Weirdly, one of the elements we found appealing about our property was the erosion. In a fit of masochistic optimism, we were excited by the prospect of working to restore a degraded landscape to a level of ecological function, of seeing gully walls stabilised with plants and creeklines resounding with a froggy chorus. As we’ve explored the best strategies for managing and restoring these sections of the property, the advice we’ve received has often tended towards paying someone to think about it and do the work for us, purchasing expensive, industrially produced tools and materials, and utilising heavy machinery, all of which bring with them a substantial price tag. This disturbed us, because it seems to suggest that land restoration is the domain of those with cash to splash, and that those people or places without the necessary resources may just have to resign themselves to the continued collapse of their landscapes.
Thankfully, we came across the work of the likes of Craig Sponholtz, Brad Lancaster, Bill Zeedyk and Van Clothier, and in Australia, Cam Wilson and Peter Bennett. In their work, these thinkers and practitioners of water management and restoration, offer a radically different approach to watershed restoration. While they don’t flinch from the importance of technical understanding, they cultivate strategies that are based in the thoughful observation of those who are connected to a landscape, that utilise locally available materials, and that draw on community power to create modest interventions that can be tweaked over time. Rather than advising that landowners simply save up and pay an expert, their work seeks to empower communities to manage, monitor and maintain water in their landscapes through accessible, practical and locally-adaptable erosion control and water harvesting responses. In his foreword to Zeedyk and Clothier’s book Let the Water Do the Work, Courtney White articulates the characteristics of this approach: it is evidence-based, its affordability and relative simplicity make it accessible, it is based in ‘soft engineering’, challenging “the dominant paradigms of river and creek restoration”, it requires “humility, attentiveness and patience”, operating at the pace of the ecosystem, and finally, it’s at a human scale, flourishing with the participation of community, that offers “joy in companionship, in learning together, and sharing knowledge.” Continue reading