Sunset just west of White Cliffs on a station that is part of the Rehydration Alliance.
Warnings of climate catastrophe have been in circulation for several years now, so much so that Oxford English Dictionaries labelled “climate emergency" their word of the year in 2019. While this drives home the rapid changes we need to make to limit global warming to the threshold of safety, this type of language also risks “crisis fatigue". How do we avoid a sense of powerlessness in the face of the climate crisis? How do we keep up our momentum?
Action is the answer: by ramping up climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts nationally and globally, we can drive progress and celebrate what we've achieved so far. That's why South Pole recently visited Western Landcare NSW, our partner in New South Wales (NSW), Australia, to witness the transformative effects of the Ecosystem Management UnderstandingTM (EMU) method on the local landscape.
In August 2021, South Pole and Landcare NSW partnered to develop climate action projects across NSW, leveraging South Pole's expertise as a project developer and Landcare NSW's strong community network. While the regional managers at Landcare NSW focus on education and outreach, coordinating events to share information with farmers about environmentally friendly on-farm practices, South Pole initiates carbon projects that bring about net environmental gains, for example that reduce soil loss and create climate resilience.
Western NSW, the so-called 'rangelands', has been an area of focus for the partnership: the land here is vulnerable and has been impacted by increasingly severe droughts, dust storms, and flash flooding. You'd expect to hear about a 'once-in-a-hundred-years flood' at most once in your lifetime. According to an Australian sheep station owner, the region around White Cliffs in Western NSW has seen such floods three times in the past decade.
Why is this area so vulnerable? Because the soil quality is so poor – the result of grossly misguided agricultural policies in the post-war period and years of overgrazing, both of which have increased the rates of erosion in the topsoil. These factors has been further exacerbated by:
The potential productivity of the rangelands – which represent 42% of the state's total land area – is therefore seriously at risk. The loss of the perennial ground cover has also reduced the root structure support for topsoil, lowering the land's fertility over time.
Thanks to Western Landcare NSW network, these threatened, arid floodplains are being rejuvenated. A new collective of pastoralists, the Rangelands Rehydration Alliance, are practising the EMUTM method to rehydrate the land and mitigate its degradation by erosion.
The EMU TM system replicates the traditional movement of water through the landscape to work with the land. Using a combination of grazing pressure control and other interventions to slow water flow, this management system harnesses the power of nature to rehydrate the soil, bringing vegetation back to degraded landscapes and so 'regreening' them.
An example of how sizeable banks are being used to check channel flow in a flood plain at one of the stations an hour from White Cliffs NSW.
The results are transformational: scalded, eroded patches are converted into well-vegetated areas with hugely improved infiltration rates. The management practices focus on slowing down water flows, enabling sediment to settle and managing the gullies that have formed. This all maintains the water within the landscape, enabling vegetation to grow and the soil to recover.
The degradation of productive agricultural land poses a serious problem, as do its associated ecological impacts. On a local scale, this issue is felt keenly by station owners in rangeland areas which are disproportionately impacted by increasingly extreme weather patterns.
Exclusion fencing keeps stock out of a native seed nursery on a station west of White Cliffs.
Rangeland NRM Alliance and Western Landcare NSW are bringing communities together to educate land managers on practical solutions for landscape management. These efforts ensure natural resources are managed properly, improving the environment's ability to bounce back, and safeguard it for generations to come. These organisations also provide critical learnings for other landholders in dry parts of Australia where similar methods can be implemented.
More than ever, we need to ramp up our collective ability to work with nature instead of against it. Investing in better landscape management practices will help reduce global emissions cost-effectively at scale, and build long-term resilience for people and planet alike.
If you're a landholder in dry parts of Australia and interested in EMUTM, reach out to Louise Turner from Western Landcare NSW.
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