Land Sector Package

Working towards large-scale restoration in a dry landscape

Biodiversity Fund Case Study

Location: Midlands, Tasmania (north of Hobart)
Funding: $2,242,000 (excluding GST)
Partners: Tasmanian Land Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia, NRM North, Tasmanian Farmers and Grazing Association, University of Tasmania, Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment

Can restoration of over 1,000 hectares a year be cost effective, provide long term benefits to landholders and also improve biodiversity outcomes? Greening Australia believes it can and is testing a new model for rehabilitation in Tasmania's midlands.

Jonathan Duddles is CEO of Greening Australia Tasmania. He says the organisation has been working in this area for more than 30 years.

"This is the driest part of Tasmania and from an ecological perspective it has been severely fragmented and cleared for agriculture. Only three percent of native grassland and 30 percent of native vegetation remain" he explains. "We want to demonstrate that we can restore and rehabilitate the landscape on a very large scale, because ultimately this needs to be done across 100,000 hectares."

So although this is Greening Australia's biggest restoration project to date covering 100,000 hectares, Jonathan sees it as a stepping-stone to a much larger vision.

Patch of Eucalypt pauciflora amongst kangaroo grass beside the Macquarie River, Tasmanian Northern Midlands View of Macquarie Tier across native grasslands and irrigated farm land in the Tasmanian Northern Midlands. Lone tree suffering from tree decline in Tasmanian Northern Midlands
We want to demonstrate that we can restore and rehabilitate the landscape on a very large scale. Photos: Peter Mathew

Strong scientific foundations

Three years ago, Greening Australia's Biodiverse Carbon Restoration Research project began restoring 100 hectares of land covered by a 130 year covenant. Some interesting results have already developed.

"We can grow twice as much carbon than we previously thought possible, based on the national carbon accounting toolkit," Jonathan says. They've also found that seeds collected from drier and warmer areas are more resilient - turning the traditional model of using local provenance seeds on its head. "This is significant in understanding restoration practice in terms of climate change."

Working together with a shared vision

Greening Australia already had an established Connectivity Working Group, an extensive partnership between NGOs, government, researchers and landholders. "What's exciting is that everyone is bringing something different to the project," says Jonathan.

For example, by working with the Tasmanian Farmers and Graziers Association they can develop a model that provides added value to farm income. A team from the University of Tasmania provides the scientific rigour, including soil carbon sampling. The overall project budget is $5 million, of which $2.2 million comes from the Biodiversity Fund. The Ian Potter Foundation has committed $500,000 and a group of private companies, interested from a carbon offset perspective, are supporting the project.

"We know that when we grow more native vegetation we achieve both above and below ground carbon, but we still have a lot to learn about the below ground outcomes," says Jonathan.

Jonathan initially forecast a carbon storage target of 16,250 tonnes over 25 years, but now believes this is quite conservative.

There is potential for carbon credits and biodiversity to create a future revenue stream, and this enables the commercial model needed for large-scale land restoration. Jonathan sees this working as a joint investment between landholders, Greening Australia and its partners, where they share in resulting carbon funds.

"These can then be reinvested in the landscape, or farmers may choose to offset some of their machinery, for example," Jonathan says.

Native grasslands and dead paddock trees in the Tasmanian Northern Midlands Native grasses and sedges on the banks of the Macquarie River in an area previously cleared of willow Mix of native and exotic vegetation on Macquarie River flats, Tasmanian Northern Midlands.
There is potential for carbon credits and biodiversity to create a future revenue stream. Photos: Peter Mathew

New techniques for re-establishing connections

One of the key aims of this project is to reconnect the eastern tier with the western tier across the dry valley floor. During this work, the team will learn more about optimum size and spacing between patches, and as a result create protected habitats for vulnerable marsupials and woodland birds.

With climate a key challenge in a dry and changing landscape, they will consider new ways to create moisture in the soil for revegetation, such as using irrigation to support seeding and simulate early rainfall.

"We've done extensive modeling to see how we can make these connections most cost effectively, and we're taking local irrigation pivots into account," he says.

The project will also provide local employment.

"For every 1,000 hectares we can employ 20 people, and they are incredibly hardworking and efficient when it comes to preparation, spraying and planting because they've been doing it commercially for years."

To carry out restoration works on such a large scale, Jonathan says it's essential to see it as more than a 'volunteer' activity. 'Volunteers can play a role, but to carry out work on hundreds of hectares at a time we need to create a commercial opportunity," he says.

With farmers already willing to commit larger tracts of land to restoration, Jonathan is optimistic about the impact. "In eight years time, I hope we have 1,000 hectares restored back to good ecological health, providing other benefits to landholders such as healthier soil. We'll have demonstrated we can store a significant amount of carbon, and we'll have employed many people to do this work," he says.

Importantly, the team will also have demonstrated a new way of managing restoration on a large scale, with lessons for similar regions.