Caring for the land

on 13 Jun 2017 

At the heart of the Midlands conservation project are the men, women and children on whose land the future of the Tasmanian Midlands hangs. For many of them, caring for the bush is not only second nature; it’s also a responsibility and a necessity.

The Nicolson Family: (left to right) Edwina, Mel, Hazel, Florence and Sam. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
The Nicolson Family: (left to right) Edwina, Mel, Hazel, Florence and Sam. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
This landscape is their backyard: for some, it’s the land their children play on; for most, it’s the land their livelihoods depend upon; and, for many, it’s the land their parents entrusted them with.

The actions these landowners are taking to protect the native species on their properties are just as varied as their backgrounds. But all of them share a common desire to look after the bush.

The Nicolson Family

Conservation runs in Sam Nicolson’s blood. A fourth generation farmer on his Bonneys Plains property at the base of Ben Lomond National Park, Sam was brought up to see the bush as being just as valuable as the Merino sheep he runs on it.

Florence on her family's property. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Florence on her family's property. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
“My parents dedicated their last 30 years to sensitive land management and conservation on this property… I’ve learnt from them and now I’m really just continuing what they started,” he says.

When Bush Heritage and the Tasmanian Land Conservancy first talked to Sam about signing a stewardship agreement, he admits to having initially been “hesitant”.

He’d had mixed experiences with other conservation models in the past, and conservation already influenced his family’s management of the property – they’d shifted from running cattle to running sheep in order to lessen their impact on the land, and they had fenced off significant areas of natural value, such as waterways and wetlands.

Sam did sign a stewardship agreement though, and his scepticism has now dissipated. The payments are supporting the Nicolsons in their management and protection of the native grasslands, woodlands and forests on their property, including several gullies that contain Wedge-tailed Eagle nests.

Sam Riggall with Bush Heritage ecologist Dr Matt Appleby. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Sam Riggall with Bush Heritage ecologist Dr Matt Appleby. Photo Annette Ruzicka.
Now, he and his wife, Mel, are putting their hands up for round two – offering up even more of their property for long-term protection. With three young girls – Florence (4), Hazel (3) and Edwina (1) - Sam says it’s important to him that his children see the bush the way he was taught to see it.

“We recognise that we’re looking after a special piece of the Tasmanian landscape, and we want to hand it onto the next generation in even better condition than we received it,” he says.

Sam Riggall

“Farmers are conservationists at heart,” says Sam Riggall, a sixth generation farmer on his Midlands property. “Whether it’s what we do with the soils, with the bush, or with the endemic species that remain, we’re always looking after our land.”

Sam grew up in the Midlands, and his property is adjacent to the spectacular Western Tiers, but he still appreciates the beauty in his own backyard.

“As much as we have magnificent national parks nearby, there’s nothing like the Midlands bush. This country is very rich in biodiversity,” he says.

Situated to the west of the Macquarie River, Sam’s property is a mixture of flat, open pastoral land (on the edge of which his cherry orchard is based) and hilly country covered in White Gum woodlands and large open patches of native grassland.

Both areas are still lightly grazed by sheep – a continuation of the wool and meat operation that used to be his family’s focus – and it’s this land that’s the primary focus of his stewardship agreement.

“We look at the stewardship arrangement as a means to the ongoing management actions that are needed to look after that land,” says Sam.

Those management actions include controlling grazing within areas of native vegetation, undertaking weed management, fencing off sections of land, and controlling feral animals: all things that cost time and money, which the stewardship payments can assist with.

For Sam, who has looked at other conservation models in the past, the arrangement is working well. “This model just seems like a natural fit for what we’re doing here,” he says. 

“We look at the stewardship arrangement as a means to the ongoing management actions that are needed to look after that land,” says Sam.