A connection with the land was a legacy that Tasmanian Midlands farmer Julian von Bibra inherited from generations of his family. Now, farmers like Julian have more than personal conviction alone to help them protect these precious places.
By Bron Willis
If you stand on Julian von Bibra's Tasmanian Midlands farm and look to the distance, you'll see the heavily wooded slopes of the Eastern Tiers and the rolling hills of agricultural land where his family have run merino sheep for four generations.
Julian von Bibra now has the support he needs to ensure the critically endangered grasslands growing on his family farm can be protected. Photo: Matthew Newton
Amongst the agricultural land you'll see native grasslands carpeted with silver tussock, kangaroo grass and surrounded by open woodland. It's these critically endangered native grasslands that have brought Julian and neighbouring farmers together to work with Bush Heritage Australia and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy under an innovative project called Midlandscapes.
As part of the project, Bush Heritage and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy are offering farmers like Julian stewardship payments for protecting threatened natural landscapes, inviting them to commit to conservation activities that continue to protect the key targets of grasslands, wetlands and woodlands and the fauna species they support. The fund that makes this all possible is called the Midlands Conservation Fund.
Cabbage gum woodland. Photo: Matt Appleby
A home for generations
The land on the von Bibra family farm is what Julian describes as "very special country, once it gets under your skin". Memories of his boyhood are ingrained into it. "We used to picnic near a sandstone escarpment that has been a meeting place for generations," he says. "In winter my father would show us how to make firesticks with bark, and how to light a soft burn, mimicking the way Aborigines used to care for the land. I remember the smoke and the heat in the air."
But the land holds more than memories alone. The native grassland on Julian's farm is just one of the conservation targets identified by the Midlandscapes project as urgently in need of protection, along with others such as valley floor wetlands and Wedge-tailed Eagle habitat.
"The native grasslands represent what most of the Midlands would have been like pre-European settlement," says Julian. "Since a large percentage of the little that is left, is on properties like ours, we feel a sense of responsibility."
Habitat for native species
Julian's property is also habitat for several threatened species such as the endangered Tasmanian Devil and Tasmanian Wedge-tailed Eagle, as well as bandicoots and Spotted-tail Quoll.
Matt Appleby is the Bush Heritage ecologist working with landowners like Julian.
"Many of the landscapes most under threat in the Midlands are owned by families that have been on that land for generations," says Matt. "Funding these landowners to carry out conservation activities on their land is one of the best ways to make a real difference in this region."
Poa grassland at Cheswick. Photo: Matt Appleby
Conservation on a working farm
The fund helps to support farmers like Julian, to run a profitable working farm while still protecting the land's ecological values.
"Those needs are definitely contrasting," says Julian. And while Julian and his neighbours have a head start thanks to a passion for conservation that pre‑dated the project, the fund will allow him to set the grasslands aside and commit to protecting them long-term, along with the declining grassy woodlands also found on his farm.
Julian is proud of the difference he's already made to the landscape that is so special to his family - of the regenerating wattle and eucalypt saplings, and the healthy kangaroo grass and tussocks on his farm - but it's working with fellow farmers and conservationists that he's most proud of.
It's the human side of things that makes it all work. Working together with philanthropists has been a really important part for us. This is not something you can do on your own.
Our project partner
The Tasmanian Land Conservancy is our partner in the Midlandscapes project and Midlands Conservation Fund.
We gratefully acknowledge the very generous support of the Sidney Myer Fund, The Myer Foundation. John T Reid Charitable Trusts and the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation. This project is supported by the Australian Government's Caring for our Country program.