Mr Peter Andrews (OAM), founder of Natural Sequence Farming, recently visited Flood Creek. He was extremely impressed by the diversity of the vegetation growing there. Maintaining a diversity of plant species, especially including so-called ‘weeds’, has been a major part of Peter’s message over the years. Plant diversity inevitably builds a landscape, increasing fertility and restoring hydrology. It was great to compare notes with Peter at Flood Creek and find him as impressed by the diversity of our little patch as we are.
As anyone familiar with resilience thinking would know, diverse systems tend to be more resilient systems, with capacity to absorb shocks and yet maintain ecosystemic function. In fact, the number-one principle of resilience, as presented in this handy summary, is to ‘maintain diversity and redundancy’. It is a pity that the ecologically-illiterate among us often believe maintaining diversity in some areas requires demolishing it in others, and that ‘biodiversity’ can only perform worthwhile ecological functions if it’s native biodiversity.
I can understand people might fear ‘invasive’ species when they’ve been convinced that any new arrivals will lead to local extinctions, but how can anyone seriously assert that an existing system is already ‘full’ of biodiversity? Why assume that an area of land (say, urban parkland in Sydney) is as biodiverse as it can possibly be and that any further addition will necessarily be detrimental? Given the significant changes that have occurred since European arrival, and the loss and movement of species that has occurred as a result, isn’t it safer to assume that urban and agricultural areas are bereft of pre-existing components and therefore relatively lacking in diversity? Why is a new non-native species in these situations automatically a threat to biodiversity?
And how can any reasonable person possibly argue that additional non-native biodiversity is always dysfunctional when the reality of increasingly-complex non-nativist systems like Flood Creek are there for all to see? What about landscapes like the one shown in the panorama below? How could removing the non-native trees (willows) in this grazing paddock be good for biodiversity?
This floodplain landscape, near Blaney, NSW, is typical of a huge proportion of southeast Australian valley-fills today. In essence, it contains grass, some thistles, some cattle and an eroded incision which is lined with willow trees. The willows have not spread beyond the incision, they are perfectly suited to occupying this niche; stabilising eroded sediments, withdrawing excess nutrients from the stream, cycling matter and energy and making these available for other species. What amount of biodiversity, and what amount of resilience, could possibly be gained by removing the willow trees from this landscape?
What possible environmental or ecological benefit accrues within a landscape from removing species diversity and structural complexity?
Flood Creek Non-Nativist Landcare is all about biodiversity and resilience, especially within agricultural landscapes like the one shown above. 75% of the Australian continent is utilised for agricultural production of one kind or another, so why are our NRM agencies spending so much time and money deliberately decreasing diversity in many of these landscapes? And why are we doing this destructive work in the name of “biodiversity” and “the environment”?
During Peter Andrews’ visit, he joined with me and a couple of other local Landcarers to kick start our non-destructive revegetation trial. Admittedly, it was a modest beginning; we managed to plant three Casuarina cunninghamiana amongst the existing non-nativist vegetation.
The point of ‘non-destructive revegetation’ is to demonstrate that we needn’t destroy existing biodiversity in order to establish native plants. This is a perfectly reasonable observation and should be a no brainer for Landcarers, NRM professionals, polliticians and funding bodies alike, but for some strange reason it feels like a subversive act to be planting native trees without killing all of the existing non-nativist ecology first.
This is because, right now, government funding is being poured into willow (and other weed) removal throughout southeast Australia. Riparian forests are being poisoned and torn out and the tax-payer is footing the bill.
As we expand our non-destructive revegetation trial we hope it will demonstrate to existing land management authorities and funding bodies that if your goal is to increase diversity and promote improved ecosystem function, then the eco-destruction that typically precedes many “revegetation” (cough, cough) projects is completely unnecessary and counterproductive. We should be adding species components to these systems to boost their complexity, not neurotically attempting to purify them by purging all organisms we consider to be ‘foreigners’.
The point of our project is to question the puritanical excesses of nativism by demonstrating the capacity for natives and non-natives to co-exist and the potential to augment diversity without returning to a bare-earth ecological ground-zero first. Consider the tax dollars that could be saved by not sending in the excavators to remove all those non-nativist riparian forests before native seedlings are planted beside an incised flow-line. Think of all the intact non-nativist habitat that could be saved; the wildlife that would remain undisturbed; the herbicides not spreading in our streams.
Standing there with Peter, kicking off our subversive non-destructive revegetation project, I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony: What do rebellious non-nativists end up planting to strike a blow for the cause? Well, natives of course!
And why not? As I’ve said before, non-nativist Landcare is far more inclusive than the nativist approach. It’s not anti-natives; it’s pro-biodiversity; it’s pro-resilience; it’s pro-‘caring for the land’.
Right now we’re doing the ground work to enable further non-destructive plantings by the students from the Braidwood Central School Agriculture class in March. This should be a great opportunity for young local farmers to learn some useful forestry techniques. They’ll be doing so in a hands-on way that makes a practical difference to their local environment too; increasing plant diversity and building the land. Further updates on this project to follow.
It was great to have Peter visit our little urban forest and give us his advice and a helping hand to promote biodiversity. We’re delighted to hear that Peter may soon be settling in the Upper-Shoalhaven catchment and look forward to building further ties between him and our local Landcare community.