20:80 Vision for Sustainable Landscapes

Setting a target for the future for sustainable Australian landscapes, we should aim for a 20:80 mix of native ecosystems alongside agricultural production. Cropping landscapes need borders and corridors of trees and bushes threading across the pattern of fields.

Bare landscapes in the Broughton River valley

Bare landscapes in the Broughton River valley

We are way behind the 20:80 ratio in our agricultural districts, with many locations already at 100% agricultural use, and no native plants remaining. There is no habitat left for invaluable ecosystem services to function, like filtration of water entering rivers and creeks, or habitat for birds which control insect pests. There are no migration corridors for birds and small animals, and creek banks are left exposed through lack of cover. There is little shade or shelter for grazing stock, and few windbreaks around crops.

It would be do-able to retain or restore native plant cover to 20% of the landscape, using roadsides, fencelines and creeklines. This would restore the benefits of ecosystem services while maintaining the majority 80% area for agricultural production. Single trees in a row are not enough, there needs to be multiple ages with a mix of bushes and groundcover too. Where trees are not considered suitable, say along busy roadsides, bushes would be useful. Well-established native plant communities will suppress weed species.

Regeneration of river red gums in disturbed soil along a roadside and the Rocky River near Wirrabara

Regeneration of river red gums in disturbed soil along a roadside parallel to the Rocky River near Wirrabara

Farmers frequently claim to be the best conservationists, but while many individuals do a great job, this claim is not substantiated across wider landscapes. With help from regional management boards, extension officers, grants and conservation volunteers, as well as farmers, it will take a long term plan and many hands to put in place a sustainable future for our cropping and grazing lands.

With 20:20 hindsight, we can see that over-clearing in some districts has left a landscape bereft of any native habitat. The 20:80 principle suggests that a 20% portion of native cover could give up to 80% of benefits from ecosystem services like shade, shelter, insect reduction, water filtration and habitat. With a 20:80 future vision, we could have sustainable landscapes which can deliver ecosystem services to benefit the whole community, especially farmers.

 

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About redgumgirl

Dr Anne Jensen is an environmental consultant with a passionate interest in sustainable management of our natural resources, particularly the River Murray and wetland environments. She is particularly interested in using photographs and stories to explain issues around water and protecting natural ecosystems in terms that are understood by the wider community, so that we can manage our environment sustainably for our common future.
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