The White Spaces on the Map

Catching a bus or a train through a landscape is a different experience to flying or driving. When flying, the land beneath you (if you can even see it) exists as a sort of backdrop or postcard, as in nature documentaries when they have panning shots of mountain ranges, or an establishing shot of a forest.

Yes, it’s there, but not as a story in itself.

Driving is a little like this too, and one tends to be travelling too quickly or be focusing on the road or be chatting with others in the vehicle or be driving along a fairly ugly road whose flanks are strewn with litter. The drive along the highway between Canberra and Sydney, for example, is not one to lift the soul.

Catching a bus or a train is different, as they tend to go slower and one tends not to be the driver. Buses are higher than cars, so there is a view over the safety rails and above other traffic. Trains wend their way through the landscape on their own terms with such sweet charms (even the demonstrably rubbish ones we have in Australia) that you simply cannot argue with them.

So why this exploration of different modes of transport?

Well, one day late last year I found myself on the Canberra-Sydney bus once more. Usually I eat a book on that trip (like the memorable afternoon I started Oil and Honey shortly after leaving Central and had finished it before crossing the border) but this time I elected to simply stare out the window and try not to be too upset by that raspberry thicket, that paddock of African Love Grass, that deep scar of an erosion gully, those rabbits …

It struck me then – New South Wales exists. Australia exists! The whole, enormous country, every sunburnt square centimetre of it is out there. Not just as a backdrop, or something you fly over, or a vague notion of space between the cities; no, every blade of grass, every rabbit twitching her nose, every pebble, every billabong, every dirt track, every cattle station, every mountain.

They exist. For millions of square kilometers around me, the country was breathing quietly as it has done for so long.

I think Conrad was wrong – a central theme of Heart of Darkness is the white spaces on the map. As a child the protagonist sees all the blank spaces that cover Africa and his heart is taken by the desire to fill them in; to cover this blankness with lines and symbols and things named after various monarchs. Creepy colonialism aside, it’s just wrong, really.

Think of New South Wales. It’s a bit boxy, has Sydney in it, it’s Australia’s most populous state but gets very hot and dry very quickly when you get west of the mountains, so most of them live along the coast. You may imagine it like this:

NSW

Well sure, but two years ago I was at the Macquarie Marshes, which are here:

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I had no idea that such a beautiful, biodiverse place existed in NSW. I had never even imagined it. When we were there the storm clouds were rolling in and the air was electric with it and the light was watery and orange in that soft afternoon way and I nearly wept because it was so damn beautiful.

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I’ve also been to Eden, on the south coast. We saw whales, dolphins, and turtles. We caught wallabies, pootoroos, possums, Antichinus, rare birds, and lizards in our traps. We saw seals lying on the rocks and playing in the waves and I squealed like a four year old because they were just so sweet.

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I haven’t been to Broken Hill yet, or any of that desert country.

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I will though, because blank spaces on the map aren’t blank spaces, they’re just bits of country you haven’t seen yet, haven’t smelt or touched or swum in yet.

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Soft afternoons, bright mornings, hot suns, crashing waves, breaking ice, trees whistling in the wind, rivers rushing, blue moonlight, rocks covered in snow, stinging desert sand, the cloying smell of rain hitting the tarmac at five o’clock of a summer evening. Every tiny bit of the country exists and sometimes that thought just blows my mind.

Geographer of the Week: Disney’s Pocahontas

Disney’s Pocahontas is a fictionalised person.

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So necklace. Such leaves. Many hair. Wow.

There was a real Pocahontas who met the English when they came to north America, who then moved to England and married a bloke named John Rolfe and who died at 22, never to see her homeland again. It’s a slightly sad story, full of lost promise.

The version most of us know is the highly fictionalised account in Disney’s 1995 film “Pocahontas”. For it’s depiction of Native Americans, Pocahontas herself and the actual facts of her life, and the historical context it has been called disrespectful, dehumanising and just plain inaccurate in the decades since it’s release, and these things are obvious upon a critical viewing. (Also, there is no way she’d have the full set of internal organs/ribs with a waist that tiny.)

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It’s my favourite hat. – Pocahontas.

