Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation Voted ‘Best Thing Ever’

Basically, there is this really exciting method of paddock rehabilitation that is called Whole of Paddock Rehabilitation (WOPR, pronounced ‘wop-er’) and is run by Greening Australia, a very awesome environmental NGO that works with farmers to make their land healthier, more productive, and have better biodiversity.

The Problem

The agricultural area of south-east Australia is highly productive but also really very degraded. Farmers face problems such as salinity, erosion, bad soil health, and having their stock exposed to the elements. This makes their land less productive than it could be, means that stock loose weight due to stress, and means that they lose land to problems like salinity or erosion.

unhappy sheep
These sheep are pretty unhappy in their treeless paddock. Photo: Michael Marriott.

A Solution 

WOPR started in 2008 and since then has been pretty successful and shows great potential for kicking goals all over the place. Simply put, the way it works is that stock are taken out of a paddock of at least 10ha and trees are directed seeded in belts. Each belt has about four rows of trees and are 40-50 metres apart, giving the paddock a tree cover of 20-30%, which is ideal. Some trees and other plants such as grasses are put in a tubestock.

happy sheep
Happy sheep grazing in a WOPR paddock. Photo is copyright GA.

Among many other things, it has been shown to:

  • improve weight gain for stock;
  • increase habitat for native fauna, especially for birds;
  • be an additional form of food for stock;
  • increase carbon sequestration; and
  • improve soil health.

So how does WOPR happen?

A farmer applies to Greening Australia to be a part of the project. If they are accepted they need to put aside some land of at least 10ha paddocks, or a large paddock can be divided into smaller paddocks based on the quality of certain bits. Using existing paddocks save a lot of time and money on building fences!

WOPR
This is a really excellent diagram of WOPR that I did on Paint. The green rectangle is the >10ha paddock and the black lines are contour lines. You can see that the dark green belts of four bands of trees trees are planted along the contour lines, that’s because if you plant trees down a hill you just channel water and enhance or create problems with erosion and lowered landscape functionality.

 

The farmer takes out her stock and trees are direct seeded in belts across the paddock. She has to exclude her stock from that paddock for the next five years, so she is compensated at roughly $50/ha/year in two lump payments; one at the start of the five years and one at the end. After this time the trees should be big enough to be grazed by stock so she can let them back in, but Greening Australia recommends using a rotational grazing system for the five years thereafter to really get the best out of the pasture.

The projects are monitored throughout and as WOPR is a fairly new thing, the oldest sites are only six years old there is a lot of research to be done, which is where I come in …

WOPR and I

There is a strong tradition of ANU students doing research on WOPR, especially Honours projects. I intend to follow this tradition and spend between now and November doing a little bit of preparation for Honours next year, when I will be looking at something to do with tree density, probably creating models to project the next 200 years or so (it is only week one of semester, so a question hasn’t yet emerged from my excitement).

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For more information on WOPR, check out the website here, where there is a nice little video and some lovely pictures. Tony Magee, the farmer from ‘Gunyah’ was nice enough to let us onto his farm to take a look at it when I did a sustainable agriculture course last semester, and it was really easy to see the benefits of it, especially when contrasted with his neighbours’ paddocks.

Sequestering Carbon in Native Forests Part IV

Here’s the next instalment of the Sequestering Carbon in Native Forests series. It’s fairly acedemic (I have to be serious sometimes), so get your acedemia on! If you haven’t read any of the previous posts in the series maybe check them out first; they are best read in order.

Pre-existing forests can be managed to sequester carbon through measures such as having a mix of species, managing fire regimes and keeping the forest at an ideal mix of age-classes. A mixture of species in a forest makes the system more resilient and overall better at storing carbon (Böttcher and Linder, 2010).

plantation
This plantation looks really cool but in terms of sequestering carbon it’s not great as it doesn’t have a mix of species or age classes. PHOTO: wood report

 

As outlined above, different species react differently to factors such as water availability so in this way a resilient tree community would be made up of a variety of species so that whatever the rainfall pattern at least one species was still able to actively sequester carbon.

