Armistice Day Memorial Service

As a footnote to my previous blog about family members lost in World War I, we were in the right place at the right time to attend the Armistice Day ceremony at Fort Queenscliff, the historic defensive fort at the mouth of Port Phillip Bay. The local RSL had planted poppies and memorial crosses along the footpath. A full pipe band led the way to the ceremony inside the Fort. At the gate, the crowd collected sprigs of rosemary and the printed order of service, which included histories of two local soldiers. The crowd of about 200 people included all ages and backgrounds.

As well as the usual adult wreath-layers, the local primary schools all sent student representatives to lay wreaths. One Year 6 class had prepared envelopes decorated with pressed poppy flowers and containing poppy seeds for everyone to take home to plant, to make sure there would be poppies for next year. Everyone present was asked to pick up a poppy and take it to the front where they were placed into three upright empty artillery shells. There were so many people that the poppies overflowed all around the shells. It was a very moving and meaningful service, with evidence of much thought and preparation, appropriate for this very special memorial service.

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Remembering them

On the centenary of the Armistice, when the carnage of World War I finally came to an end, we are remembering two men from our family who lost their lives on the Western Front. This year we were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit their graves in France. My grandmother’s little brother Alan was killed aged 20 in January 2017 and lies buried in Bancourt cemetery near tiny villages with gentle rolling hills, wheat fields edged with poppies and placid dairy cows. The peaceful, gentle graveyards belie the awful reality of the battlefields.

His cousin Alick was killed aged 26 in September 2017 in the strategically significant battle of Polygon Wood, a costly and destructive battle but part of the momentum towards the turning point on the Western Front.

Polygon Wood was less than 20 kilometres from the fortified medieval Belgian town of Ieper (Ypres).  Commonwealth troops marched out to battle in the Flanders fields through the Meninpoort (Gate) to the Ieper ‘salient’ marshes and the battlefields. When we visited this moving and symbolic site, the bright note of hope was the large number of young people attending the ceremony.  So many stories are being told, recognising the amazing sacrifice of so many soldiers to maintain the democracies of the world. We will remember them!!

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Conserving soils just as important as conserving water and vegetation

Former Governor-General and National Soil Advocate, Michael Jeffery, has completed a milestone report which recommends that Australia’s soil, water and vegetation should be declared national strategic assets.

“The emerging concept of ‘soil security’ also underpins the world’s six existential challenges: food, water and energy security, climate change abatement, biodiversity protection and human health,” he wrote to the prime minister’s office.

“I believe that soil and water security will increasingly underpin global social stability and security.”

His report, Restore the Soil: Prosper the Nation, has been compiled after six years of consultation across the country. Michael Jeffery is concerned that traditional agricultural methods mine carbon, while retaining carbon facilitates the retention of water in soil – his report states that 50% of our rain is not getting into the soil and that is a major contributor to current problems, even without predictions of declining rainfall and increasing periods of drought.

Michael Jeffery says the combined effects of climate change, water mismanagement and land degradation means that looking after Australia’s agricultural soils is essential for the nation’s security. He recommends the adoption of regenerative agriculture, which he defines as “the application of techniques which seek to restore landscape function and deliver outcomes that include sustainable production”. This could include using more organic composts and fertilisers, slowing the flow of water, fencing off waterways from stock, cell grazing, feral animal control and direct-drilling crops into pasture.

More details from this comprehensive report are in this story by Gabrielle Chan

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Cleared mallee country bordering the River Murray Valley near Purnong in South Australia

Posted in caring for our planet, climate change, conservation, disturbance, ecosystem services, environment, native vegetation, soil conservation, sustainable natural resources management, water conservation | Tagged , , , , , , , ,

Murray-Darling Basin Plan won’t be on time or in full

The Murray-Darling Basin Plan will not be delivered on time or in full, unless there is a major re-set. The Productivity Commission released the draft of their five-year review of the Plan on 30 August, with 35 recommendations for actions needed to get the Plan back on track (see report here). It is important to demonstrate as much support as possible for these recommendations, to ensure they are implemented to get the best outcomes for the Plan.

