Peter Andrews at Flood Creek

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?

Willows near Blaney

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. 

Peter Ben Martin planting a casaurina

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.

IMG_5500

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.

11 responses to “Peter Andrews at Flood Creek

  1. Restoration ecology is about working with nature ~ using natural supersedure methods, not destructive ones. Willows proved to be amazing nurse crops for natural regeneration of Casuarinas at Works Bay on Lake Burley Griffen where willows were the only habitat occupied by platypus. Blackberries are awesome nurse crops for regeneration rainforest communities along the coast. On Norfolk Island, I found the only place where Norfolk Pine were regenerating naturally, was under lantana! And in NZ broom, gorse and wildling pines proved far superior nurse crops for regenerating indigenous podocarp/broadleaf communities at Wilton Bush in Wellington…. renowned NZ botanist Prof Leonard Cockayne demonstrated this decades ago…. The problem with Nativists is they are ecological illiterates!

  2. I expect the above is a wind up , but I will bite .
    Excellent to have the Admiral on the bridge , but that should be no reason to suspend observational and critical thinking skills .
    Our three leading anti arborial apartheid activists are not standing in an ecosystem of great ‘diversity ‘. The photograph shows an ivy monoculture which will now choke out and kill the poor benighted Casaurina just planted .
    Hakai mentions Otari / Wiltons Bush in Wellington . I was there last week . Great to see the native bush overtopping the broom and gorse . Such species make good nurse crops , they play by the rules . Nitrogen fixing to improve soil for oncoming natives , seeds not spread by birds , sensitive to shading by late stage successionals .
    I also went back to Te Wera Arboretum and saw native regrowth utterly destroyed by ivy . Twenty years ago it covered a wall of the bunk house . Now it covers dozens of acres in three dimensions . It has crawled up young trees and pulled them down , crawled up old trees and strangled them . Forest development has ceased and no one has the time or money to reset it .
    Some plant species don’t follow the successional rule books . They are happy to be pioneers on disturbed ground but just as happy to reach a semi climax state and hold it . Many are creepers . Kudzu in US South , Clematis in NZ and Bells Creek , ivy in Braidwood .
    NSF does itself a publicity disservice by confusing biodiversity with species lists . Sometimes adding just one more species doesn’t add to diversity ,the wrong plant can destroy it .
    I am not neurotic or puritanical in making this point . Restablishing biodiversity in Flood Creek is going to be long hard labour enough , without not planning for all the threats .
    Understanding the threat of bird dispersed exotic creepers is vital to preventing them from dominating the , so far , open ground down into the common .
    Is it time to stop bagging nativists ? Surely that question has been settled on this site . Perhaps we must realise that many non nativists are just as lacking in basic observational and technical skills .
    NFS is big on telling people they must rehydrate the landscape but not near so expert at telling them how to pick up tools and actually achieve that goal .
    Publishing a photo of a tree planting which will fail is not a great help in teaching woodcrafting skills .
    Please ask Mr Walls students to collect lots of cardboard . They can learn to do it better .
    Regards
    PM

    • Hi Peter, the eastern end of the willow forest is dominated by ivy, that’s where those photos were taken. Peter A’s comments were more in relation to the areas further upstream.

      Yes, there are a number of ways to objectively measure ‘diversity’, and significant scientific debate as to which is best. Here, given the relatively small site, I’m using diversity to mean total number of species regardless of population size, ratios and ecological interactions. Compare Flood Creek to the incised cow paddock in the photo above, even just the ivy would be a useful functional and structural addition at that site.

      Regards the ivy, looking on the positive side, I reckon if it was going to take over, then maybe it’d kill off your other pet hate, the privet. Then again, there are sections near to where we planted these casuarinas where the ivy is being buried by the honeysuckle, perhaps this will eventually smother the privet, and box elder, and hawthorn, etc… Apart from the honeysuckle, the ranunculus seems to hold its own against the ivy in boggy areas. Maybe the vinca minor will manage against it too? The previous shade (and perhaps vigilance from council) seems to have kept the blackberry under control, but there are still a few about. Most of these plants are the worst weed in the world according to somebody. Which one is going to finally smother everything else? It’s King Kong vs Godzilla.

      No doubt further deposition and rising water tables within the incision will change the game as well.

      Some seem to wish we could press ‘rewind’ and then ‘pause’ at some pre-European idyll. I sometimes wish we could ‘fast forward’. Based on its present trajectory (following severe disturbance), it seems reasonable to expect FC will continue to incorporate new arrivals and increase in diversity for years to come.

      The planting exercise I discuss here was about as spontaneous as you could imagine. The tree not shown above was munched by a swamp wallaby (might still recover), but the other two are thriving so far. No doubt our exercise with the BCS kids will be better planned. Looking forward to it!

