow rapidly in this moist and eutrophic environment, they will be extremely useful for quickly creating shade, mulch, fodder and logs for structural purposes.

There is already a self-sown apple amongst the Flood Creek forest and more fruit trees will likely prove a great resource for the citizens of Braidwood in future. I recall in the past the number of interested townsfolk who were able to share the surplus harvest of the big quince hedge on Elrington St. These and many other fruit trees would certainly be valued and well-utilised if we decide to establish them here.

After an hour and a half at Flood Creek, we continued David’s journey heading further east, to Reidsdale where we were invited to tour part of Peter and Kate Marshall’s property. As mentioned elsewhere on this blog, the Marshall’s farm is a diverse forestry, grazing and mycology enterprise. You don’t need to walk very far to see a large range of tree species. David and Peter both seemed very much within their element and (I’ll admit) these dedicated and experienced tree-freaks left me feeling it was all too much to take in. What an astonishing wealth of botanical and ecological knowledge there is between these two! Our walk and the day ended back at the house after an enjoyable potted tour and a few insistent showers of rain. We local visitors departed leaving David to enjoy a dinner of willow-fed lamb with the Marshalls before heading to Goulburn to catch the night train south again.

Early feedback from some of the other participants was that it had been a great treat to be able to discuss and assess our site, and the species within it, in a calm and rational manner; without automatically labelling some species as undesirable “weeds”; and without beginning from the ridiculous presumption that this incised, eutrophic and urban creek “should” contain only the native species that were present in 1788.

As I said when I began this post, we felt privileged and delighted to be visited by David. He’s an intelligent and experienced ecological practitioner who has a great wealth of wisdom to share. As an early adopter of the conceptual framework of ‘Ecosynthesis’ he holds perspectives that can be of great use to the Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare Group, and to other landcarers of all permutations. These perspectives provide clear understandings to guide our interactions with Australia’s demonstrably non-native modern-day ecological realities.

David is obviously a naturally inquisitive person and a lifelong learner, he seemed to enjoy his visit to our neck of the woods just as much as we did. We hope to see more of him again soon, either back up here, or south of the border, in his natural habitat by Spring Creek.

11 responses to “David Holmgren visits Flood Creek

  1. We also have an active permaculture community in the USA. Toby Hemenway is a recognized leader in the permaculture community here and the author of Gaia’s Garden, a valuable book about permaculture techniques. He has written an incisive critique of nativism, which I recommend to you: http://www.patternliteracy.com/116-native-plants-restoring-to-an-idea

    • It’s remarkable how big an influence Permaculture has been for a great deal of Landcare activity in Australia, especially in the early days. Less so where nativism has come to dominate. So much in common otherwise.

  2. Well, it has happened again. In a short interesting read, on this post, I progressed my understandings of our, natural or not, landscape.
    How we got here is our ‘heritage’, what to preserve and why, is aided by this dialogue.
    I am reminded of doing a group painting, where we advanced around a number of easels adding to the previous ‘artists’ impression of what went before. The person following me over painted each of my offerings. In so doing she/he also obliterated the previous contribution of most others, which I had painstakingly attempted to preserve. The facilitator was overjoyed by the result!
    As it turned out the process had been captured on a security camera.
    Peeling back the layers in ‘real time’ was a real joy.
    What is preserved has a bearing on both viability and sustainability into the future.
    I also caught Davids talk the previous night and thank him for putting his energy futures, ‘framework for analyses’ into the public domain as a useful tool for the rest of us.


  3. Nicely said , Mr Hemenway .

    Its interesting that disturbances can be slow and incremental , or sudden and dramatic , or sometimes both on the same piece of ground along a timeline .

    Those disturbances that take just a little longer than a human life span can go unnoticed or misunderstood by todays observer .

    Take Flood Creek for instance . Dramatically disturbed since European settlement by sheep , cattle , mining , removal of native small mammals and fungalsymbionts , birds , logging for bakers wood and construction timber , nutrient enriched , planted with exotics , contaminated with herbicides and veterinary chemicals , occupied by exotic predators .
    Hugely disturbed , to the point were we can hardly imagine what it looked like in 1800 .

    Our meeting was standing deep in an inciscion dating from dramatic erosion events of late 19th and mid 20th century . Our heads were well below water level of the ponds of 1800 . The deeply cut , drain like , eutrophic watercourse of today is completely( white ) man made , yet many townsfolk see it as a natural formation .

