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Taking responsibility for climate change by planting trees

How Jan and Michael successfully planted 20,000 trees in East Gippsland

After retirement from the Mornington Peninsula in 1999 we moved to East Gippsland, purchasing a rather degraded and utilised 75 acres of supposed eucalypt woodland situated on the undulating highland south
of the Bruthen river flats.

Our aim was threefold:

1- To build a sustainable home;

2- To rehabilitate the land approximating its original
state; and

3- To undertake a significant tree planting project.

The home itself was finally built, having survived the winter in a converted hayshed with caravan attached.  The home ultimately won the RAIA Victorian chapter Sustainable Architecture Award.

The land itself consisted of clay loam to a light sandy loam with gravel outcrops.  There were a few redgums in the valleys and a row of planted exotics along the existing fence line, together with some five acres of lucerne trees planted to feed cattle.

The acreage was basically composed of two separate areas – the east-facing, flat but sloping land (some 30 acres), and the west-facing, undulating, quite steep area (45 acres).

In the latter area, most of the intensive tree planting was sited, the eastern area with more specific plantings around the perimeter and adjacent to an existing, untouched woodland to provide an overlap.

The difficult decision was how to best plant out the land to try and equate to the original plant cover.  To achieve this turned out to be an improbable aim and a compromise had to be met.

An initial establishment of trees matched to the varying soil types followed by understory planting appeared to be the most realistic and practical approach.  Trees were sourced from multiple sources, mainly local growers including a farm tree nursery near Holbrook – all trees were at the tube stage.

At a later stage we established a propagation and growing-out area, seed collection was from the local indigenous species.  The established plants were then transferred to the vegetable garden where they could be managed.

The initial trees were largely genus Eucalypt, Acacia, Callistemon and Banksia.  Planting was done by hand, from late autumn to spring, with family assistance, using Hamilton tree planters.  A decision was made and kept not to water the plants in, once in the ground, it being too labour intensive, along with lack of available water.

Planting was always into a moist seedbed, usually after rain, achieving a minimum of 150 tubes per day.  The only watering done was in the extensive vegetable garden where the stock was stored prior to planting. 
Low-phosphorus, slow-release fertiliser was used initially and at intervals.  All trees were guarded, some mulched and a weeding program maintained.

The guards were an open weave pattern, effective against rabbits and hares but not against kangaroos.  These guards were easy to install but were supposed to degrade in 3–5 years, which proved not to be the case.  Their subsequent usefulness was as the basis of an art installation at the Walter Burnley Griffin-designed Incinerator Gallery at Moonee Ponds.  We estimated a 7–10% tube loss, which was lower than expected thanks to the favourable weather patterns.

Some 15,000–20,000 trees were planted along contour lines, initially in ‘triplets’, the concept being: the first tree (usually an acacia) harvested for firewood in 10–15 years, a second tree (a eucalypt/acacia) pruned to provide furniture wood for milling in 20–25 years, and a third tree left alone to provide a permanent forest cover.

This planting system was replicated and the main trees used were Eucalyptus saligna, E. lamaldulensis, E. maculata, E. globulus, E. obliqua, Acacia mearnsii, A. dealbata and A. melanoxylan, with some callistemon, banksia and grevillea.

The concept of harvesting did not prevail with no trees utilised during our tenure on the property – instead placing a covenant on the property was considered.

At the time a government scheme of offering carbon credits prevailed, in which the credits for new plantings were traded and purchased by business to offset emissions produced by them.  This then provided an incentive and financial gain to the grower.  Unfortunately, this scheme did not become established.  We did not utilise any of the available subsidy schemes.

At a later date, different trees from the same genus were sourced and established to replace losses and added areas of planting.  It was gratifying to see a significant natural second storey of undergrowth become established.

However, further plantings were required to give an adequate cover.  All fencing had been removed to give the concept of an open woodland.  Three new dams were created with an existing dam enlarged – the dam walls provided an ideal habitat for the existing wombats, requiring constant wall maintenance.

Once the trees were established it became apparent that the surface water runoff to the dam was markedly reduced.  However, a plus was the return of resident natural wildlife, including 128 species of birds, as recorded by Richard Thompson, a nearby neighbour.

Richard and Susan Thompson of Coora Cottage Herbs fame were also enthusiastically involved with 1,000–1,500 trees planted using similar genus.  It is rewarding to find that, now we are domicile in South Gippsland, there exists a significant number of like-minded individuals with extensive tree planting projects and active community conservation activity.

The main emphasis of this project was not only to provide a practical program of land reclamation and rehabilitation but also to achieve something that was significant in negating some of the effects of climate change.  We felt  it to be a personal obligation to contribute to the health of the planet, and hopefully the planting of 20,000 trees will go some way to achieving this aim – after all the future is our responsibility.

I feel optimistic that involved individuals will provide the science, the good will, the education and the governance to reverse and stabilise the effects of climate change in the future.

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