However, we can all agree (surely) that there is one outstanding part of the film: Colors (sic) of the Wind is a beautiful song with a great clip/story and it is just lovely.

For her understanding of environmental science and how society should have a healthy relationship with it’s environment, Disney’s Pocahontas gets Geographer of the Week.

Check out the  song here and then let’s go through the song as geographers (song, lyrics & etc. are all copyright Disney).

You think I’m an ignorant savage
And you’ve been so many places
I guess it must be so
But still I cannot see
If the savage one is me
How can there be so much that you don’t know?
You don’t know …

In this first verse she is reminding us that even if you’re “civilised” you might have a rubbish relationship with the natural environment. Her use of the word “savage” reminds us that indigenous peoples all over the world are still treated with racism, disrespect, and are seen as subhuman. This is an enormous problem here in Australia; we treat First Australians so, so awfully then wonder why the land has gone to shit under 200 years of white mismanagement.

You think you own whatever land you land on
The Earth is just a dead thing you can claim
But I know every rock and tree and creature
Has a life, has a spirit, has a name

You think the only people who are people
Are the people who look and think like you
But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger
You’ll learn things you never knew you never knew

When the British landed in Botany Bay in 1770 they decided that the land was ‘terra nullius‘; a land belonging to no-one despite that fact that First Australians were living there very happily, and had been for up to 60 000 years. Pocahontas reminds us that we should respect every part of the environment  and that we need to listen to the knowledge of those connected to the land if we’re going to manage it properly, rather than being bigoted fools.

Have you ever heard the wolf cry to the blue corn moon
Or asked the grinning bobcat why he grinned?
Can you sing with all the voices of the mountains?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?
Can you paint with all the colors of the wind?

Come run the hidden pine trails of the forest
Come taste the sunsweet berries of the Earth
Come roll in all the riches all around you
And for once, never wonder what they’re worth

Here she sings about experiencing and enjoying the natural world, thinking about it and connecting with it, without trying to make it a commodity.

The rainstorm and the river are my brothers
The heron and the otter are my friends
And we are all connected to each other
In a circle, in a hoop that never ends

It’s the CIIIIRCLE OF LIFE!

How high will the sycamore grow?
If you cut it down, then you’ll never know
And you’ll never hear the wolf cry to the blue corn moon

For whether we are white or copper skinned
We need to sing with all the voices of the mountains
We need to paint with all the colors of the wind

You can own the Earth and still
All you’ll own is earth until
You can paint with all the colors of the wind

She’s so, so right.

coloursofthewind
You need to paint with all the colours of the wind.

A Bird in the House …

… is worth nothing at all as it is a very stressful experience for all involved.

I was in my room earlier this evening while downstairs all the bustle of making dinner was going on, when I heard Dad say something about there being a small hummingbird in the house.

As we’re not in the Americas it clearly wasn’t a hummingbird, but when I went to look there was a tiny, olive green bird with a relatively long, curved black beak darting  frantically around the ceiling.

You can see why Dad thought it was a hummingbird. This photo is nawt mine.
You can see why Dad thought it was a hummingbird. This photo is nawt mine.

It was clearly highly distressed; hitting the ceiling again and again with little ‘thump’ noises, flying into the walls and hanging off the rims of the downlights. Watching it panic thus was awful.

First I closed all the doors so it couldn’t go into another room, then I got a broom and sort of waved it around a bit and it moved towards the front door (was this related to the broom waving? We may never know), which was open, but I couldn’t convince it to fly down to it and out.

I thought that maybe it was attracted to the light so I turned them off and switched on one outside, but that did nothing (we will find out later that I was half right).

The little bird thumped into a wall again and again, then /fluttered down to the floor where it sat next to a door looking dazed. I picked it up, feeling it’s heart thudding in an insanely fragile chest. It was almost weightless, like holding a few grapes or a large flower. I took it out to the garden and opened my hand.

It didn’t move. I was afraid I’d broken it’s neck. I felt utterly responsible for that warm, small creature; as if something infinitely precious was crouched in my palm (as indeed there was). It looked so small, it’s body beak to tail barely longer than my index finger.

urgch
I didn’t take this photo and this isn’t my hand, but it gives you an idea of how small and fragile looking these birds are.

