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ARTICLES >> Environment Articles

Enterprise Based Conservation

Posted by Bestprac on Feb 02 2012

By Liz Guerin
For most producers, knowing that they are looking after their land well is it’s own reward.

 

But for some producers in the Western Division of NSW, achieving a financial ‘reward’ for achieving conservation objectives, that does not involve taking land out of production, has been an additional bonus.

The Connellan’s have been rotationally grazing 11,000 hectares near Balranald, NSW for over 80 years and were confident they had a good system that had withstood the test of time. In 2004, responding to a WEST 2000 PLUS program call for expressions of interest, Paul Connellan said that their family’s successful enterprise based conservation bid has been continuing ever since.

The underpinning principle of enterprise based conservation is that landholders are provided with an annual payment in exchange for agreed environmental outcomes. In the Connellan’s situation, pre-agreed groundcover levels are assessed at a number of monitoring sites, with target groundcover levels being adjusted to rainfall. In drier years, lesser levels of groundcover are set as a minimum, and in wetter years the groundcover requirement is greater. For each site which meets the agreed ground cover target, an annual payment is received as a reward for being a good land manager.

As groundcover requirements are adjusted according to rainfall, Paul says that maintaining minimum levels is not as easy as it sounds.

“In wet years the groundcover requirement could go up to 70% or more” he said. “Conversely, if it is really dry, it can come down below the 40% minimum, but it has to be pretty damn dry.”

Despite a succession of drought years the Connellan’s say that they have had little difficulty maintaining good cover levels.

“We have the advantage of having relatively stable salt bush country, although elevated bushes don’t meet the criteria. Even if you have a good coverage of old man saltbush, it doesn’t count unless it is lying on the ground” Paul said. “It is only what is on the ground, including lichens, mosses, leaf litter and anything that will hold the soil together, that is counted.”

The Connellan’s, who have been involved with the program for the past seven years, say that whilst the program has undergone some minor changes, they have not altered their management strategies to suit the program requirements.

“We went into the program thinking that we had a pretty good system and we should get rewarded for it” he said. “As conservative stockers, using a very large rotational grazing system, we are meeting the minimum requirements more often than not – so it has been a bonus for us.”

This season, good falls of summer rains have meant that the Connellans are now trying to build up sheep numbers to take advantage of feed and high prices.

“I have never seen it look as good as this – in fact, I’ve heard comments that it is better than the 70’s, and maybe better than the 50’s” Paul said. “During the drought our sheep numbers dropped by more than half, so we’re now in a rebuilding phase.”

The Connellan’s have always been interested in conservation, with certain areas of their land significant in terms of vegetation and ecosystems. However, for Paul, a conservation strategy which ‘locks-up’ areas achieves little in terms of conservation or land management.

“Despite people being obligated to control pest animals and weeds under a ‘lock-up’ system, unless landholders are being sufficiently paid to do so, the temptation is to lock up the land and forget about it” he said. “Then the areas lose conservation value with things such as woody weeds getting a foothold.”

With funding expected to finish in three years, Paul said that he feels that programs such as the WEST 2000 PLUS enterprise based conservation project have been a step in the right direction.

“We run our system how we think it should be run and, at the end of the day, if we get extra income because we’ve met the criteria, that’s great” he said “We don’t necessarily adjust what we are doing to ensure that we get a payment.”

“Unfortunately, I still don’t think the market based, enterprise conservation concept has grabbed funders’ attention, with many conservation projects still limited to ‘lock-up’ phase” he said. “It is far better if you can combine the farming system with the conservation, particularly for farms that are mostly native vegetation. That way government still gets a say in what priorities are funded, whilst landholders are recognised and rewarded for achieving agreed conservation objectives.”
 

Last changed: Feb 06 2012

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