Why Landcare is Important in this Election

Peter Bridgewater

Adjunct Professor in Terrestrial and Marine Biodiversity Governance Institute of Applied Ecology and Institute of Governance and Policy Analysis

Debate on environmental issues in the election campaign thus far, if occurring at all, are focused on climate change.  The sternly economic World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risks Report noted "Of all risks, it is in relation to the environment that the world is most clearly sleepwalking into catastrophe”. This was the not the first time such a warning had been sounded in an otherwise dry economics report, but previous warnings were low in the list of risks, used more temperate language, and were about climate change. This year, for the first time, biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse appear as key crises for the world, alongside and connected with a range of global changes.   

The UN Food and Agriculture organisation (FAO) has recently released the first global assessment of food and biodiversity.  Among its stark conclusions is the following: Biodiversity for food and agriculture is indispensable to food security, sustainable development and the supply of many vital ecosystem services.  The report continues with recommendations, among which are Enabling frameworks for the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity for food and agriculture urgently need to be established or strengthened; and  Improving the management of biodiversity for food and agriculture and enhancing its contribution to ecosystem services call for better multi-stakeholder, cross-sectoral and international cooperation.

Australia is not immune from these changes and observations, but in Australia there are already actions underway to help.  And they have been underway for 30 years, because on 20 July this year Landcare, the idea, the movement, the program, will be 30 years old. 

When Former Prime Minister Hawke launched the original “Decade of Landcare” in 1989 it was born of experience in Victoria and was a unique fusion of support from conservation and farming NGOs.  At the launch Bob Hawke said “When the earth is spoiled, humanity and all living things are diminished.  We have taken too much from the earth and given back too little.  It's time to say enough is enough.  Today's announcements won't solve everything.  But with the right mix of political commitment and community support we can ensure that our country is simply the best in the world.  This is our country, our future.

Landcare, 30 years on, is about using human capital to promote sustainable and resilient social and natural capital.  As Bob Hawke said, we are drawing too heavily on our natural capital, and we need to reinvest in it, and in so doing build our social capital. Over 30 years Landcare has mobilised communities in urban, rurban and rural landscapes to participate in natural resource management, delivering restored and resilient landscapes, and providing on-going stewardship.  It is a cheap program for government in delivering what government needs to deliver in any event.  As such, Landcare deserves stronger support – yet we hear little about it from the major parties, Greens or independents, even in the context of debates on “the environment”.

Few seem to understand that Landcare is not just about “trees and weeds” but is both a mechanism to help mitigate against climate change, and a key weapon in our armoury to adapt to climate change.  There is as much to be achieved through supporting community Landcare actions as through highly technocratic renewable technology.  Of course, the best is when both come together. Jo and Kathy Tucker’s Victorian property “Tullyvallin” at Maroona, near Grampians (Gariwerd) National Park is a great example of that coming together.

 Jo and Kathy, with son Jack, his partner Celia and their sons run a herd of Dorper sheep – but more importantly have an extensive revegetation program in a corner of the property.  That revegetation program is complemented by fox and cat containment strategy, to enable (supervised) re-introduction of native mammals to their former range.   Some species, including Bandicoots, are now flourishing in their newly-created ecosystem.  But alongside that work, on the highest point in the property, stands a Wind Turbine.  When operational, that turbine, with one on the neighbour’s property can provide enough electricity for the town of Ararat.

Here is a clear view of the future we need, even if it may not be the one we think we want!  Policies that help support local communities engage in self-determination and stewardship for their local environments are essential – not a top down dictat from Canberra or even Melbourne.  But such policies should not be for just 3 years, or even 30 years rather 300 years!  And policies to help local communities manage their environments should be supplemented by the best technology for renewable energy to help try to mitigate climate change.  This can be large structures such as wind turbines or solar arrays, but also growing renewable crops, or using saline lands for growing algae to use as biofuels.

Climate change, important as it is, is not the only global change challenge we face, and Landcare helps in building resilience in landscapes and human communities against the full gamut of global changes.  There has been a policy of sorts and dribbled support from governments of all persuasions to Landcare over the last 30 years.  But after 30 years of solid performance the Landcare model to be fully effective it needs needs a reset and reinvigoration.  The co-incidence of the 30th anniversary with whatever result is reached on the 18th May should offer a chance for the government of the day to reinvest strongly in Australia’s community and its landscapes.

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