    See it as man made and it is much easier to conceptualise what woman could now make of it , and that we probably should try to fix what we broke .

    A few thoughts for what Flood Creek could become , none preclude any of the others .

    -A test site for efficient techniques to create an analogue of the pre settlement riverine environment .

    -A test site for developing an ethnobotanical food forest with indigenous foods and aboriginal input .
    Wouldn’t Bunya bunya be spectacular ?

    -The same for old style european techniques and crops . Hazels , apples , walnuts , beech . Coppicing , pollarding , hedging .

    -A biomass production site for soaking up nutrients and capturing carbon . Growing sufficient logs on site for bioengineering works . Demonstrating the economic and ecological value of ‘ Long fodder ” .

    -An exporter of clean air and water . Very Direct Action carbon capture site .

    -Nursery site for useful trees , shrubs , emergents, other species . Providing cuttings and rhizomes to seed other repair sites .

    – Arboretums .
    Tapping into the rare and special , and underappreciated species available in Canberra , old gold mining areas and early homesteads .Featuring those wonderful plants currently demonised by suburban mindsets . Willow , Poplar , Chestnut , Oak , Bamboo spring to mind .
    A Casauretum would be wonderful and non contentious too .

    -Tourist draw for town . Walkways and interpretive signage .
    Craft days and instruction in woodscraft . Perhaps tie in with Club facilites , they could do with the cash flow .

    In case this seems a little too much please be reminded all these things are already happening in the shire . But the Flood Creek site has location , location , location . it could be a world class project .

    Ill Castore Ardente


  4. I’m increasingly confident we’ll get there Peter.

  5. Yes, and with offsite discussion about how we arrive at ‘our’ next move conducted right here.
    The interest is out there Hems you just need to dedicate yourself full time.

  6. Pingback: Visiting Flood Creek - Holmgren Permaculture Design for Sustainable Living

  7. Are Christmas Beatles natives to Australia. Will my knowing this actually stop the invasion. Netting gum trees is time consuming and absurd! Is catching them increasing the breeding stock. Is there a market for them.
    Can I protect my eucalypts with non natives.

    This is not the only landcaring site you know. see also LLS southeast community forum Open. Just re opened. There I attempt to describe how the proliferation of landcare groups in less than a square kilometer can be vertically integrated. it’s a start..

  8. Dear Rob ,

    Christmas Beetles see in Ultraviolet . Floodlight your Gum trees red .
    Confuses the hell out of the little buggers .

    To my point .
    At Flood Creek meeting I was gently chided for using intemperate language to describe Ivy .
    Chatting afterwards I realise none really knew what was bothering me , so here it is .

    Ivy is a bad bad problem weed . Persistent , extremely hard to suppress , super competitive and adaptable . See how its killed nearly every native planted by BULG .
    In low light situations it happily spreads by runners . But what it really likes is for humans to tear out shading willows , exposing it to full light . It then explodes in biomass and goes to flowering and massive seed dispersal .

    Suppose you have devoted your life to restoring a creek line some 20 km from Flood Creek ?
    The better your careful riparian repair , and establishment of a lovely native understory the very much worse is the chance of ivy colonising and ruining the rest of your life .

    Herbicides don’t bother its waxy leaves , pulling it out is impossibly labour intensive , growth rate is extraordinary . I suspect allelopathic exudates too . Once it arrives you are in a world of hurt .

    How did it get here ? Why is it germinating at 20 plants per square metre in the middle of our beautiful native regeneration ?

    The Bower Bird . He collected the seed at Flood Creek and flew it 20 km to his bower . His dancing tilled the soil for a nice seed bed .
    He likes blue things , you see.

    This discovery is to soon be published in a US scientific journal .
    But you heard it first here folks .


  9. Thank you PM for ‘xmas beetles see in UV’. A bit of a ‘search’ turns up some interesting stuff. National Wildlife, True colors: how birds see, sheds some light, ahem, on another animal that sees in UV. I guess spectral properties of plants features in your world. My understanding is plants take energy out of the visible spectrum and UV protection is important to plants. Have I got this right or is it not that simple.
    Xmas beetle solariums might be the go. A light show that no one else can see where xmas beetles get down and creepy.

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