  3. I will try to explain again .
    It is not about pet hates of particular species .
    It is about identifying species which have the potential to dominate a disturbed site and retard regeneration of a more desired forest structure .
    There is no positive side to a rampant ivy / honeysuckle / rubber vine / madeira vine / clematis / kudzu infestation .
    This is because their creeping / climbing lifestyle enables them to strangle the growing tips of later successional species and prevent regeneration of dozens or hundreds that would otherwise thrive on the site .
    They dumb down the diversity , habitat , population dynamics , structural complexity and ecological values of a site
    Even worse if they have seeds adapted to be spread by the very native bird species benefiting from forest restoration efforts down the road .
    It is just plain silly to stand in , near or up the hill from such a disaster and claim that ALL species contribute to biodiversity .
    That is how NSF has lost legions of supporters over the decades . Using absolute terms ( all , never , inevitably etc ) to try to emphasise important points , but going just that too far .
    The lawyer will warn the expert headed into the witness box to ‘ never say never ‘ . Ignore that advice , be prepared to be caught out and lose credibility .

    The claim that ‘ All weeds have value ” is as untrue as saying that none have .
    Weeds are plants in places that the local human doesn’t want them , for whatever reason and cultural context .
    Our context for not wanting ivy at Flood Creek would be that it makes establishing the type of forest we do want vastly more difficult , costly and demanding of labour . Now the ivy has access to sunlight ( thank you Willow Warriors ) it is seeding and spreading to new places faster than we yet understand .

    No mention yet of biodiversity below ground ? There are no ectomycorrhizals under an ivy patch .
    Does the loss of two or three hundred species of fungi and a hundred species of arthropods count as a negative against the biodiversity shopping list ?

    PM

    • Peter, you caution against absolutes, but this doesn’t extend to ivy?

      If we start defining ‘weeds’ as subjectively as you have here, we’re entering a very existential terrain. What if the local humans, for whatever reason and cultural context, are a bunch of office-based morons with a penchant for making lists and pushing the proverbial uphill till kingdom come?

      When I look at that section of Flood Creek I’m seeing an increasingly complex ‘naturally’ formed novel assemblage of native and non-native species. I just want to augment the diversity that is already there, I’m not interested in policing ‘weeds’.

  4. Real world of forest management intruding into our philosophical musings .

    As excellent tree plantings thrive in the newly planted common area the birds will make them their home . Good , thats the aim of developing a habitat .

    Those cute little native bowerbirds eat blue coloured ivy seeds . Alkaloids in seed give the birds the gripes and they will void them from their perches in the new trees . Ivy will grow up those valued trees and kill them .
    Ivy will spread for miles up and down the creek line and reduce the whole environment to homogenised green hummocks .

    This will rapidly deaugment diversity .

    Unless , of course , someone spends half their life hand weeding under trees or resorts to herbicides and destroys soil biota and pollutes the aquifer then the river . Any volunteers ?

    I am not engaged in existential definition of any damm thing .
    I am warning of a management issue that should be planned for .
    This warning is based on travel , observation , talks with land managers , research , experience , old age and cunning .

    Regards

    PM

  5. Maybe the sheep on the common have dealt with ivy seedlings .
    Set stocking has degraded the pasture and eliminated most palatable grasses , forbs and legumes so a change of diet would probably be welcome .

    More likely the ivy has been moving vegetatively out from town gardens then was recently stimulated to heavy seeding by the sudden daylighting on willows removal .

    Either way it will speed up its spread as new tree plantings on the common create perching sites for birds . Young trees must be guarded or fenced from sheep so ivy seedlings under the trees are going to be a continual problem .

    Thorough Yeomans ripping before tree planting helps a lot . It makes the soil so soft it is easy to handweed and allows tree roots to occupy large soil volumes fast .
    Heavy cardboard mulching around trees will be important too .

    Ivy is toxic to stock . Goats can handle a lot more of it than sheep can . Goats can be inoculated with specific rumen microflora to help them deal with alkaloids .
    Trials would be interesting .
    ” Rent A Ruminant ” can put Electronet fencing around blackberries ( goat icecream ) and scotch broom and run some Boers .
    Fencing could then be progressively moved into the heavy ivy infestations .

    Fencing design will be the key to using sheep and goats to manage vegetation on the common while establishing trees . Fun project .

    PM

  6. I have yet to meet someone who doesn’t preference everything in someway. Given the arguments above I declare Ivy a ‘handsome ‘non mutual’ symbiotic creepy’.
    That should leave no doubt as to early, late or not at all termination.
    Robbo

  7. Nearly there , Robbo .

    ” A handsome non mutual _non_ symbiotic creeper ” .

    Ivy has a shallow root system and does not symbiose with ectomycorrhizal fungi .
    As grows to dominate an ecosystem it reduces soil carbon storage .

    Professor Flannery tells us soil carbon storage is fundamental . .
    Though he hasn’t replied on the Willow War question he did me send a missive warning of climate change .
    Several thousand tons of which he is responsible for , so I wasn’t as impressed as might be .

    PM

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