Results from 10 years of restoring Tasmania’s Midlands

Participants at the recent field day amongst revegetation plantings at Connorville, Tasmania.

Farmers, natural resource managers and stakeholders attended a recent field day at Connorville, near Cressy in Tasmania, to hear findings from more than 10 years of research and 1,800 hectares of plantings focused on restoring the Midlands of Tasmania.

This $11 million, landscape-scale restoration project has worked with landholders and researchers to establish shade and shelter plantings for stock and crops while also restoring habitat for native animals.

Read the research papers

The project has sought to create biodiverse corridors crossing the Midlands of Tasmania from the Eastern Tiers to the Central Plateau.

“Half of Tasmania is protected within national parks and reserves, but mostly in mountainous areas, so there’s a risk of losing key ecosystems in the low-lying landscapes such as the Midlands,” said Dr Neil Davidson, a long-term associate of project partners Greening Australia and the University of Tasmania.

“It’s critically important in a changing climate to focus our restoration efforts on enabling animals and plants to move across landscapes. By using ecological modelling, we’ve identified priority corridors for restoration across the Midlands. These are minimum cost-path routes that would link up existing reserves, protected areas and healthy remnant vegetation to provide maximum habitat for at-risk smaller marsupials.”

The Eastern Quoll (pictured) and Spotted Quoll are just two iconic native marsupials that would benefit from habitat corridors established across the Midlands. The project found that dense and complex understorey deters feral cats and is therefore key to increasing marsupial numbers.

The Midlands covers 803,000 hectares at the heart of the island state, a highly productive agricultural area that is 70 per cent cleared and 98 per cent privately owned, with predominantly livestock grazing and irrigated cropping enterprises.

While Aboriginal people managed the native vegetation of the area for thousands of years, especially using fire, intensive European farm practices of the past 200 years have resulted in landscapes so altered that natural regeneration cannot occur.

“Of the remaining 30 per cent of native vegetation cover, less than a third is in a healthy state, which is a critical threshold for rapid decline in biodiversity,” said Dr Davidson.

“This not only has implications for the environment, but also for farm productivity and local communities. Actively restoring the Midlands’ vegetation cover will bring multiple benefits for farms, wildlife and the community.”

The Midlands landscape has been heavily altered over the past 200 years. Photo credit Annette Ruzicka.

The project had a strongly embedded research component, to address gaps in knowledge on how best to carry out restoration in such a highly altered landscape.

Research conducted as part of the project ranged from field trials of planting techniques to increase tree survival, to strategies for sourcing seed suitable for future climate scenarios; from investigating animal behaviour and movement in different vegetation types, to reintroducing Aboriginal fire regimes for landscape restoration and risk mitigation.

The project also worked with landholders to put restoration into practice: planting shelter for stock and crops to counter tree decline, replacing paddock trees that were removed to make way for pivot irrigators, and using different planting designs to establish farm microclimates that can mitigate weather extremes (e.g. native vegetation remnants were found to halve wind velocity and reduce wind chill, important for livestock welfare and productivity).

20 landholders were involved over the years, including Julian von Bibra (pictured). Their participation was found to stem from lived experience, observation of landscape changes, and a thirst for knowledge about improving the natural value of their farms. Photo credit Annette Ruzicka.

The 10-year findings from the research and revegetation project have clear indications for designing resilient, effective restoration, including:

  • Choosing the right plant species and seed sources
  • Cultivating and preparing sites to maximise plant survival
  • Designing tree plantings to improve microclimates on the farm
  • Re-establishing habitat for native marsupials that minimises predation by cats
  • Improving habitat for woodland birds to reduce competition from Noisy Miner
  • Establishing fire regimes that protect assets and improve biodiversity
  • Using remote sensing to monitor growth and carbon storage
  • Maintaining long-term partnerships between farmers, natural resource
    managers, scientists and restoration practitioners
  • Attracting wide community involvement and support
  • Education for all ages
  • Facilitation through regulations and financial incentives

The full findings have been captured in a series of 15 papers published as a special issue of the Journal of Ecological Management and Restoration.

Dr Davidson attributes the success of the project to its strong focus on collaboration.

“We’ve found that engaging with landowners, land management organisations, practitioners, scientists, teachers and students early along the journey is critical for the long-term success of a restoration program like this.

“The wide range of partners and stakeholders that have been involved in restoration has been a huge benefit in achieving goals in restoring the Midlands.”

Considerable effort was put into developing community ownership and pride in the nationally recognised Midlands Biodiversity Hot Spot, particularly through engagement with schools, and through connecting with the Tasmanian Aboriginal community to incorporate cultural practices and ways of seeing.

A community event held on Country with a focus on Aboriginal land management and over 60,000 years of science and culture, as part of National Science Week.

“Because of the scale of land clearing and habitat loss globally, and the associated degradation of ecosystems humans rely on, restoration is a major factor in the future of humanity,” said Dr Davidson.

“The hunt is on, internationally, for effective methods for restoring degraded landscapes. The methods developed and lessons learned in the Midlands are a contribution to this knowledge base, and can be applied nationally and even internationally in similar agricultural landscapes.”

Riverside revegetation plantings near Ross in the Tasmanian Midlands.

The success of this long-running project has been made possible by a collaboration between partners Greening Australia, University of Tasmania, Tasmanian Land Conservancy, Bush Heritage Australia, Department of Primary Industries Parks Water and the Environment, NRM North and Tasmania Farmers and Graziers Association.

The project has been supported by the Tasmanian Government, Australian Government, Ian Potter Foundation, Pennicott Wilderness Journeys, University of Tasmania, CSIRO, John Roberts Trust and 20 landholders.

The work of restoring the Midlands continues through Greening Australia’s Tasmania Island Ark program. Landholders who would like to discuss getting involved are encouraged to register interest via our landholder portal. For all other queries about this news, please complete this contact form.