Case Studies Part One: Farmers Looking at the bigger picture.

To begin a look at case studies, I was going to start with one of my favourite example; the recovery effort to restore the Richmond Bird Wing Butterfly, as it was an important lesson in shaping me in my first year of uni (and my aspired career path – yet unachieved). However, the more I think about it, the more I want to make sure the reader comes away with an important lesson and I know I tend to write long posts (which I hope are not too tedious to work through – I try to break them up with images, but my head gets full of ideas when I get excited and without an editor to keep me in check… well you’ve seen the results).

So I find myself drawn to highlight aspects I read about in Chapters 6 through 9 of Biodiversity: Integrating Conservation and Production, some of which (especially chapt. 6) follows on from my post, The distance in consumption; where should we put our plate? and a recent debate with an economist. Under the subheading Natural Capital (chapt 6.), David March puts it together wonderfully;

“The first principle is that natural capital is really the only true form of wealth. Everything that almost every lifeform on earth does is linked to photosynthesis… [and is] something we decided we needed to recognise and incorporate in our farming.”

“The natural capital in the original vegetation has been converted into other forms of capital (fences, machinery, labour, roads, housing, schools, institutions); in other words, into all the benefits we enjoy as a complex society in the 21st century. However, we mostly called the benefit of this conversion ‘income’ when it is, in fact, a capital liquidation. Reduction in capital in a business cannot be sustained without more investment or the business will cease to exist.”

As David goes on to say, the same must be considered with natural capital (ie. “…injections of biological capital). I’ll leave the quoting there before I get in trouble to providing an illegal copy of the entire book! (I’ve dog-eared a lot of it). It is refreshing hear others considering the larger picture of resource management and in David’s case, make the point that at we are in fact doing is largely harvesting sunlight.

His, John and Robyn Ive’s following chapter and the next chapter by Graham Strong all highlight this change in perspective and a shift away from the increasing norm of large scale, high tech farming of ever increasingly simplified land. By working with the land, rather than forcing it, they have been able to reduce their effort and expense, increasing biodiversity and the quality of their produce and the overall health of their land (thereby the sustainability of their practices).

I’m certainly not able to tell their stories as well as them (unfortunately, at this point, I’ve not met any of these farmers either, but I certainly hope to), so I urge anyone interested to read the book, but I’ll offer a few examples here;

By varying the plant life (ie. encouraging local tree species, understory and perennial grass growth on their land) and allowing adequate recovery time following grazing, this increased diversity stimulated the return of a number of fauna species back onto the farm, all of which play a role in the health of the soil and the floral community. This extra flora cover also helps to maintain soil moisture (which too helps avoid/repair soil acidification and salinity), which also increases the organisms diversity in the soil (the maintenance of nutrients levels) and also benefits top soil protection from extreme weather events.

Following the choice to stop spraying for pests, it was seen that pests moved back in (obviously), however, seeing out this phase saw the return of predatory species and higher trophic level species. This is a more biodiversity rich farm which assists with the health of the landscape (nutrient cycling), but also means that pest species are kept in check by the ecosystem, saving money on the cost of spraying and some fertilizers.

By reducing their farming lands (ie. allowing some areas for native flora corridors), encouraging an increase in natural biodiversity and diversifying their produce, these farmers have demonstrated better quality yields, greater resistance to extreme weathers (likely to increase in most agricultural regions in Australia) as well as foresight to weather patterns and changes to meet those patterns, less effort required for upkeep and probably my favourite; they were able to foster a deeper appreciation of their land, not only for themselves but to others that would visit for numerous reasons (ie. increasing human connection back with the land – something I’ll talk about more in the future) – as well as many other benefits.

I think I’ll probably leave this as part one and continue my look into case studies in following posts, for the sake of the reader. I might try to contact these people so that I can get them to offer more than I have (and can without plagiarism).

I was once told (well actually the professional would not tell me, but told my ex who then told me), that my degree was more or less pointless. I was fuming at the time, but have since come to the conclusion that for my perceived career path and degree choice, he was probably correct. I guess a better title for my degree would have been Ecological Management which is as ambiguous in title and limiting in general as it sounds. I now believe that it has been my career, exposure to many aspects of socio-environmental relationships and a deep passion for increased landscape concern that has been the most benefit to me. It’s a little upsetting that my studies largely ignored many aspects of human interaction with land and this growing distance we have between the suburban lifestyle and the supporting environment.

However, I hope to learn what I can and provide that here and in my career so as we can learn by examples like those mentioned here and develop ever increasing sustainable practices that do not just look at the economic results, and not only at the ecology either, but the whole process from sun and element to the hive of life that is all around us. As the above examples make clear, it is a complicated relationship between biodiversity, economy, a sense of connection and belonging with the environment (both those on the land and the community at large) that come together to provide a sustainable prosperity and the way to achieve this is open communication, physical connection (ie. we should all take various opportunities to get out of the concrete jungle and see what is really around our little islands) and real passion for providing that wealth to future generations rather than mindless growth that dominates where bully that is economy is the loudest contender.

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