Midlands farmer Julian von Bibra and Greening Australia's Dr Elizabeth Pietrzykowski are working together to increase biodiversity on Julian's property, planting just under 200,000 trees in five years. Picture supplied
An ambitious plan to link the Eastern Tiers to the Western Tiers via two wildlife corridors has come to fruition with nearly 200,000 trees planted across the Midlands.
The ongoing collaboration between Greening Australia and local farmers Julian and Annabel von Bibra has been generously funded by the JM Roberts Charitable Trust.
Initially planting 29,031 seeds and seedlings on the site five years ago, the revegetation project has grown to cover nearly 280 hectares with the 'Midlands Arboretum' officially opened last year.
With the full support of the von Bibra family, the Arboretum is a space where people can visit, walk on Country and learn about the biodiversity and cultural heritage of the Midlands, which includes thousands of years of Indigenous stewardship.
Initially approached by Greening Australia team members Neil Davidson and Sebastian Burgess, Julian said the project has been designed to create a sustainable future with both farmers and wildlife in mind.
"We saw Tacky Creek, a tributary of the Macquarie River, as an obvious pathway where we could both establish a corridor and, at the same time, fence off our riparian edge of this waterway and the Macquarie River as well," he said. "Excluding farm livestock from rivers is a great start to improving catchment health and reducing erosion."
During their initial consultation, Neil discussed the issues local wildlife faced due to the fragmentation of remnant vegetation in the area, leading to isolated pockets of biodiversity. His hope was that the creation of a corridor would serve as a connecting pathway across the landscape.
"He could also see that one of the challenges of climate change was ensuring that species could move through the landscape to adjust to changing micro-climates to colonise new areas as their current climate altered," Julian said.
"Our property on the eastern side of the Midland highway was a good site for one of these corridors."
Julian said the project has made a "huge difference" to the landscape with trees providing shade and shelter not only for livestock but for native birds, insects and marsupials.
"Slowly, biodiversity is increasing [and] as we add to the corridor greater diversity and improvements are seen," he said, adding the benefits of revegetation take decades to develop. "Much of the work we do today will hopefully have positive impacts for the rest of this century and beyond.
"Leadership like this sends a great example to other corporations that can partner with organisations like Greening Australia to create positive change to combat the challenges we currently face."
While some livestock producers may be sceptical of incorporating such projects onto their own properties, Julian said most farmers were aware of their responsibility to protect land for future generations.
"Putting aside as much as 15 per cent of your farm for carefully laid out shelter belts and corridors will actually increase production through better lambing percentages and reducing evaporation and the negative effects of wind and heat."
A collection of trees, shrubs, grasses and herbaceous native plants, along with a winding pathway, have been introduced to the corridor in a bid to allow local school groups and the community to establish an outdoor-style classroom.
It's hoped teachers will use this space for scientific learning objectives and school excursions, while students can learn practical skills in seed collection, plant propagation, plant identification and wildlife monitoring.
Julian said the Arboretum will also act as a "green zone" to buffer the border between agriculture and community.
"By connecting schools to farms, we help to promote the many opportunities that agriculture has for employment and careers, as well as ensuring future generations know where food and natural fibre is produced and the importance to balance farming and conservation."
Greening Australia operations lead Tasmania Dr Elizabeth Pietrzykowski has been working alongside the von Bibra family to help complete the project and said she is excited to continue working with traditional owners, landholders and researchers to deliver the Tasmanian Island Ark program.
Dr Pietrzykowski said the Arboretum will restore ecosystems and relink vital habitat to help create climate-ready landscapes.
"Our work is largely focussed in the Tasmanian Midlands, which is one of only 15 'National Biodiversity Hotspots' in Australia; however it's also an area that has a significant legacy of land clearing and degradation."
Ecological analysis of vegetation in the Midlands has revealed between 64-84pc of native vegetation has been cleared for agricultural production since colonisation.
"The remaining patches of remnant vegetation in the Midlands are vulnerable to further habitat loss, weeds, feral animals and the intensifying impacts of climate change," Dr Pietrzykowski said.
"We're taking action in partnership with local landholders because if we fail to act now, we risk losing some of our most special species and landscapes forever."
Overseeing the delivery of the program, Dr Pietrzykowski also works closely with Greening Australia's 'Bushrangers' senior project manager Dr Claire Knowles to provide students with opportunities to get involved in restoration work, including at the Arboretum.
"We were thrilled to have Year 11/12 VET students from Campbell Town District High School help plant species such as Hakea, Banksia, Melaleuca, Correa and native geraniums."
Local provenance Snow Gum have also been included with the addition of gum bark mulch which, Dr Pietrzykowski hopes will improve the soil carbon.
"The native species we've planted will provide valuable habitat for small native birds and ground dwelling native animals such as the Eastern barred bandicoot and the Eastern bettong and, in years to come, the trees will also provide perches for wedge-tailed eagles."
Officially launching at the end of last year, Dr Pietrzykowski said the Midlands Arboretum opening brought a large group of attendees from diverse backgrounds together to celebrate.
"The day was a wonderful occasion to celebrate the official opening of the Arboretum and acknowledge the contributions of our supporters as well as the collaboration that has gone into creating a valuable resource for the community," she said.
"We were honoured to be joined by Tasmanian Aboriginal educator Dave Mangenner Gough for the opening of the Arboretum.
"As a proud Trawlwoolway man descended from Bungana (chief), Manalargenna's oldest daughter, Woretemoeteyenner of North-East Tasmania, Dave has a strong personal connection to Tasmania and its people. He is also a member of Greening Australia's 'Thriving on Country Committee'."
Dr Pietrzykowski said Greening Australia acknowledged Aboriginal peoples have been caring for the lands and waters of lutruwita/Tasmania for tens of thousands of years, using sacred knowledge passed along through generations.
"These diverse practices and ways of knowing are essential for our mission to help people and nature thrive.
"As the world seeks to accelerate ecosystem restoration as a proven measure against biodiversity loss and climate change, we recognise the leadership roles First Nations Peoples must have in restoration efforts."
*First published January 2023 for Tasmanian Farmer Newspaper - owned by Australian Community Media.