The report acknowledges that the Basin Plan is a significant step change to establish sustainable water management, with major investment of funding and significant progress in water recovery, environmental flows and water trading.

However, immediate action is needed to get sound Water Resource Plans completed and to design an improved process for evaluation and monitoring of Basin Plan outcomes.

The Commission found that there is a high risk that supply and efficiency projects, key elements of the Plan, will not be completed by the deadline of 2024. Projects to remove constraints and barriers limiting flows are behind schedule and the ‘toolkit’ measures for the Northern Basin are also running late. That means that the supply projects which were used to justify recovering 605 GL less water are not going to deliver the promised equivalent environmental outcomes and extra water will not be available to maintain river flows, export salt and keep the Murray Mouth open until well after 2024.

The Productivity Commission report recommends very significant changes in the way the Basin Plan is being implemented. Importantly, it is recommended that the Basin Authority should be split into a corporation to coordinate implementation and a regulator to oversee compliance, removing the conflicts arising from self-regulation.

The recommended changes are described as a ‘stitch in time’ to ensure that the Plan is effective. Without action, the environment and taxpayers will both pay for serious management failures.

The draft report is available for comment until 10 October. The recommendations should be strongly supported by all Basin communities, to ensure that the major investment in the Basin Plan will result in sustainable management of water across the Basin. Everyone concerned with the Basin should respond, to ensure that the Basin Plan can still be delivered ‘in full’, even if not ‘on time’.

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Posted in caring for our planet, community engagement, conservation, environmental flows, Murray-Darling Basin, policy, sustainable natural resources management, water conservation, water issues | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Too much bad news for the planet in one day!

For people concerned about the future health of our planet, how much bad news can there be within a few hours on one cold winter Sunday?? The stories of Sunday 19 August 2018 paint a gloomy picture for the future of ability of our planet to sustain our communities, including these examples:

  • David Suzuki sent out a link (here) to a research paper which says the planet is at risk of heading towards tipping points which will lead to irreversible ‘hothouse’ conditions
  • Malcolm Turnbull back-flipped on supporting the Paris agreement to act to hold rising temperatures to 2 degrees and weakened the Australian emissions targets in the National Energy Guarantee even further
  • a feature story on ‘Landline’ looked at devastating die-back in ribbon gum (Eucalyptus viminalis) over 2000 kmin the Monaro district near Canberra (see pictures below from 2010), attributed to reduced water availability due to drought and changed rainfall patterns, loss of understorey communities with associated loss of birds which prey on the weevils and soil surface cover to reduce evaporation, and reduced immunity to eucalypt weevils
  • another story on ‘Landline’ looked at the extreme wildfires in California and Sweden, with California going to a year-round roster for its firefighters in response to increasing frequency and severity of fires, and Sweden totally unprepared and under-resourced to fight extraordinary fires which burnt even locations north of the Arctic Circle
  • a botanist exploring the forests of Lord Howe Island on ‘Gardening Australia’ found pieces of plastic on the forest floor, dropped there by seabirds which thought they were bringing food back from the surrounding ocean for their chicks
  • news reports had pictures of 72 fires currently burning in New South Wales and ‘hundreds’ of fires in Queensland, in the earliest start ever to the Australian fire season
  • Senator Anne Ruston of the Coalition claimed that the best way to protect marine species is to allow ‘sustainable’ fishing within protected zones, as justification for significant reductions in the areas of marine parks, using the peculiar analogy that you can do both, ‘like chewing gum while walking at the same time’??!

All this on top of all the stories about the devastating extended drought across New South Wales and Queensland, and predicted low flows in the Murray-Darling Basin. At what point will our politicians take the action required to shift to sustainable management of our natural resources and recognise that we are undermining the ability of our planet to sustain our communities?

Everyone who can vote needs to be telling their local candidates very loudly and repeatedly that the environment matters to all of us. It is becoming a life-threatening issue, if we don’t start immediate action to take better care of our planet and environmental assets.

