Strangely, one of the things that attracted us to this particular patch of ground was its need for regeneration. With only three established trees on all 47 acres, one of our first projects is to plan revegetation in an attempt to return areas of the landscape to a reflection of the Pink Gum Woodland it likely was 180 years ago.
In the spirit of the permaculture principle of observation before action, we’ve been restraining our compulsion to do stuff to instead spend the first year or so primarily attempting to learn the patterns of the landscape, auditing what’s here and reflecting on possibilities before we start digging holes.
Even in the couple of months since cattle have been off the land, we’ve observed new seedlings emerging in unlikely places. A Golden Wattle (Acacia pycnantha) is unfurling in the steep bank of a creek, isolated from its nearest relatives by a ridge and almost a kilometre of grassland, while young red gums (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) are springing up around their parents, so far unmolested by kangaroos. We’ve also identified bands of native grasses running along the narrow ridges between drainage lines, perhaps in spots too awkward for cows to wander.
While the landscape is already subtly, yet visibly regenerating itself, we also intend to contribute through direct revegetation to try to arrest erosion and enhance the biodiversity of the landscape. With a property of this scale and relatively limited means, we need to be able to make small and effective interventions. Again in the spirit of the permaculture principle of each element having many functions, I’ve been thinking about the benefits that revegetation can offer and thus helping us to identify priority zones for maximum yield. Some of it is obvious, but it’s good to get it all down.
Erosion control – plant canopies and mulch break the velocity of raindrops falling on bare earth, while roots stabilise eroding areas and bind soil. A range of plant types and heights slow and absorb water flow across the landscape.
Soil structure – plant roots open soil to water, with some plants drawing up nutrients to the surface for other plants to access while contributing organic matter to soil life.
Human food – landscapes such as these sustained indigenous populations for millennia. In Pink Gum Woodland on the Fleurieu Peninsula, wild plant foods include Golden Wattle seed (Acacia pycnantha), Native Cherry (Exocarpos cupressiformis), Quandong (Santalum acuminatum), Sweet Apple-berry (Billarderia cymosa), Native Pigface (Carpbrotus rossii) and the Black anther Flax-lily (Dianella revoluta) among others. Healthy ecosystems also sustain diverse fauna, another potential nutrient source.
Water – Brad Lancaster’s amazing books on Rainwater Harvesting highlight the importance of planting to enhance the ability of a landscape to thrive under natural rainfall. Locally-adapted indigenous species contribute to retaining water in the soil where it contributes to soil and plant life. Water harvested in the landscape also limits its erosive potential, while well-vegetated functioning creek lines filter water and trap sediment. In a few summers’ time, I plan to float over a crystal-clear dam on an inflatable mattress, shaded by towering red gums.
Seed – plants seek to extend their range, producing seeds that will germinate in soils and microclimates most suited to healthy growth. Strategic plantings will allow the ecosystem to expand at its own pace. Native seed production also offers another potential income stream.
Timber – while we have intentions to cultivate dedicated forestry plots, revegetated areas can also be a source for selective logging. Although in a revegetation situation, most trees will have a growth pattern unsuited to timber production, there is ample potential for firewood harvesting, particularly from species that coppice well. Local species established as good firewood species include Drooping Sheoak (Allocasuarina verticillata), Pink Gum (Eucalyptus fasciculosa), Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) and SA Blue Gum (Eucalyptus leucoxylon).
Shelter – with the Starfish Hill windfarm in sight, the property has no shortage of wind. While its cooling is appreciated on a torrid summer day, strategic revegetation can provide windbreaks to shelter further growth and to reduce evaporation from the dam. On an exposed ridge, shade is also a treat.
Biodiversity – revegetation with locally indigenous species can provide the structure for enhancing the richness of species in an area. However, as is highlighted in Creative Revegetation, it is most useful when revegetated areas connect to other existing blocks of native vegetation. It also needs to be in significant blocks to have any meaningful impact – a pair of medium-sized birds require about 10 hectares of habitat to breed successfully and ideally corridors should be a minimum of 50 metres wide, advises Creative Revegetation. Robust, diverse ecosystems are more resilient in the face of environmental challenges.
Pollination – fodder for native pollinators and the European honeybee will assist in the health of these species and also in robust yields for cultivated, pollination-dependent crops. Honey is also another yield.
Pleasure – picnics under the trees, the sound of the wind in the leaves, observing creatures unseen before.
Climate – sequester carbon, transpire moisture in a big climate sense. Cultivate micro-climates, sun and frost traps in a small climate sense.
Cultural/historical – indigenous ecosystems can cultivate an understanding of local ecological relationships, indigenous lifeways and historical European relationships with the landscape, all of which help to cultivate a richer relationship with place. The landscape of the southern Fleurieu has seen successive waves of industry based on wild harvesting of the landscape by European settlers, from timber, to wattle bark (used in tanning) and yakka resin (used in explosives and furniture polish).
Community – already during our short time with this land we have drawn on the expertise, energy and enthusiasm of such a broad range of people, from friends and family to local farmers and landholders, government and non-government advisors or authors, bloggers and experimenters sprinkled through both time and place. Through communal planting events, revegetation also offers a medium for strengthening ties with each other and extending the circle of people who have a relationship with this landscape.
So. We’ve walked the creeklines, mapped flows and erosion patterns, and are already up to our second or third draft of what we hope the landscape might look like in a couple of decades. We’ve mapped contours, and used these as boundaries for revegetated blocks. We have been gathering local seed, and already a healthy number of sheoaks have poked their cotyledons above the surface of their tubes.
When we look over our plans, we can identify areas to begin revegetation that will achieve a range of the yields listed above. It reminds me a little bit of the act of drawing or painting, where the creative joy is not necessarily in the finished product but the process of translating thought into physical image. It rarely turns out the way it was intended and is most likely populated with surprises and reinterpretations. So too, our good intentions and tubestock will be translated by wind, water and soil into something we may not predict.