Why is Landcare Important in Neerim District
A good question, particularly as you drive through our district first impressions are of a beautiful landscape, with rolling hills, forested vistas, green pastures, fat cattle and evidence of better-than-average rainfalls.
In fact, as you look closely into these views, you may spot signs that there is room for improvement in the way our farms and public land is managed.
You may see steep gullies with bare sides and hoof prints in soft mud at the bottom of the gully. You may see the occasional paddock with lots of cattle nibbling at very short tufts interspersed with patches of bare ground. In Spring, you may see lots of brightly coloured yellow flowers poking high above surrounding pasture - lovely to look at perhaps, but maybe they're Ragwort plants (a noxious weed) or Capeweed ?
As you drive along the country laneways of the Neerim district, perhaps you'll see lonely gum trees standing very tall in paddocks, and cattle milling around at their bases ? A solitary cow might be scratching its itchy neck against a 100-year old Eucalyptus obliqua (Messmate), and if you look closely you might see that years of neck-scratching has worn the bark away and that the tree looks very ill indeed. Compressed ground under the drip-line of that tree from many years of cattle camping under its canopy, away from the harsh Australian summer sun, has taken its course too, and the roots are no longer able to function the way they used to. Is the tree dead yet ?
Look closely into the roadsides and count the blackberries, the sticky-weed, the thistles, perhaps some Patterson's Curse too ? Look beyond the boundary fence, and you might see that the blackberries are following a line down into a damp gully. If you get out of your car, you might be able to count rabbit droppings adjacent the bare ground at the edge of the blackberry thicket.
How many native birds can you count ? Not many I'll bet. Sure, you'll see magpies, ravens, and some other large birds. You won't see many Eastern Spinebills, Spotted Pardalotes, New Holland Honeyeaters, Satin Bowerbirds and so on. There may not be enough native vegetation where there ought to be ? Little birds need protective cover, and there isn't much of that linking stands of isolated remnant vegetation.
Providing "wildlife corridors" for our bird community benefits cattle too, and other farm animals like horses, ponies, deer and Alpacas. They like the shade in summer, and the shelter from northerly Baw Baw winds in winter. But, you'll see many paddocks where no such shelter exists.
Does the water in that flowing stream look dirty ? Are the edges trampled and muddied, cleared of any native vegetation ? Have the banks slumped ?
If its winter when you drive along, look towards any of the numerous waterways throughout the district and take note of the trees, often in long rows, without leaves. Chances are you're looking at Willows. Once planted to stabilize stream banks, now being removed (in a many instances) because of their impact on local flora and fauna.
A curse of our local waterways is Glyceria maxima (Sweet Weed Grass), once named Poa aquatica. Originally introduced as a stock fodder, it is responsible for destroying productive farmland and altering the course of our streams and rivers. Invasive and infesting, it clogs our creeks and dams and when conditions are right, can break away from its rooted moorings and drift downstream to take out pumping stations and culverts. Unwary cattle get stuck in large beds of this stuff, and only come out under tow, usually well and truly dead.
Landcare IS important to the landowners of our district. We do have room for improvement in the way some of our land is managed. We are able to help our local fauna and provide habitat. We can manage and control our weeds and we can improve the productivity of our valuable agricultural land. In fact, we can ensure our district continues to be amongst the most valued and productive agricultural land in the country, blessed with relatively high annual rainfall, whilst preserving our rich and diverse local flora and fauna population.