Rehydrating the landscape to

improve drought resilience

AFTER experiencing a succession of dry winters, Mingela grazier Chris LeFeurve decided to take steps to improve the drought resilience of his 16,500 acre property Worona Station.
“Coming out of winter in drier years is tough so we thought if we could do something whereby we had a bit of moisture in the landscape every year, we wouldn’t need supplement feeding and therefore become a more profitable business,” Mr Lefeurve said.
“We started undertaking rehydration work. Over the last four years we have done some work to repair actively eroding gullies and retain moisture and spread it out over the property.
“The bonus is greater ground cover and improved pasture, and more biodiversity,” he said.
NQ Dry Tropics hosted a Rehydrating Landscape field day at Worona Station this month to showcase the work the LeFeurve family has carried out to rehydrate their property, including diversion banks, porous check dams and managing track drainage.
Presented by Community Landscape Rehydration Project Officer Cam Wilson from The Mulloon Institute, the field day was funded through the Australian Government Reef Trust program under the Point Source Sediment projects.
Organiser NQ Dry Tropics Grazing Project Officer Sam Skeat said the aim was to show graziers examples of how moisture can be retained on their property, and to provide them with tools such as the CSIRO Gully Toolbox, to help them work out the most cost-effective way of implementing a solution to problems like erosion in the landscape.
“Graziers were able to see first-hand how a producer has increased his water infiltration, reduce erosion and maximise pasture function,” Mr Skeat said.
“We looked at technical intervention on a gully that now holds water in the landscape instead of running off.
“Introducing controlled grazing has also helped Chris to build capacity in this system and is now able to carry more stock.
“There is plenty of green grass and water on the property and it hasn’t rained in four months.
“It’s important to emphasise that water is not being taken out of the system.  The process to fill up the sponge under this bit of country is being reinstated, and that means Chris is growing better pasture.
“It also benefits the Reef in terms of reducing sediment leaving this system and the property,” he said.
Mr Wilson said water was the driver of almost everything, and well managed, invigorates ecosystems, livestock and wildlife as well as grazing enterprises.
“Rehydrating landscapes is about making use of what little water we have, and reinstating the old hydrological processes which then underpin the ecological processes to provide benefits for the grazier and his production,” Mr Wilson said.
“The more we can put the old processes in place the less we have to do and so it’s all about making systematic intervéntions that really work with those old structures and processes.
“When landholders understand their country condition they can use strategic criteria to develop bang for buck repair programs,” he said.
Mr Lefeurve said he had noticed big changes in the look of the landscape since undertaking rehydration works.
“The biggest change is more biodiversity, and increased pasture. Instead of concentrating on the cattle we have focussed on land condition,” Mr Lefeurve said.
“As a result we’ve seen a reduction in active erosion and a healing of gullies as a result of change in grazing management and water management,” he said.
This field day was the second in a three-part series being hosted by NQ Dry Tropics. The third will be held at Mulloon Creek in New South Wales.
For information about the Point Source Sediment projects, go to the NQ Dry Tropics website at www.nqdrytropics.com.au or phone 07 4799 3500.

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Figure 1. Total fine sediment reduction by project type and erosion source. Inset shows the proportion of the total project area for each project type.

These estimates have been calculated using two methods: 

1) The pollutant reduction component of the Alluvium/Great Barrier Reef Foundation (GBRF) investment tool for hillslope and streambank erosion management projects; 

2) The Reef Trust Gully Toolbox method for gully erosion management projects. The LDC Water Quality Report 2020 (Waterhouse et al., 2020) highlights that a number of assumptions underlay these calculations, therefore these figures should be treated as the best available estimate of sediment reductions to date.

Preventing sediment from reaching the Great Barrier Reef

Each wet season sediment is washed into local waterways and out to the Great Barrier Reef (GBR). 

Most sediment is very fine, and can stay suspended for a long time and can travel great distances. Valuable topsoil is lost from production, and increased concentrations on the reef can be harmful to seagrasses and corals. 

Landholders in the BBB have completed 69 on-ground water quality practice changes, and it is estimated that these have contributed a fine sediment reduction of 6,154 tonnes per year from reaching the GBR. 

Of this, approximately half of the sediment savings are attributable to grazing land management changes on hillslopes and streambanks, and the other half as a result of gully remediation treatments across a broad range of scales, as shown in the graphs above. 

The table below also highlights the relatively small area of intervention in the gully management projects compared to the large sediment savings that these can achieve - 60 per cent of the sediment savings over only 4 per cent of the project area.

Table 1. Estimated sediment reductions (tonnes) from projects completed in the LDC Project to date.

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*GLMWW = Grazing Land Management Wire and Water

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*The Exploring New Incentives activity area has provided an opportunity for graziers to adopt improved land management practices through a range of activities. For some of these properties, it was the first time they signed contracts for on-ground works.

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The LDC project monitors four gully sites (represented in this table) with gold standard equipment and analysis, carried out by CSIRO.

Results have been compiled in a preliminary report from Bartley et al (2020), with the final report expected to be released by the end of 2020. The preliminary report shows all four sites have indicators of improvements, notably the Strathbogie and Mt Wickham sites.

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Reef regulations - grazing, standard conditions

  1. For land in good or fair condition (more than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), continue using measures to maintain land condition.
  2. For land in poor condition (less than 50 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition.
  3. For land in degraded condition (less than 20 per cent ground cover at 30 September), steps must be taken to improve land condition OR prevent areas from further degrading or expanding.
  4. Keep records of measures taken and also of agricultural chemicals, fertiliser and mill mud or mill ash applied to land.
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