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Landmark project looks to continue growth

Published 21 Dec 2015

Tasmanian farmer Julian von Bibra.Tasmanian farmer Julian von Bibra was
among the first to sign up to the ground-breaking Midlandscapes Project. Photo Matthew Newton.

As you walk through the rich farming region of the Tasmanian Midlands, you’ll find a patchwork of woodlands, grasslands and wetlands, dotted with convict-era farmhouses and Georgian style mansions that date back to the 1800s.

Here, amongst the critically endangered lowland temperate grasslands, is a biodiversity hotspot, a refuge for dozens of nationally threatened species and nearly 200 plants and animals threatened in Tasmania.

The intensification of agriculture has destroyed all but 5% of the original native grasslands and 30% of all native vegetation. Sadly, what’s left of the grasslands and other native vegetation is largely fragmented, making it even more pressing to protect these precious remnants.

Native herbs in grasslandNative herbs in grassland. Photo by Matt Appleby

“This is such an important region,” says Bush Heritage Ecologist Matt Appleby. “The Tasmanian Midlands are a biodiversity hotspot because there’s a large array of species, including plants and invertebrates, that are not found anywhere else in the world.”

“A significant number of these endemic species are also threatened species and 95% of the region is privately owned so it isn’t feasible for us to purchase our own land for conservation with just the right habitats we want to protect. So we had to come up with something else.”

Fat-tailed Dunnart.Fat-tailed Dunnart. Photo by Annette Ruzicka

That ‘something else’ was the Tasmanian Midlandscapes Project, which empowers landowners to protect the region’s plants, animals and natural features. It’s an Australian-first and modelled on similar concepts overseas. Using the Midlands Conservation Fund, developed by Bush Heritage and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC), farmers are given stewardship payments in return for conserving biodiversity on their land and meeting annual conservation targets.

“There’s a large array of species, including plants and invertebrates, that aren't found anywhere else in the world”
Photo Matt Appleby.Photo by Matt Appleby

It took four years of planning, but with 10 landowners on board and 2,600 hectares protected so far, Matt says it’s heading in the right direction.

“The stewardship agreement model is much more viable for farmers in the long-term than traditional conservation agreements because the fund will provide money for conservation actions in perpetuity. We make sure landowners are involved as much as possible; they’re key to this program being successful.”

Courting echidnas, female at front, males behind. Photo by Matt Appleby.Courting echidnas, female at front, males behind. Photo by Matt Appleby

Bush Heritage and TLC ecologists help landowners to spot and understand the range of threatened native plants and animals that need protecting, and work together to develop plans such as fencing, grazing management and restoration of native vegetation.

Biannual surveys conducted with the landowners help to identify whether their strategies are working, and Matt visits the Midlands properties every three years for a more in-depth assessment.

“We’re looking to get 8,000 to 10,000 hectares of grasslands, wetlands and grassy woodlands protected over the next few years,” Matt says. “We need to raise more money to extend this project from 10 to about 20 landowners, and to increase the areas of protection on existing sites.

Hopefully in five years’ time we will have raised enough to protect the largest and best‑condition grasslands in the Midlands. It’s an ambitious goal, but with some help, we can do it. These grasslands need our help.”

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