Reflections on the K2W Forum

Two lucky members of the Landholder Collab team recently had the opportunity to attend and present at a forum about the Kanangra-Boyd to Wyangala (K2W) link of the Great Eastern Ranges Initiative. The fourth annual K2W Forum was held on the 8th of December at the stunning Wombeyan Caves, in a historical building surrounded by wildlife: lazing kangaroos, screeching gang-gang cockatoos and foraging bowerbirds. The forum was designed to bring people together to talk about the partnership’s work and future vision.

Presentations at the forum showed that there is already a range of ways that people are exploring to connect and protect the landscape. Some inspiring and passionate speakers discussed cross-property pest control, volunteer weed control groups, schools biodiversity programs and opportunities for grants to help these on-ground efforts. We also heard about how the landscape connects people in Aboriginal cultures, and how some awesome local traditional burning projects are helping to improve the land. The key speaker, Bob Debus AM, talked about how the strength and longevity of environmental projects is increasingly falling to community networks. A shining example of this idea is that so many farmers and country people contribute to such volunteer organisations and initiatives.

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Graciela chatting with the forum’s key speaker, Bob Debus AM. Photo: Mary Bonet

The K2W is one of the partners in our research about landholder collaboration for greater environmental and production benefits. We presented some initial results from our social research so far, focussing on the Central Tablelands (Hovells Creek) case study (our slides are here). We spoke about some of the ways that landholders are already collaborating and the kinds of areas that people are interested in pursuing further collaboration (for more info, see our posts on Hovells Creek and Watershed). Also, we showed some survey results about landholders’ preferences and willingness to use an online tool, which we will be developing to help to facilitate landholders’ collaborative momentum. Interestingly, while some of the other presentations looked at environmental initiatives on agricultural lands, we appeared to differ in that we are particularly interested in the integration of environmental and production goals. Sustainable agriculture and other potentially sustainable sources of income, such as eco-tourism, can provide new ways to create linkages and collective benefits for the region. Continuing our work with interested landholder groups next year will hopefully show some of these ideas in action.

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Emily and Graciela presenting at the K2W Forum. Photo: Mary Bonet

We are grateful for the experience and encourage anyone interested in these events to attend – inspiring talks, great connections and, in this case, a hair-raising drive through the valley as well.

More photos and info about the event are available here.

More information about the K2W as part of the Great Eastern Ranges is available here.

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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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

Landholder Collab at Mudgee Small Farm Field Days

The landholder collab team were hosted by Watershed Landcare for a talk at the Mudgee Small Farm Field Days on Friday July 15th. The talk was lead by Alex Baumber, Project Manager for the landholdee collaboration project based at UNSW, and Harriet Pfieffer,  our masters student at Sydney Uni looking at different models for successful collaboration from around the world.

Alex gave a bit of an introduction to the project and highlighted his own experiences working with landholder groups on collaborative ventures. This included the Barrier Ranges Sustainable Wildlife Enterprise Trial, in which a group of landholders north of Broken Hill teamed up to manage the harvest of kangaroos across multiple properties between 2006 and 2009. He also spoke about the Lachlan Renewable Energy Alliance, who were heavily involved in investigating the potential for mallee eucalypts to be a viable energy crop around Condobolin around 2010.

Harriet cited some interesting overseas examples of collaboration from her research, including Gran Alpin in Switzerland and the Wechiau Community Hippo Sanctuary in Ghana. Gran Alpin is a mountain farmer cooperative in Switzerland that responded to declining state support for agriculture by developing a strong marketing strategy tied to values of local identity, the uniqueness of the region’s agro-ecosystems and cultural heritage. The Wehiau sanctuary provides a great example of Community-based Natural Resource Management (CBNRM). Overall, Harriet’s key message was that collaboration models have tended to be most successful when grounded in local contexts, have adopted appropriate participatory governance structures, have facilitated stakeholder education and have undertaken a multidisciplinary approach in an attempt to achieve both environmental and production outcomes.

As for the rest of field days, the sun was shining for the first time in years and there was a great buzz around the place. Check out some of the highlights courtesy of The Land

Landholder Collaboration for Landscape-scale Conservation and Production

The aim of this site is to generate discussion around ways in which landholder collaboration can be enhanced on issues that cut across property boundaries and combine conservation and production objectives. It will provide outputs from a 2-year project funded by the NSW Environmental Trust and other resources  for landholders interested in increasing their level of collaboration. You can also follow us on Facebook.

While landholders generally focus on land management at the property scale, many environmental issues cut across property boundaries, including biodiversity conservation, management of riparian areas, weed and pest management and water quality. Cross-property collaboration could increase the viability of a range of enterprise options, including ecotourism, agroforestry, wind farms, biobanking, carbon farming and kangaroo management.

Landcare has successfully promoted collaboration, but new models are needed that can integrate commercial and conservation opportunities and link actions strategically across the landscape.

This project aims to develop models for collaboration amongst landholders to be tailored to the issues they wish to collaborate on and the appropriate level of collaboration. One such option is a Landscape Corporation that could undertake strategic planning, invest in profitable ventures and apply for grants for environmental projects. Beneath this would be other models forming a “ladder” of increasing collaboration, from Landcare groups (neighbour partnerships/networks) to alliances, associations and cooperatives.

We’ll keep you posted as results emerge from our reviews of successful collaboration examples and from the trials we’ll be undertaking in the Central Tablelands and Central West of New South Wales, Australia, from 2016 to 2018.