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Sheep on a Tasmanian midlands farm.
Sheep on a Tasmanian midlands farm.

Lessons from the Midlands

Words by Mandy McKeesick
Location : palawa Country, Tasmania
Published 27 Mar 2023

A decade of collaboration between landholders, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy and Bush Heritage.

It is night in the Tasmanian Midlands, palawa Country, as a Spotted-tail Quoll emerges from a hollow log to hunt and an Eastern Bettong scurries between grass tussocks where sheep lie sleeping.

Their habitat and home are kept safe, supported by an innovative partnership between landholders, the Tasmanian Land Conservancy (TLC) and Bush Heritage. The collaboration was initiated a decade ago by three farmers who care deeply for this unique part of the world and understood the importance of having healthy natural systems to support their operations.

Bush Heritage ecologist Matt Appleby with Midlands and MCF farmer John Atkinson. By Amelia Caddy
Bush Heritage ecologist Matt Appleby with Midlands and MCF farmer John Atkinson. By Amelia Caddy

For Bush Heritage and the TLC this was the perfect opportunity to help protect one of Australia’s 15 national biodiversity hotspots. Ten years on, the partnership flourishes and has proven a successful alliance.

The Midlands Conservation Partnership (formerly the Midlands Conservation Fund) gives farmers the opportunity to receive reliable income, in the form of stewardship payments, in return for management that protects and restores the Midland’s woodlands and grassy lower plains.

Working alongside Bush Heritage ecologists, farmers use a combination of rotational grazing, fencing, weed and feral animal control to conserve approximately 7500 hectares of land.

This is good news for species such as the vulnerable Eastern Barred Bandicoot, the 32 other nationally threatened species and the 180 plants and animals threatened in Tasmania who call the Midlands home.

Pierre Defourny from TLC is the partnership coordinator.

“In the Midlands, 95% of the land is in private hands and these ecosystems have been shaped by human intervention for millennia. As such, these areas thrive using tools such as strategic grazing and fire.”

Ecologist Matt Appleby. By  Amelia Caddy
Ecologist Matt Appleby. By Amelia Caddy

The Midlands Conservation Partnership recognises the value of having people actively managing these precious landscapes and incentivises nature positive practices.

“From a business point of view, it puts conservation on the farmer’s balance sheet.”

Working with nature has proved to be a win-win situation for the 14 farmers involved, most of who signed original agreements for ten years and are now renewing them.

“We’re working the animal management with the grasslands management so it’s a neat fit,” farmer Simon Cameron says. “It is fantastic to be able to produce fine wool from this country and, quite honestly, the sheep actually do better. They have a more diverse range of grass species and they just seem healthier running in the bush than they do on paddocks.”

Matt Appleby with Midlands and MCF farmer Valerie Le Maitre. By Amelia Caddy
Matt Appleby with Midlands and MCF farmer Valerie Le Maitre. By Amelia Caddy

For Bush Heritage ecologist Matt Appleby there have been on-ground challenges, such as management of invasive species, however, the successes have far outshone the hurdles.

“The highlights of the partnership are the return of threatened species: plants such as Tunbridge Buttercup and Lanky Buttons, which are appearing in new occurrences with increasing populations.”

He adds, “The monitoring is showing that we are heading in the right direction, that we are getting positive outcomes. And that feeds back to the landholders, so they’re better able to manage the areas of the land that they have under these agreements.”

From success comes learning. Matt acknowledges the importance of careful monitoring and adaptive management, but he feels one of the most critical lessons was navigating how to engage and communicate with landholders.

“We can achieve a lot more by partnering with landholders and to do that well you need to get people involved from the beginning of the planning process.  You need time for trust to build and you start by having a presence in the area and helping people.”

Pierre agrees: “Although ten years ago it would have seemed odd to have partnerships with farmers, this program has shown we can work together to achieve conservation outcomes.

We all care about the Midlands and our partnership allows us to increase our resilience to climate change and protect our native species.”

Bush Heritage gratefully acknowledges the support for the Midlands Conservation Partnership from the Sidney Myer Fund, the Myer Foundation, the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, the John T Reid Charitable Trust, the Elsie Cameron Foundation and a number of private supporters.

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