I was lucky enough this year to get a small grant to put in thirty paddock trees through Yass Landcare and the Yass Local Land Services.
The huge remnant paddock trees we have are both impressive and essential, for wildlife to move around, as well as for sheep to have shelter and shade. Many of them are hundreds of years old. There are very few young ones because the sheep graze them off.
On the Adnamira farm, a huge number were cleared in 1947 to be used as wooden fence strainer-posts before the land was sold to a returned World War 2 soldier. Infuriatingly, those fenceposts were never used. They sat out behind the Jeir Station shed and were eaten by termites.
What a waste.
On the Esdale farm side, trees on the hills were ring-barked in the 1920s and left as a crowd of standing white ghosts for many decades. Now those ghosts have mostly rotted away, been taken for firewood, or burned out in case they were harbouring rabbits, leaving just small dips in the ground to indicate where each tree once was.
The thought was that the trees reduced the amount of grass for the sheep to graze.
Now it’s clear that you actually get more grass growth on sheltered land, where the constant wind doesn’t dry the ground as much. And the animals appreciate the summer shade and winter wind protection.
Also, the remaining trees are dying. Some are probably just old and reaching the end of their lives, which could be up to 500 years. Others, especially red stringybark (eucalyptus macrorhyncha) are sensitive to the super phosphate which has been being spread on the grass for the last fifty years, and are slowly dying from that. The signs of stress show in the “shrunken crowns” of our remaining paddock trees, and in the bare branches and stumps of the dead ones.
Even fifty years ago, it was clear that more shade trees were needed, just for the sheep. The wildlife wasn’t really considered.
The supposedly easy plan was to replace the dead trees with new young ones, out in the paddocks.
Unfortunately, that didn’t work well. There are sad, rusty tree cages all over Adnamira as testament to that lack of success.
It turns out that trees don’t much like growing by themselves. That could be due to their need for beneficial fungi that come from other trees. Or it could be the need for small birds, which remove insects as food, thus protecting the trees. Those small birds need shrubs.
According to Bill Gammage, the Aboriginal method was to create a shifting mosaic of tree cover, allowing new young eucalypts to grow up sheltered by shrubs and other trees. Then they used fire to remove the shrubs and leave the trees standing among tasty grass suitable to hunt kangaroos.
We can’t use those methods, because of fire restrictions, and because of fences and land boundaries.
Thus, I’ve mostly worked on setting up some larger areas of mixed trees and shrubs, then long windbreaks, and 20m square stepping stones for wildlife.
For paddock tree replacement, I had the idea to use stock mesh to create “little triangles”, just big enough for three to five plants – 1-2 trees and 3 shrubs – in each one. These are placed thirty to fifty metres apart in small-bird flitting distance from the larger enclosures.
The hope is that the shrubs will provide nursery services for the new paddock trees, and the enclosures can be moved on to a new location when they are sufficiently grown. So far, only one clump has grown so much that I could remove the mesh. That was the river red gums at the swimming hole, which have grown spectacularly. Removing the mesh was a challenge because they’d been flooded so many times in the past couple of years that they’d been partially buried in sand.
Most of the others don’t seem ready for the naked treatment. The shrubs would definitely not persist to another generation even if they survived sheep nibbling.
We made eleven new triangles this year, with the wonderful extra help of Sarah, who was unwarily visiting from Queensland, and from Jessie, who had to because she’s family. The mesh is fairly heavy to drag around, although we can hook it onto the ute and carry it like a wedding train to where we want it. Because of the wet paddocks, though, we couldn’t get the ute very close to some of the sites, and had to carry them.
We put up this year’s triangles all in the same paddock as two of the windbreaks we planted later on. It was lovely spending time among the native grass and along the creek there. With the six other triangles we’ve already put in, that paddock is getting close to being complete, for now.
Dad called this paddock the “Holden” paddock because there was an old car sitting in the middle of it. When the earthworks were done a few years ago, one of the dozer drivers pushed the car into the creek, where it is now perched on some rocks. I was pretty cross about it, but actually they left it in a great place for future photographs, Dmitry and I decided, if we could only get rid of the rest of the rubbish that’s been added.
Anyway, the triangles do go some way to replacing the paddock trees, but they are heavy work to set up, even when we cut them down from 6 metres to 3 metres in length. It’s a lot of carrying gear to get it done. There are a number of steep places that need trees that I was wondering whether we would ever get the mesh up to.
The ideal position for the triangles is somewhere that we can drop the mesh straight from the MA Steel 8m trailer directly onto the planting spot. But that leaves a lot of other places.
So, when I got the grant for the paddock trees, I was interested in whether it would help fill in some of those inaccessible gaps.
I took the truck to pick up the mesh, which had been cut from a long coil into separate curls. They were stackable, with only minor finger-pinching, into a humped pile on the tray. Also provided were the thirty trees – 10 yellow box (eucalyptus melliodora) which like rich soil, 10 apple box which like wet ground and 10 mannifera which handle rocky ridges well, allowing for three different environments.
I was supplied with a carefully measured amount of native plant fertilizer and a similar amount of soil water crystals in separate ziplock bags. Jeremy told me that he’d talked to a guy who planted trees for the sides of highways, but only got paid for the ones that survived at least three years. This was his method. I was also given some tie-wire and weed-stop cloth with a hole in the middle for the plants.
I had to supply 3 star pickets for each tree and do the planting.
It turned out that transporting these curls of mesh was a lot easier than the big stock mesh. They were taller, designed to be cattle proof, but much lighter.
We gave ten kits to our neighbour Leonie at Mulliondale, for her birthday, and they were planted in a paddock adjoining Mullion Creek.
I planted half a dozen in the Old Orchard near the house, to test out the method, and to have them in a place where I can check on them regularly.
Then I piled fourteen more on the back of the truck and went up to near the top of the Box Gum ridge, where I had been wanting to expand on that planted area. We did fifteen triangles at the bottom end of the ridge last year, but there was no way we would have been able to transport the mesh up to the top of the ridge without having a heart attack.
On the way up the hill we picked up rocks from the road to weigh down the weed-stop cloth, an essential requirement I hadn’t noticed up until then.
It was definitely much quicker planting the individual paddock trees than the triangles. Each one was within thirty to fifty metres of the next, and within a hundred metres of the Box Gum area or the remnant trees growing on the south side of the hill. That gives the best opportunity for small birds to reach them and reduce their insect load.
I need to see how they go without all the fancy stuff we usually give our trees (covers, water discs, weed mat, mycorrhizae, minerals). It’s definitely a good solution for the awkward places, far from where we can drop the stock mesh.
In a few months, we’ll see who survived.