Oh shit, what have I done?

My eulogy for the tiny bundle of feathers was cut short as it sat up on one of my fingers, gripping it with tiny claws, looked around then vanished with a pprrrp of wings. Relived, I went back into the house – only to find it dashing itself fruitlessly against the ceiling.

Note to self: close the door behind you.

This time it’s movements were more intense as if it’s encounter with me had scared it further. It hurled itself at the ceiling time and again as I stood below it, hands wringing with stress.

What if it had a heart attack? It’s beak was so slender – what if it was damaged against the roof? What if I can’t get it out, and find it dead in the morning, cold feet curled and stiff; blank eyes accusing? I hate the way the head of a dead bird lolls.

It was fluttering in a corner now, then dropped into the laundry basket. I scooped it up and hurried it to the garden, closing the door behind me. I crouched down by a thicket of bushes I often see small birds in, but it just sat in my hand listlessly, no longer moving it’s head around. It seemed to have let go of my finger and just be lying there.

Sitting there under a macadamia tree beside some bamboo I thought it would die in my hands. It’s heartbeat was slowing. It did not sit on my finger or move to fly away; I couldn’t convince it to climb onto a small bamboo stem.

I had almost given up hope when, with a sound like a deck of cards being shuffled, it burst out of my hands. It’s wing brushed my face and I flinched; then it was gone.

After dinner I was sitting by the windows trying to figure out what it was. Some kind of honeyeater, probably. The outside of the flyscreen was covered with insects attracted by the lights – and eating those insects with a whirr of wings, I saw a tiny green bird.

It clung onto the mesh, it’s head swiveling this way and that, it’s body contorting around itself, slender beak snapping up insects. It looked exactly like the bird from earlier – it may have even been the same one. It was not to be afraid at all and I used my bird book to guess that it was a juvenile eastern spinebill (Acanthorhynchus tenuirostis).

A juvenile eastern spinebill. Note how flexible they are, you should have seen it on the flyscreen; it was like an acrobat. This photo isn't mine.
A juvenile eastern spinebill. Note how flexible they are, you should have seen it on the flyscreen; it was like an acrobat. This photo isn’t mine.

I guess the one that had come in was eating insects then had been unable to get out again. We will make sure to keep the doors closed in the future.

There isn’t really a point to this story, I just thought I’d share it. It’s nice to be fairly certain of what it was. It was really nice when the bird flew away with the exaltation of free wings. To get that feeling, follow this link and pay attention from around 4:00. (Also, it’s one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written, so just generally listen to it whilst imagining yourself bushwalking through the mountains on a clear winter’s day, watching a bird fly over a sunlit valley.)

I could say something about caring for urban and peri urban biodiversity, but I don’t feel like that’s a valid statement because, a. If there wasn’t an ‘urban’ the bird wouldn’t have been in danger; and b. I just feels like a wanky thing to say.

So yeah. Interesting story.

 

 

Here Be Dragons

Imagine living in a garden full of dragons. Imagine have breakfast while chatting to one, or walking down the main street and seeing one casually draping itself over a sign in front of the police station.

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This little one was draped over a sign outside the police station in the main street.

I’m speaking of course of the Eastern Water Dragon (Physignathus lesueurii).

Growing up to a metre in length they are the largest dragons in Australia but are sometimes mixed up with their cousins, the Gippsland Water Dragon. You can tell them apart if you look at their faces: the Gippsland ones don’t have a black stripe going from their nose to their ear.

Water dragons are, as their name suggests, very well adapted to water. Their tails constitute 2/3 of their body length and are used for swimming while their nostrils are on the top of their heads making it possible to breathe while their heads are submerged, a trait they share with crocodiles. Like other lizards such as lace monitors and goannas they can use their strong claws to climb quickly and easily.

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This little girl is taking a dip in one of the ponds out front.

They are good indicators of biodiversity as they mainly prey on insects and frogs as juveniles, meaning that if there is a healthy population of dragons there is also a healthy population of insects and frogs. When they’re older they become omnivores. It’s always nice to see predators like dragons and kookaburras in the garden as it means that the garden ecosystem is diverse and healthy enough to support them.

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Aw, yiss.

