The science of tree plantings

The science of tree plantings

Life & Style
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Data collected during the past two decades is revealing some startling information about what happens when selected tree species have a few seasons in the ground.

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Dr Damian Michael at the Henty Machinery Field Days. The Australian National University post-doctoral student knows what selective tree plantings can achieve.

Dr Damian Michael at the Henty Machinery Field Days. The Australian National University post-doctoral student knows what selective tree plantings can achieve.

The crowd milling through the Local Land Services exhibit at the Henty Machinery Field Days was probably unaware of the sheer enthusiasm for his work spilling from Dr Damian Michael as he talked about a new book of which he is a co-author.

The book, ‘Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes’, is a collation and interpretation of almost 20 years of data collected from scientific field work.

And with the researchers’ work plied over by statisticians, the book contains remarkable findings.

In the 1980s Landcare and Greening Australia pioneered an approach to dealing with rising water tables and with it salts in pastures on farmland by planting trees. More than 20 years later the resulting stands of trees have been the subject of continual observation by post doctoral ecologists.

The birds are the first to make a really big comeback and it’s happening more quickly than we anticipated. - Dr Damian Michael

There is one result that is undeniable, biodiversity has benefited from the trees being planted. Speaking about the book at the Henty field days, Dr Michael said insects were the first of the wild populations to return, followed by birds. “The birds are the first to make a really big comeback,” he said, “and it’s happening more quickly than we anticipated – there are big differences with five to six years.

“The reptiles take a bit longer,” he said.

Dr Michael is a reptile specialist and said from the grassroots movements in the 1980s to halt erosion and rising water tables, the study of what these tree plantings actually achieve in the landscape had come a long way.

“It began as tree placement to bring water tables down and fix the salinity problems, now we’re starting to realise the bio-diversity benefits.

“People are now actually restoring native habitats – and we’re starting to see birds from 50 to 100 kilometres away turn up in these created habitats,” he said. Dense plantings on hilltops were good for birds, for reptiles, particularly around rocky outcrops, trees needed to be more spread out.

Rcoks needed to warm up for reptiles to bake in the sun and while “selling more brown snakes to farmers,” was hard yards, they did help keep pests down, said Dr Michael.

He said 20-year-old datasets revealed strong trends and without them it was easy to miss important events.

And he said the potential benefits for farmers were enormous.

“We’re at a point now that if you tell us what you want to know we can divine the answers because of the data’s strength.” 

‘Wildlife Conservation in Farm Landscapes’, published by the CSIRO, is available from the Rual Bookshop, phone toll free 1800 025 308 or go to ruralbookshop.com.au

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