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Reading from the ground up

Reading the land – reading Munibung Hill

Any one of us who has a block of land, be it a suburban 1/4 acre block, a 10 ha fruit and vegetable enterprise or a 10,000 hectare cattle and cropping property can better manage their respective areas if they know how to read the land.

It might sound like common sense, but an awful lot of people operate on a counter-intuitive basis, doing the opposite to what the land needs – imposing their will on the land to the point where the land is exhausted.  We know this has been the case for some hundreds of years under European rule, because the land requires so many external chemical inputs; because the plants require herbicides and pesticides to counter the invading insects; because the animals require supplements over and above what the grasses and soils can provide.

In the film, The Biggest Little Farm, we saw in real time what can be achieved from living with the land and in harmony with nature.  How symbiotic relationships are formed, how fruit and vegetables can be produced, how animals can live safely and how humans can benefit from the web of life functioning as it has for millennia prior to us coming on the scene.

It is therefore important for us as landholders to be able to ‘read the landscape’ and to recognise and understand the signs of vegetation and habitat decline as well as what is impacting their sites.

Reading the Landscape: Signs of impact in conservation areas (Local Land Services, 2016) is as relevant today as it was 4 years ago. Being able to read the land provides us with the necessary insights so that conservation and restoration efforts can be focused and appropriate action can be taken to prevent further decline and loss of both plant and animal species. It is also important that landholders (that’s us as custodians of our suburban blocks and Munibung Hill, as community land) can recognise positive signs of improvement so we know when we have made good management decisions and can continue to do so.

How do I read the landscape?
Reading the landscape is a relatively easy task, provided you spend time walking through your conservation area and making regular observations. As you become more familiar with the different signs, you should be able to walk into your conservation area and ‘tell a story’ of what has happened since you were last there. This will then help you to determine if the health of the area is improving or declining. It is important to remember that sites that have had a higher level of disturbance in the past will require a longer period of time to recover and may take longer to show signs of improvement.

This is an excellent publication. Even though its context is rural, the principles apply to us all and make it well worth reading. Whether or not we are actual landholders or acknowledge this as being so, we are all entwined in the land in one way or another.
There are three main sections (shown here in bold)
A. Signs when things are going right …
Biotic soil crusts, Regeneration and increased vegetation cover, Increased plant species diversity, Increased animal species diversity, Fallen timber and leaf litter accumulating.
B. Signs when things aren’t quite right …
Grazing pressure, Poor plant health, Poor plant diversity, Poor animal diversity, Invasive plants, Invasive animals, Land degradation, Poor water quality
C. Other signs and considerations …
Aboriginal cultural heritage, Unwanted visitors, Signs of natural events, Implications for management.

Once we have pieced together what is happening on our block or in a conservation area – like Munibung Hill – by reading and understanding the landscape signs, we can then make some decisions about what we need to do in order to protect and/ or restore the native vegetation and other habitat features within it.