It is possible to identify males and females as males have crimson, vermilion or orange chests to attract mates. After mating a female will lay a clutch of eggs in soft soil or sand by the water and when the baby dragons hatch they are completely self sufficient. However, studies have shown that the temperature of the eggs during incubation can determine the sex of the dragons. This is worrying as males are only produced in middling temperatures, with females produced in cooler and warmer temperatures, so over time the species may becomes less viable as there are fewer males produced due to the temperature of the ground being affected by increasing temperatures.

Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
Water dragon eggs. Photo: Nadav Pezaro
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The red on the chest identifies this one as male. He’s just chilling on the front deck.

Although it’s legal to keep water dragons as pets in NSW you need a license for it and it is ideal that you only purchase reptiles from other license holders to try and source reptiles that are healthy and well looked after. It is illegal in Australia to keep animals that have been collected from the wild. Keeping these beautiful lizards as pets seems strange to me, why not just make your garden suitable for them?

Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They're not like dogs; they don't like you, you don't have a relationship with them. You just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.
Why would you do this? Poor little things must be out of their minds with boredom and they have basically no space. They’re not like dogs; they don’t like you, you don’t have a relationship with them. You’re just keep them in a glass box. Photo: Ryan Kennedy.

Do that and they’ll come of their own accord. Build a pond or a small waterway, have lots of native shrubs to hid in. Make sure that your garden has plenty of flowers to attract insects and have a pile of old logs and tiles for reptiles to hide in and sunbake on. Also, keep your cat indoors. Or just don’t have a cat. (We were talking about this last night at dinner and I said “At least with dogs you can fence them in; there isn’t much you can do with cats.” Without missing a beat Dad said “You can do two things with cats: drown them or shoot them.”) Dragons aren’t meant to be kept in small glass boxes; they’re wild animals, not puppies to be played with.

Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Cats are just awful. Photo: someone in the US.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
Build a nice pond then sit back and enjoy your urban biodiversity. Photo: Dorling Kindersley Limited.
tiles
These tiles are onduline, a cladding and roofing material that is soaked in bitumen. Stack them with rocks between them and reptiles will love the heat and safety. Photo: NZ Department of Conservation.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is the perfect hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.
A tumble of sticks, plants and old pots is a good hangout for small reptiles. Photo: My Green Australia.

If you have lizards in your yard resist the urge to feed them – it’s not healthy for them and teaches them to rely on you. Instead, just sit quietly and watch them. We should encourage and appreciate urban biodiversity, not seek to control it or interfere with it.

If you're going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This raptor is a cheap as chips $2500 from some silly homewares place.
If you’re going to keep reptiles at least do it properly. This fibreglass raptor is a cheap as chips at $2500 from some silly homewares place.

Here are some links for those interested in all things dragon:

A fact sheet from the Australian Museum on Water Dragons

http://australianmuseum.net.au/Water-Dragon

A guide to creating a reptile friendy backyard:

Lizards

Making your backyard wildlife friendly:

Creating a wildlife-friendly backyard

IMAG0047
Hello! I’m a dragon!

 

Poverty, Agroecology and Gobalised Food

If current population trends increase, global production of food will have to increase by 70-100% by 2050.

With current food production practice, meeting this demand is highly unlikely and yet the UN Millennium Development Goals (UN MDG) seek end poverty and extreme hunger. The  humanitarian crisis in the Horn of Africa (in July 2011 the UN declared a state of famine in Somalia, the first in the 21st century) is testament to three things:

  • Poverty reduction is currently one of the most pressing global issues;
  • Food production systems need to be overhauled in order to promote equal distribution of food; and
  • Food sovereignty should be strongly encouraged in all countries.
poverty
The first UN MDG is to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger by 2015. It’s currently 2014.

A possible way to address the above points is encouraging the growth of agroecology.

If there are any doubts regarding the need for countries around the world to independently source their food, one story from the 2007-2009 global recession will remedy this.

In late 2007 food prices rose dramatically around the world and the price of staple foods such as maize and rice almost doubled, causing food riots in more than 20 countries. This wasn’t because of drought or poor crop yields – there was plenty of food for sale – but because food has become a product on the global market and so is subject to fluctuations in the world economy.

prices
In 2007 global food prices rose dramatically…
oil and food
… but not because of a lack of food.

