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A station with a vision

Words by: Bron Willis
Location: Anmatyerr & Arrernte Country, Northern Territory
Published 13 Jan 2023

The future of farming looks different when you step closer at Napperby Station.

When Bush Heritage ecologist Matt Appleby stood at the edge of Napperby Station’s Lake Lewis, two hours north-west of Alice Springs, all his experience working in remote landscapes didn’t stop his eye from telling him, just for a moment, that it was full of water.

“And then you take a step closer,” says Matt, “and you realise it’s a mirage – there’s no water.”

Lake Lewis, one of the few large ephemeral lakes in the Northern Territory, is currently dry and salt crusted. It’s one of the impressive features of Napperby Station where Bush Heritage has commenced a promising collaboration with leading agriculture company Hewitt Cattle by providing ecological services at Napperby, where approximately 8000 cattle graze.

Bush Heritage ecologist Matt Appleby and botanist Andrew Schubert complete ecological monitoring at Napperby Station, Anmatyerr and Arrernte Country. By Nick Mogford

Napperby, on Anmatyerr and Arrernte Country, is as varied as it is wide – within its 550,000 hectares are Melaleuca and Samphire shrublands, spinifex country, open Mulga plains and striking ranges that frame the view from the station homestead.

It’s not just the landscape that varies. Station owner Hewitt Cattle sees Napperby as a place where cattle can roam and, with Bush Heritage’s help, biodiversity can thrive. Hewitt Cattle own stations across Australia and approached Bush Heritage early in 2022 to find out how the two organisations might contribute to each other’s goals.

In August, they began a pilot project at Napperby with a five-day ecological monitoring survey carried out by Matt Appleby with local flora and fauna consultants. This work is part of Bush Heritage’s 2030 Strategy and growing focus on agricultural partnerships.

“Agriculture covers 58% of Australia, so it’s a great opportunity for us achieve impact in new ways,” says Bush Heritage Executive Manager Nick Mogford.

“A lot of our country’s landscapes contribute to global food production. If we can find ways to improve the health of those landscapes, then that’s a great step forward for native flora and fauna,” he says.

Nathan Moore is Hewitt Cattle’s General Manager of Environment and Sustainability. “Our mission is to feed the world with a system that lasts forever,” he says.

“So at Napperby, we are asking questions like ‘How do you tie pasture health and biodiversity into profitable production systems? And how do we become more aware of how to have both of those systems operating in parallel to each other?”

Nathan spent time on Napperby in May and was struck by the curiosity that Napperby’s managers carried with them into the landscape.

“As we were driving around the property, the managers were telling me about a large area where mature trees have died. We talked through what might have led to that. Prior to Hewitt Cattle’s ownership the station has experienced different climatic conditions and various approaches to land management.”

The recent ecological monitoring survey bolstered this curiosity, the results of which will help Bush Heritage offer Hewitt Cattle a range of options they can consider, to align production with best-practice environmental management.

“There was a fantastic variety of native grasses across the property and really healthy patches of trees in some areas as well,” Matt says, describing the experience of travelling from one side of Napperby to the other.

Matt anticipated that the steep rocky habitat provided by the Yalyirimbi Range might be home to threatened species and was not disappointed: evidence of the Black-footed Rock-wallaby was found and, closer to the lake, the vulnerable Great Desert Skink was spotted in spinifex country.

On this occasion, the image of a full Lake Lewis might have been optical trickery, but one day Matt hopes to see the lake full after rain and teeming with migratory waders, whose habitat is cared for into the future. Hewitt Cattle are now positioned to ensure that Matt can visit during the next rainy season to enjoy the birdlife, and for many rainy seasons to come.

Consistent with Bush Heritage’s intent for its work in agriculture, the natural values assessment on Napperby Station was funded by Hewitt Cattle, the land holder.

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