Speakers commend project partnerships
Two local speakers at last week’s NAPREC conference shared local success stories where good examples of partnerships working in practice — between farmers, science and government — occur today.
They included the onfarm Private Property Wetlands Watering Project (PPWWP) and ephemeral creeks scheme, spearheaded by NSW Office of Environment and Heritage environmental water management officer Emma Wilson.
Instead of applying ‘‘top down’’ processes, Ms Wilson revealed how she engages ‘‘bottom up, grassroots’’ methods to implement projects — something that was commended by conference participants.
With PPWWP involving 150 landholders across 84 wetlands and three creek systems, the project is the largest of its kind.
Ms Wilson said the irrigation wetland project very much relies on landholder knowledge and the OEH pay fees similar to any other water user utilising Murray Irrigation Limited infrastructure.
‘‘We couldn’t do this without the landholder as they provide things like monitoring and local support, knowledge and expertise,’’ she said.
‘‘We rely quite heavily on them to tell us what’s happening on their wetland. They play a massive role in telling us what’s happening with water levels and if we have to top things up,’’ Ms Wilson said.
‘‘We try to streamline paperwork and we have a ‘gentleman’s agreement’, not a legal binding one, which states the landholder will be responsible for getting water to the wetland. It doesn’t mean areas are locked up and the key thrown away — a lot of farmers will (have stock) strategically graze on these sites.’’
Ms Wilson said the project, once a trial, has since grown and is today used as a framework in other parts of the country.
Deemed another local reconciliation ecology success story is the Bitterns in Rice project, managed by Ricegrowers’ Association environmental projects manager Neil Bull.
Mr Bull’s presentation, like many others, discussed the potential role for agricultural landscapes to provide habitat to wildlife and how the rice industry can take a lead in bird and frog conservation in Australia.
He explained how farmers can play a critical role in crop management to improve habitat for the endangered Australasian Bittern bird — delivering a ‘‘win:win’’ situation for environmentalists and farmers.
‘‘Regarding the food security and biodiversity conversation, we don’t think that more farming equals less biodiversity; we can do better . . . there is a need to incorporate more biodiversity in farming landscapes,’’ Mr Bull said.
However, Mr Bull did not ignore the ‘‘real threat’’ of low or non-existent water allocations to local rice farmers and its impact on biodiversity projects like Bitterns in Rice.
‘‘We need to challenge the pervasive dichotomy of water resources, which posits agriculture and the environment in opposition. And we are looking at investigating incentives for bittern friendly rice growing because there are real conflicts with water use efficiency and habitat.
‘‘We need more conversations on making it work — work for everyone.’’