So although there was enough food available few could afford it due to the collapse of the worldmarkets. The food sovereignty offered by agroecology would go a long way buffer this by the strengthening of local markets; food prices in Africa and Asia would no longer be intrinsically linked to the prosperity of banks in America.

Agroecology is a more sustainable agricultural system than conventional ones as positively it address three big drivers of change: climate change; biodiversity; and food security. The system is also more resilient to change, needs less human input, has more stable net productivity, and are better equipped to take full advantage of the ecological services in place.

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The triple bottom line is the point of agroecology. I really could just picture this one photo and do away with all the hundreds of words of explanatory text.

The best examples of working agroecology systems can be found in Latin America and the practices there can be used as examples of how to implement this system.

Movimiento Campesino a Campesino (MCAC)(Farmer to Farmer Movement) is a movement that has established itself in Central America over the last three decades. It promotes farmers learning from other farmers, sharing information between them in order to find the best possible ways to produce food. This has been found to be the most effective way of communicating sustainable practice quickly and on a large scale, and it offers good results small landholders are more likely to listen to and connect with their peers.

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Flowcharts are nice. Information flows in conventional vs campesino systems.

For example, when soil conservation practices were introduced into Honduras through MCAC yields for hillside farms rose from 400kg per hectare to 1,200 – 1,600kg per hectare due to healthier soils. This easily accessible network of information is a central part of agroecology as currently one of the biggest barriers to food production in developing countries is a lack of available knowledge/technology.

As an agricultural system, agroecology should be broadly implemented on a global scale to stabilise food security, use natural resources sustainably, protect biodiversity, and alleviate poverty through the formation of stable markets.

To do this, governments must take responsibility in engaging with farmers, research facilities, NGOs and industry to ensure that the system works in the most efficient way possible. Several recommendations have been made on the subject;

  • Governments must put in place mechanisms to empower small farmers (such as partnerships and financial aid). This also ties in with article 1(B)(6) of the International Food Security Agenda (1993).
  • Current subsidies on conventional agriculture must be dismantled so agroecology becomes more economically rational on an industrial scale than conventional systems
  • Equitable markets should be developed, emphasising fair trade to create both income for farmers and sustainable food supplies for their regions.
fair trade
Of course, it’s not all up to governments. As a consumer, you can chose what you buy and therefore what kind of industry and philosophy you are supporting.

Sustainable agriculture should be developed with emphasis on local knowledge and involving farmers directly in formulating research agendas and technological innovation. Solutions must be site-specific be focused on information systems rather than capital.

For this, systems thinking must be used in order to ‘work smarter, not harder’ using practices like agroforestry and polycropping in order to boost yield with minimum input. Most recommendations focus on policy change  which could be difficult to implement in capital focused countries like Australia. This is because of three things;

  • Agroecology has often be branded as anti-capitalist by supporters of an entirely unregulated market
  • Implementation would require an overhaul of current food production systems in Australia
  • Demand for food that cannot be produced locally is high; would require a large social shift in ways of thinking.

Agroecology should be encouraged and supported in developing/more socialist countries with current knowledge and understanding while more research is needed to develop a viable way for industrialised/neo-liberal countries to do the same.

Water Ponding in the Rangelands

Rangelands are used for very diverse purposes and have many associated management issues.

They cover 80% of Australia and comprise diverse ecosystems, such as woodlands, tropical savannah, shrub lands, grasslands and deserts. There are many land uses of rangelands, such as mining, tourism, Indigenous use and agriculture. The semi-arid areas are very important for grazing, and $4.4b is made annually from cattle, and a further $1.1b from sheep and wool.

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The rangelands of NSW cover 60% of the state and are located west of the 500mm per annum rainfall zone. The field preparation for this report was conducted in the area around Trangie and Nyngan. SPicture: R Hacker et al., Best management practices for extensive grazing enterprises, NSW Department of Primary Industries, April 2005. 

 

Introduction

Water ponding was used to reclaim scalded soils at two sites in the Nyngan locality. These sites are now 25 and seven years old and a Landscape Function Analysis was carried out on them to compare functionality and pond age, using a scalded site as a baseline.

