What we found at Hovells Creek

The Landholder Collab team recently spent three days in the Hovells Creek area interviewing landholders about their experiences with and perspectives on local cooperation and group activities. Four teams, each comprised of a project team member and a local LLS officer, conducted 29 interviews from the 24th-26th of October, 2016. While the teams were concentrated in the Wyangala, Hovells Creek, Frogmore and Reids Flat area, they also travelled as far west as Billimari, as far south as Boorowa, as far east as Crookwell and as far north as Neville, covering the greater Cowra region.

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The landholders interviewed held a mix of small, medium and larger landholdings and the vast majority had been involved with either a current or former Landcare group. Apart from Landcare activities such as tree-planting and weed control, a range of other past and present examples of collaboration were identified in this landscape. These included rural fire bridages, cross-property grazing, a fertiliser cooperative where landholders bulk bought fertiliser to share costs and an organic production group using strata bylaws to negotiate organic restrictions. There were also many examples of informal collaboration with family members and neighbours around equipment sharing, grazing, weed control and feral pest control (e.g. pigs, foxes).

The potential for further collaboration was identified around both conservation and production initiatives. Many landholders discussed habitat connectivity in the landscape and had future plans to obtain grants for tree plantings, while others discussed their interest in participating in the ‘Rivers of Carbon’ linkage projects with Greening Australia. Many also expressed the need for further collaboration around pest and weed management, especially kangaroos.

Production-related initiatives that were raised included collective branding and marketing of produce, as well as collective buying of inputs. The development of collectives around mobile chooks for rotational grazing and bee hives on farms was also discussed. Eco-tourism was identified by a number of interviewees as a potential income stream that would benefit from collaboration. Ideas included bird-watching in the Reids Flat area, cultural tourism in the Neville area, an agricultural tourism and recreation trail in the Cowra/Hovells Creek/Wyangala Dam area and the use of a disused railway line as a mountain biking track. Target markets could include tourists who frequent the Wyangala Dam and Canberra residents who attend farmers’ markets, who could be connected to farmers through an annual ‘meet the farms’ market day around Boorowa.

Barriers to collaboration included lack of time and burnout, an individualistic mentality, key people dropping out, a lack of shared priorities/values with neighbours, exclusivity of groups, social dynamics and dominant landholders, a lack of contact with blockies, lack of trust and lack of reliable and fast telecommunications.

The value of an online tool for locals to communicate on a landscape-scale to identify opportunities for collaboration was recognised by nearly all interview participants. They identified that such a tool would be most useful for monitoring and benchmarking across the landscape, producing landscape-scale evidence for grant applications, engagement with blockies and absentee landholders, engagement with landholders who are time-poor or averse to joining groups, engagement with grey nomads seeking eco-tourism opportunities, bringing various apps together via one portal, and for adaptive project management and communication amongst project participants. Interviewees were prepared to pay for this sort of online tool if it proved to be valuable during a trial stage, however specified that it would need to be a simple tool as download speed and internet reliability was notoriously slow/non-existent in the Hovells Creek area.

For a more detailed summary download our two-page pdf of the PRA results or have a look at the results from our previous PRA involving Watershed Landcare around Mudgee.

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