In the Australian bush the constant possibility of fire means that landholders with a large number of trees on their property need to have a fire management plan with efforts such as controlled burning to reduce fuel loads. (Böttcher and Linder, 2010).

Although this releases carbon dioxide, it can greatly reduce the risk of large, uncontrolled fires later and can actually help with the sequestration process if the ash goes back into the soil. For the purposes of sequestration the ideal age-class structure of a forest is fairly mixed (Böttcher, 2007).

burn
Controlled burns are important in Australian forest management. PHOTO: abc.net.au

If a system cannot self-regulate to achieve this, the forest should be managed; trees that are all relatively young and still growing sequester large amounts of carbon but there will be a lesser extent of the natural process that use dead roots, branches and twigs to lock up carbon in the soil as these processes take decades to fully establish.

However, if the forest comprises only of mature trees that have stopped growing the sequestering potential for that forest will largely have been reached.

Thus, once a forest has been established it should be managed (if it can’t self-regulate) so there is a mixed age-class with a mind to disturbing the ecosystem as little as possible. While it takes around 100 years for this point to be reached (possibly longer in low rainfall areas) the potential of forests to mitigate against climate change, even in those low rainfall areas, is good.

Sequestering Carbon in Native Forests Part I

This is part one of a series on sequestering carbon in native forests. It is just a brief overview of the topic; in future posts I will go into more depth. All the references will appear in the final post.

But basically, trees are awesome!

In the challenge to stabilise levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, sequestering carbon in terrestrial systems is potentially a highly effective part of the solution.

In Australia this can be achieved by planting native trees with the goal of sequestrating carbon or managing pre-existing stands with that end in mind. Planting the trees in low to medium rainfall areas (450 – 700mm/year) is ideal as those areas are not typically prime agricultural land.

If managed properly within natural systems, these forests can not only sequester carbon but also bring about additional benefits such as increased biodiversity and increased soil health.

Many types of forests, such as wild forests, plantation, agro-forests, urban forests and so on can be used for sequestering carbon but this paper will focus on native forests in rural and regional areas (‘forest’ here meaning an area that covers at least 0.2 ha, has a canopy cover of at least 20% and has to potential to grow to at least two metres in height).

agro forestry
Agro-forestry. It’s awesome. PHOTO: Landcare Australia.

Current levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide cannot be mitigated only by changing energy production to low emissions technology; as well as not putting more CO2 into the atmosphere some must be taken out in the next few years if warming is to be stabilised at 2°C.

Globally, deforestation accounts for roughly a quarter of anthropogenic CO2 emissions (Kindermann et al, 2008); in Australia the clearing of native vegetation accounts for 13% of annual emissions (Wentworth Group of Concerned Scientists, 2009). It is estimated that, if managed properly, natural biophysical processes in the Australian landscape could store 1 000 million tonnes of CO2 every year for the next forty years (CSIRO, 2009).

In light of this, a large part of Australia’s climate change mitigation strategy should be to manage plant and native forests to naturally sequester carbon and return it to both living tissue and the soil. Low to medium rainfall areas are suitable for growing trees for that purpose as it will not overly compete with food crops in highly arable land nor does it need infrastructure such as logging roads like commercial timber operations do (Walsh et al, 2008).

There are many additional benefits to carefully managing native forests, including an alternative and relatively stable income for landholders, an increase in local biodiversity, and in soil health.

This is a good example of geography in it’s awesome and exciting sense; humans interacting with a system (the forest) to ameliorate another system (the climate). Of course, one could argue that we just shouldn’t have messed with the climate in the first place and that’s true, but it’s not really a helpful sentiment; the problem is there, let’s solve it!

And seriously; it’s cool that planting some native forests can provide habitat, benefits for the soil, income for farmers, aesthetic values, reduces the risk of erosion and helps manage water all on the side of tackling climate change!

Trees, man. Trees are great.