Landscape Function Analysis

Landscape function analysis (LFA) is used to assess the functionality of rangelands. It uses visual indicators to give an indicator of 11 physical and biological processes to describe three key soil phenomena, and thus the overall functionality of that landscape (Tongway and Hindley, 2004).

indicators
2 Eleven tests are conducted in order to assess three key soil processes that describe landscape functionality.
Picture: Tongway and Hindley, 2004.

An LFA was carried out on ponded sites in order to determine the effects of water ponding on landscape function in terms of stability, infiltration, nutrient cycling, soil carbon, and soil biomass relative to pond age.

Water ponding

I don’t know about you, but when I hear the word ‘pond’ I think of this:

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Water ponding; less to do with the Ponds, more to do with soil scalds. Picture: Bill Israel.

Water ponding, however, is a practice used to reclaim scalded soils, which we’ve talked about before.

These soils develop due to clearing and overgrazing, causing an excess of sodium ions (i.e. >15%) which creates hard, concrete like surfaces called scalds. Neither water nor roots can penetrate these surfaces, leading to an absence of vascular plants in these areas, which in turn further disrupts the site’s hydrology. At this stage the landscape enters a new stable state that is X to agricultural use. A functional landscape experiences short tortuous flows of water through grass tussocks, whereas a dysfunctional has long straight flows around tussocks which loses resources such as water, soil, and seeds.

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3A functional and dysfunctional landscape. Note the differences in plant cover and resulting water flow.
Picture: Tongway and Hindley, 2004.

Water ponding is a highly successful practice that uses to reclaim these soils, a system that uses 0.4ha horseshoe shaped ponds to hold water and encourage plant growth by holding water on the surface. When a site is identified for water ponding, it is surveyed with a laser leveller in order to find potential positions for pond banks. Ponds are then laid out from the highest point in the scald and overlap like fish scales so water is not lost. They must be no more than 10cm deep or only reeds and rushes will grow, and wave action can destroy the banks. In order to ameliorate wave action, tunnelling, and dispersion there is a heightened buffer section between the banks and the pond. As the system is reliant on rainfall, water ponding may be less effective in times of drought.

Results

Two water ponding sites were visited, one 25 years old and one seven years old. An LFA was carried out in four ponds at each site in order to assess the effect of water ponding on landscape function relative to pond age. This was done by laying down 15m transects at the back of ponds and collecting information on the fore mentioned 11 indicators in the patches (areas of vegetation) and interpatches (clear areas). Soil carbon and biomass were also measured.

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4 Biomass results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site. 

Biomass was taken from a 30cm2 plot in the middle of the transect, oven dried and weighed.

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5 Soil carbon results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.
stability
6 Soil stability is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.

infiltration

7 Infiltration of water into soil is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.
nutcyc
8 Nutrient cycling is a result of LFA. This graph shows the results from the two differently aged pond sites compared to a scalded site.

Discussion

The above results show that water ponding has a positive effect on landscape functionality. In every data set, treated sites performed better than the scalded control. In the case of nutrient cycling and infiltration, this difference was particularly significant. These two factors are both dependant on basal cover, litter origin and surface roughness among other things. The scald does not have these properties as it has no vascular plants and the dispersive soils create a smooth, hard crust that does not allow for the build-up of resources such as seeds, litter and water.

Water ponding allows water to sit on the scalds, which restores the swelling and cracking properties of the duplex soils (Thompson, 2008). Cracks allow windblown seeds to get caught in the micro-topography, as well as allowing water and root penetration of the surface. The seeds can then grow, restoring infiltration and nutrient cycling. This was indicated in the results; stability does not significantly increase with pond age, whereas infiltration and nutrient cycling do, suggesting that stability recovers first and is needed for nutrient cycling and infiltration.

There was no biomass on the scald, and differently aged ponds had similar amounts. This is because total biomass increases and plateaus relatively quickly; it can be up to a 20% increase in the first year.

Soil carbon increased over time and in comparison to the scalded site. Soil carbon helps to restore functionality by ameliorating soil structure and available nutrients (CSIRO, 20011).

