The Landholder Collab team conducted one of the first phases of social research in August 2016, with three Focus Group discussions held with Watershed Landcare (1 group) and Hovells Creek Landcare (2 groups). The focus groups were designed to understand the role of Landcare in the landscape, to identify successful examples of collaboration, to document lessons learnt from past collaborations and discuss the potential for increasing collaboration in each location.
The Watershed Landcare focus group was conducted on the 3rd of August in the Central Tablelands Local Land Services office with 8 committee members. We shared wine, beers and Thai curries while discussing local Landcare and its ability to generate and maintain collaborative activities and groups. The main collaborative successes achieved by Watershed Landcare included its role as an umbrella group to support the development, financial stability and administrative capacity of smaller Landcare groups, as a platform for internal and external communication and planning and coordinating educational activities and seminars, as a network joining smaller Landcare groups and other local groups (eg Friends of Putta Bucca Wetlands) with each other and government, industry and private-sector organisations extant in the landscape, as an advocacy group for the interests of Central Tablelands’ Landcarers, and as a vehicle for attracting funding and delivering projects on the ground.
Past and present examples of effective collaboration include the hosting of ‘Green Day’ environmental expo in collaboration with local schools, a series of workshops on bee-keeping, soil health and serrated tussock control, the native grasses in rural cemeteries project in collaboration with Mid-Western Regional Council and Department of Primary Industries, and the development of two local communities of practice – the Microscope group and the Grazing group. Committee members discussed the need to generate better connections with absentee landholders to achieve better cross-property weed and pest management. The potential for further developing collaboration in the landscape revolved around discussions on increasing coordination of and benefit-sharing from eco-tourism and the landscape-scale marketing and branding of produce.
On the 26th August 2016, eighteen participants from the Hovells Creek Landcare group came to the focus group session at a private residence where our hosts served up a magnificent home cooked dinner. Two focus groups were conducted with nine participants in each, one around an old dining table and the other in a cosy loungeroom around a woodfire. Participants discussed their experience of being Landcare members, the capacity and ability of the group to effect landscape-scale conservation and the projects that they had successfully completed. Installing squirrel-glider boxes in trees on properties across the landscape, conducting plantings for revegetation as part of the Great Eastern Ranges initiative, and hosting a catter dog specialist to rid the area of feral cats were mentioned as successful projects initiated by Hovells Creek.
Focus group discussions revealed the need for better water management across properties in the landscape to reduce erosion, the need for collaborative efforts to control pigs, kangaroos and noxious weeds, and the need for better relationships with absentee and ‘blockie’ neighbours for the aforementioned reasons, but also for better communication and awareness of bushfires via the rural fire brigade. Members of the focus groups expressed an interest in making contact with other landholders who were not Landcarers, engaging in collaborative projects with neighbouring Landcare groups, and exploring landscape-scale marketing and branding of their livestock. The Hovells Creek group has the desire to develop new conservation activities and believe their already collaborative culture provides a strong base for implementing novel agro-ecological land management initiatives.
Following these focus groups, 2 participatory rural appraisals (PRAs) were conducted within a 50km radius around both Mudgee (Watershed Landcare) and Hovells Creek Landcare with both Landcare members and non-Landcare members to further explore the potential for collaboration in each location. The PRAs were used to clarify the wants and needs of the community before we return to the core Landcare groups in 2017 for workshops on collaborative monitoring and communication via a prototype digital online tool.
Thanks to members of our partner organisations, Watershed Landcare and Hovells Creek, for their involvement in these focus groups.