Posted in bushfires, caring for our planet, climate change, conservation, disturbance, ecosystem services, environment, eucalypts, native vegetation, rainfall, regeneration, sustainable natural resources management, weather patterns | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , ,

Keep the flows coming for the Coorong

The Coorong was at its scenic best on Tuesday 8 May when I took a delegation of Indian water managers and engineers on a tour of the Lower Lakes, Murray Mouth and Coorong. The sun came out as we arrived at Goolwa barrage to hear about the complexities of managing the last water-control structures in the Murray-Darling Basin, 2370 km from the headwaters of the Murray River.

We were privileged to travel across the length of the barrages, with kind permission and an escort from the Department of Environment and Water. Out of 225 gates across five barrages only two gates were open, as the lakes are now filling again after being held at low levels to benefit fish and waterbirds in the Coorong. We could see the two open gates from far away, by the cluster of waterbirds looking for a feed of fish. As we got closer we could see the long-nosed fur seals were there too. Hopefully the protective covers give the native fish a reasonable chance to get through the barrage alive!

As we progressed across the sand islands of Hindmarsh, Mundoo and Ewe Islands to the Coorong, we enjoyed the classic scenes of sandhills reflected in shimmering blue expanses of water and huge flocks of ducks taking off in sequential waves as our bus approached along the causeways. The iconic pelicans were there, with black swans, crested terns, chestnut teal, grey teal, cormorants, coots and grebes.

It was a peaceful scene but misleading, as we travelled along the barrages on the same day as a critical vote was happening in Federal Parliament, affecting how much water will flow to the Coorong and Murray Mouth in the future. We saw the dredges working busily at the Murray Mouth to keep a connection open from the river channels to the sea. There is still a long way to go to ensure that enough water will flow to remove the dredges from the Mouth and to sustain the mudflats to feed the migratory waders which fly from Siberia every summer.

The Indian delegation is in Australia to learn about sound water management from our experiences and also how to learn from our less-than-perfect outcomes. They found themselves in the middle of our evolving implementation of the Murray-Darling Basin Plan, with all the twists and turns of the politics. Standing at the Murray Mouth, they could see the importance of having enough water to flow to the end of the system and keep the Mouth open. While the latest environmental flows helped black bream to spawn, they came too late for migratory waders which decided to cancel their annual summer migration to the Coorong.

As we travelled across the barrages, the lesson was clear — the Basin Plan will only work with real environmental flows delivered all the way down the system. The future serenity of the Coorong depends on continued river flows reaching this iconic location.

Posted in caring for our planet, conservation, environment, environmental flows, fish, floods, Murray-Darling Basin, sustainable natural resources management, waterbirds | Tagged , , , , , ,

Meeting with MP Tony Pasin on Basin Plan achieved ‘screaming agreement’!

Healthy Rivers Ambassadors Rosa and Anne had an opportunity on 30 April to talk to Tony Pasin, Federal MP for Barker, to put our view that the Basin Plan needs improvement before the SDL amendment is passed. Tony gave us his view first, that the choice was black and white, agree to this Plan in its current form or there will be no Plan. He believes that New South Wales and Victoria will walk away from the Plan if the amendment is not passed.

Having stated his viewpoint, he did continue to talk with us for 50 minutes and we were able to put forward evidence of the doubts around the 36 supply projects and doubts about whether the 2107 GL held by the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder is all real water.

We emphasised that we want a Basin Plan but we want one that is effective, not rendered ineffective by compromise. However, when we talked about needing the 450 GL for flows and transporting salt out of the Basin, we hit a snag. Tony has been convinced that the 32 GL which he understands is South Australia’s share of the 450 GL could mean shutting down the whole Riverland irrigation industry. He said that SA irrigators just can’t give any more to environmental water.

We tried to convince him that it wouldn’t just be irrigators who have to find the extra water and the benefits help the whole Basin, but we didn’t have enough specific information to persuade him. We should develop more information on this point and follow up from this meeting, to try to demonstrate to Tony the benefits of the 450GL for all Basin communities and particularly his electorate.

Tony’s summary of the meeting was that we were ‘in screaming agreement’! We all want the Basin Plan but we have different ideas about how to achieve that end!

tony pasin, anne & rosa (2)

Posted in caring for our planet, community engagement, environmental flows, Healthy Rivers Ambassadors, Murray-Darling Basin, sustainable natural resources management, water supply | Tagged , , , ,