Conclusion

It can be seen from the results that water ponding is successful in reclaiming scalded soils for use. Functionality of landscapes was seen to increase with age, but not significantly in regards to stability. It can also be concluded that, despite it’s irrelevance to agriculture, Amy and Rory’s story is wonderful and that the Last Centurion and the Girl Who Waited are heart warming in their (literally) undying love for each other.

rory
He waited 2000 years for a woman who ripped Time apart for him, but can he reclaim a scalded soil?

Grazing on Struggle Street: Conventional

Morning Internet! 

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Internet is totally ready for some science. PHOTO: cutespaw.com

My assignment is still lurking around in the shadows of my Wednesday, so here we go, back into my developing field report.

So this morning we’re going to talk about grazing, specifically we’ll be talking about the merits of conventional versus organic versus time controlled grazing. I then have to decide which is the most sustainable, economically and environmentally, and then justify that decision. 

Oxton Park, Buronga and Tulgani: Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of these various agricultural practices, and therefore which is the most sustainable (both environmentally and economically).

So grazing. Yeah. 

Conventional Grazing

We saw a conventional grazing system at Oxton Park. It’s an 8000 ha property with 200 ha set aside for grazing.

They had their soils classed and they have classes 1 – 5. Soil classing works like this; hazards are used to assess capability; the potential consequences of a hazard and the likelihood that that consequence will be realised. The LSC is based on the most limiting hazard. Soil classes go from 1-8. You can do anything you like with 1 but 8 is rubbish country. The assessment scheme is the major tool to assess the sustainability of land management practices. It follows on from one made for the Central West of NSW in 2008 (which was itself based on the US Dept of Ag scheme from the early 1950s).  A Land and Soil Capability (LSC) assessment scheme is most suitable for broad scale assessment of land capability particularly for low intensity dry land agriculture-less so for high intensity use or irrigation. 

classes
Class 7 isn’t great at all, class 4 is good for grazing class 2 is beautiful. PHOTO: NSW Office of Environment and Heritage.

So they graze on class 5. They crop for four years on classes 2 – 4 then graze for 15. This very long term thinking is in place as the farm is not a family farm but a business. They are playing with huge amounts of money and every paddock has a plan for it; they know what they will be doing there every year for about the next 20 years. 

They run about 30 000 merino, mostly for superfine wool. 16 000 are pure merinos and 6000 are a quicker growing crossbreed that they use for meat, which is now worth more than wool. The meat sheep are exported if they’re more than 11 months old. 

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The Big Merino in Goulburn, NSW. Legit. PHOTO: weekendnotes.com
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Merions, man. Note the wrinkly neck, their most recognisable feature. PHOTO: farmadvisor.com.au

 

Wait, what’s superfine wool? How is it different to normal wool?

Good question Internet. Superfine wool is 18-19 microns thick, which is the diameter of the wool. Wool is also measured on it’s tensile strength, but the diameter is the most important factor and is dependant on the sheep’s age, breed, health and so on. Merinos are known for their superfine wool, which is used in thermal and luxury products. 

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Clothes made from superfine wool are really soft, warm and dry quickly, so they don’t get smelly. These properties make them ideal sports clothes. PHOTO: gearforgirls.co.uk

They shear every ten months, generally in April and January. You need about 70mm of wool to make it worthwhile and you shouldn’t shear them in winter (really?!) or when they’re lambing. 

This way of raising sheep is very high input, both in terms of money and time. You have to drench them and crutch them; you have to shear them, you have to move them from one paddock to the next. 

The advantage is that you get a consistently high quality product, but the disadvantages are that if you run out of money or inputs the system will collapse. Also, because they’re grazing their sheep on class 5 land, it is reasonable to expect that the sheep’s diet isn’t great as the pasture in those paddocks may not be very varied. If this system was hit by a serious drought the farm would probably be fine financially but it’s anyone’s guess how the land would go after being managed to produce meat and wool rather than to produce pasture with the sheep as by products. 

So what’s your conclusion?

Well Internet, it’s probably only sustainable financially as long as you have enough money to put into it and aren’t hit by a big drought; it’s very dependant on inputs. Environmentally it’s probably not that resilient, although good on them for understanding their soils and utilising them correctly. 

Tune in next time for the same again, but with organic grazing!