Times demand a fresh look at ecological restoration

Published 22 November 2016

A headline speaker at the University of New England’s Restore, Regenerate, Revegetate conference in early 2017, Professor Lindenmayer says: “We’ve spent 20 years scientifically demonstrating that farms with high levels of biodiversity and good ecological function are actually more profitable and sustainable over the long term.”

“This new Act underscores the importance for farmers, scientists and others working on land management to get together and share their experiences.”

Professor David Lindenmayer, ANU Fenner SchoolA researcher at Australian National University’s Fenner School, Prof. Lindenmayer will join other scientists and some of Australia’s most progressive land managers in Armidale in February to discuss the knowledge gained over several decades of ecological restoration work on farms, mines and elsewhere around Australia.

“Between the farming and research communities, we’ve built up a lot of science, and a lot of practical knowledge about how we restore ecological health to this country.”

“Our governments, and we as a community, have to double down on what we’ve learned and put it to work more effectively, across more landscapes. We don’t have a choice if we want to maintain this country’s incredible species richness and the natural productivity of our farming landscapes.”

It is a scientific certainty, he says, that farmers who build ecological health on their farms also enhance their productivity.

“Building their pasture feed bank through rotational grazing; putting in shelterbelts to shield stock from storms and pastures from desiccating winds; protecting riparian zones so water moves more slowly through the farm – these are strategies for buffering against the volatility of climate and markets,” he said.

“We saw that repeatedly during the Millennium Drought of the early 2000s.”

“In a tough year, one farmer employing over-intensive management might gross, say, $100,000 but spend three-quarters of that on feeding stock. Next door, the farmer who managed a bit more conservatively and with an eye to the health of their country might have grossed $80,000, but then spent $10 000 feeding their stock.”

“The ecologically-minded farmer ends up even further ahead when times are tough – and as the hyper-variability brought on by climate change begins to have a bigger influence, times are going to be tough for farmers more often than not.”

Conservation and animal welfare are also becoming increasingly important for market access, Prof. Lindenmayer says.

As a high-cost producer of food and fibre, Australia is handicapped in international markets when it comes to competing on price, but it in many areas we can make strong claims for quality and ethics.

“We have to be careful we don’t risk undoing our reputation. If we are going to argue for the ecological standard of our food production, we have to ensure that farming isn’t threatening 30-40 woodland bird species.”

Prof. Lindenmayer is one of the keynote speakers at UNE’s Restore, Regenerate, Revegetate conference, scheduled for February 5–9, 2017.

The extensive program includes more than three days of plenary presentations, a landholders’ day, an Indigenous restoration symposium, open forums, an on-site industry expo; an arts and education program; and conference excursions integrating practical and theoretical perspectives on restoration.

Conference convenor, UNE’s Professor Nick Reid, said the conference is timely.

“We’ve learned a huge amount over the past few decades, but we still have a long way to go in restoring ecological health to much of the landscape,” he said. “By meeting and sharing what we have learned, everyone benefits.”

“The conference is an opportunity to recap what we know, and map out what needs to be done next. This is one of the great challenges of our time – keeping the gains we’ve made as a society while restoring the damage we’ve done to the natural world along the way.”

“Early bird” discount registrations close on December 7.