Criss-crossing the Watershed

The landholder collab team recently spent three days criss-crossing the territory of Watershed Landcare around Mudgee, Gulgong and Rylstone in the NSW Central Tablelands conducting a Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) on landholder collaboration. PRA is a social research method that involves outside researchers facilitating a process by which local people can identify issues that are important to them, compile and analyse their existing knowledge around these issues and develop plans for further action on these issues. In this case, the issues discussed with local stakeholders were aspects of production and conservation where landholders have been collaborating with one another or which could benefit from greater collaboration in the future.

Over the course of three days between September 14 and 16, four pairs of interviewers spread out across the region to interview landholders on the types of collaboration they have been involved in. We aimed for each pair to have one outside researcher from the University of Sydney or University of New South Wales and one local stakeholder from Watershed Landcare or the Central Tablelands Local Land Services. Overall, 26 interviews were carried out, divided up fairly equally between commercial landholders (e.g. graziers, wineries) and smaller landholders with more of a semi-commercial, lifestyle or conservation focus to their land management.

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Discussing land management challenges for commercial wineries near Mudgee

Amongst the biggest issues for which collaboration plays a role in the region are pest animal and weed management. Most interviewees saw the value of working closely with neighbours on the management of wild dogs, pigs, kangaroos, foxes and cats, as well as for weeds like serrated tussock and St John’s Wort.  Riparian zones also require collaboration due to the way that they cut across propein the regionrty boundaries and carry soils, nutrients and pathogens downstream. Revegetation activities had been undertaken by several of the landholders we spoke to and this was identified as an area in which greater collaboration could enhance the benefits of such activities by linking them together to form biodiversity corridors across multiple properties.

In terms of commercial production, the PRA found that there was not a strong history of landholders grouping together to pool their resources or jointly market their products through cooperatives or other mechanisms. However, there are some good examples of commercial producers working together to share knowledge and capitalise on regional branding opportunities, such as the Mudgee Wine Grape Growers Association. The joint promotion of tourism trails in places such as the Capertee Valley or along the disused rail line between Kandos and Mudgee emerged as one of the more promising opportunities for further commercial collaboration. The Australian Government Department of Agriculture and Water Resources has just launched a program aimed at supporting farmers who are interested in forming coops or other groupings to jointly sell their products, purchase inputs or market their region’s output.

The next step for the project is to undertake a second PRA around the Hovells Creek area near Wyangala Dam and Cowra in late October. After the results of the two PRAs are compared and priorities for further investigation are identified, we will return to these two regions to work closely with interested landholders throughout 2017 to progress some of their ideas for enhanced collaboration.

For further information on this PRA or the project overall, contact Alex Baumber a.baumber@unsw.edu.au

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