For several years, The Tom Farrell Institute for the Environment at the University of Newcastle has worked with OzGREEN, Muswellbrook Shire Council, and Conservation Volunteers Australia on a Federal Stepping Stones project to support landholders in the Hunter Valley to establish plantings and paddock trees to connect isolated patches of bushland on their properties.
It’s an important component of the grand Great Eastern Ranges concept, which is a truly continental scale conservation vision aimed at conserving Australia’s unique biodiversity by reconnecting key areas of habitat from the Grampians in Victoria to the Atherton Tablelands in far north Queensland.
Land-clearing is recognised as the single greatest threat to wildlife in Australia. It causes the death of birds and animals, the extinction of species, leads to the poisoning of soils from salinity, and makes a major contribution to global warming.
The plan is to connect these patches of vegetation to create wildlife corridors that will help reduce the effects of fragmentation and climate change on plants and animals. Connectivity doesn’t always mean conservation of a continuous band of forest, woodland or grassland. Sometimes there are natural breaks and a good outcome can be achieved by maintaining ‘stepping stones’ of natural bush, in a disturbed or partly-cleared landscape, that let species move, breed and adapt as ecosystems change.
But there is also a clear economic benefit for farmers as reported by scientists from ANU who have analysed observations collected in the past 20 years. They report the plantings have led to increased crop yields and lamb survival rates. Not to mention the increase in diversity of insects, birds and reptiles. – Tim Roberts and Jaci Tebb