Protecting nature on productive farms
The Tasmanian Midlands is a mosaic of woodlands, native grasslands and wetlands. Photo: Matthew Appleby
Laying between Tasmania's Eastern Tiers and Great Western Tiers is one of Australia's 15 national biodiversity hotspots – the woodlands and grassy lowland plains of the Tasmanian Midlands.
A rich farming region dotted with convict-era farmhouses, and interspersed with a patchwork of woodlands and grasslands, the region is a refuge for animals now lost from or struggling on the mainland, including the eastern bettong, spotted-tail quoll and eastern barred bandicoot. It's rich in plant and animal species, many of which are endemic or endangered – including 32 nationally threatened species and more than 180 plants and animals that are threatened in Tasmania.
In collaboration with the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, Bush Heritage is helping landholders protect the plants, animals and natural features of the region through the Tasmanian Midlandscapes Project – a landscape-scale conservation program in the Tasmanian Midlands.
Pasture and native grassland. Photo: Matthew Newton
Surrounded by mountains, the Tasmanian Midlands has lower rainfall and is ecologically distinct from the wetter regions of the west, south and north of the state. It's also much less represented in national parks and other designated conservation areas.
At the time of settlement in the early 1800s the area was a mosaic of woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, maintained by traditional burning regimes of its Aboriginal custodians. The open landscape enabled the rapid establishment of sheep grazing estates on native pastures – a form of farming that left the native ecosystems relatively intact.
However in recent decades, as farming practises have changed and intensified, native grasslands and woodlands have declined and increasingly given way to agricultural pastures and cropping. Less than 10% of the original native grasslands and 30% of all native vegetation remains, much of it degraded in some way. There's now a pressing need to protect these precious remnants.
Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle. Photo: Matthew Appleby
Spot-tailed quoll. Photo: Matthew Newton
Black-tipped spider orchid. Photo by Matthew Appleby
What we're protecting with our projects in the Tasmanian Midlands
Tasmanian Midlands is home to 32 nationally threatened species and more than 180 plants and animals threatened in Tasmania.
Significant species and vegetation communities protected on participating properties include:
- Tasmanian devil (nationally endangered)
- Spotted-tail quoll (nationally vulnerable)
- Eastern barred bandicoot (nationally vulnerable)
- Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle (nationally endangered)
- Eastern bettong (extinct on mainland, nationally endangered)
- Black tipped spider orchid (critically endangered)
- Pungent and Golfers leek-orchids (critically endangered)
- Silky bush pea (vulnerable in Tasmania)
- Tunbridge buttercup (endangered)
- Lowland native grasslands
- Ephemeral wetlands
- White gum grassy forest.
What we're doing to protect the Tasmanian Midlands
Most native vegetation in the Tasmanian Midlands is privately owned, and many of landholders have long historical connections to the landscape. Given this, and the high value of land in this agriculturally productive region, buying properties to manage them for conservation isn't practical or appropriate.
In the Midlands there's now a better way to conserve species and habitats on farms. In collaboration with landholders and the Tasmanian and Australian governments, Bush Heritage and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy work together to implement the Midlandscapes Project, which includes a number of initiatives designed to foster conservation on private land.
A diverse flora of wildflower species occur in the woodlands, grasslands and wetlands. Photo by Matt Appleby
A key initiative within the project is the innovative Midlands Conservation Fund. Developed by Bush Heritage and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy, the fund provides stewardship payments to farmers in return for conserving biodiversity on their farms, alongside agricultural production.
Landholders who take up stewardship agreements are paid a fee for putting portions of their land toward conservation. These agreements then provide annual performance payments for meeting conservation targets. Our ecologists help identify native plants and animals, and help to develop and implement plans to protect them, which include fencing, grazing management and restoration of native vegetation.
A long-term commitment
A grassland fringed marsh near Beaufront. Photo by Matthew Newton
Stewardship agreements are initially committed to by landowners for up to ten years with the intent that they'll be extended for rolling five-year terms.
The fund contains over $3 million, generously donated by the Sidney Myer Fund, The Myer Foundation, John T Reid Charitable Trusts, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation and others. As we work towards our $10 million capital target by 2020, we'll have the capacity to support many more landowners.
The stewardship agreement model will be more viable for farmers in the long term than traditional conservation covenants because it's underpinned by a fund that will provide money for conservation in perpetuity.
Julian von Bibra. Photo by Matthew Newton
The first participants
In June 2013 the Midlands Conservation Fund was launched at the ‘Beaufront' property of Julian von Bibra at Ross in Tasmania's Northern Midlands. Beaufront was one of the first ten properties to be signed up to the fund.
Landowner Julian von Bibra is conserving 190 hectares of endangered grasslands and woodlands on his farm in the Northern Midlands under the fund.
The Midlands Conservation Fund means that we now have a model that is committed to conservation and farmers working together for shared goals. Essentially, conservation now has a place on the farm balance sheet.