About a decade ago, I had nearly completed a Bachelor of Science, majoring in biodiversity and conservation. It was on these subject too, where I excelled, based entirely on my passion for the subjects.
I even completed a third year project with a report titled, Fennel, (Foeniculum vulgare); an unappreciated weed in South Australia. I was inspired by a love of hiking which had left me acutely aware of how much of an impact weeds had on the SA landscape.
I despaired for the loss of our wonderful and fragile arid landscapes rich in colour and life to anyone willing to look beyond the “Scrub”.
Today, I grow fennel in my garden.
It was a slow yet inevitable fall from the concept of conservation for me.
Sure, where possible, we should protect remnant vegetation and, ideally, establish corridors between these islands – that is and forever remains sensible. But a devotion to a pristine landscape isn’t even remotely possible.
Carefully driving around feral goats in protected mallee woodlands and first-hand witnessing of olive seed dispersal by birds throughout SA has continually reinforced the immense scale of effort that would be required if we tried to maintain native orthodoxy.
More recently, when I did research for what became the article, A Viking Legacy and Australian Cuisine, I solidified the growing realisation within me.
Conservation for conservation’s sake favours no species; ours included.
We already fight for access to water, land and other resources. No matter who wins these fights, eventually we all lose a quality resource.
Take for example water allocation on the Murray Darling system. Over time more and more water has been used for agriculture. We can’t fault this because agriculture ultimately feeds us.
However, every drop taken away from the system is one that is no-longer available to the surrounding environment. The only option with less water is to do less. Less evaporation from the waterways + Less evapotranspiration from the surrounding environments = less rainfall recharge. We have a compounding water reduction system that no management scheme could possibly improve.
The realisation that I finally reached is that the commons itself is actually also a player in ‘the tragedy of the commons’ concept and not simply a bank.
We need to accept that old regimes cannot persist with existing criteria and so, for environments to prosper, new species and new ecosystems will need to be introduced to improve biodiversity, biological services and improved resource quality and quantity.
An edible “weed” that also provides biological services (eg. feeding pollinators / improving soil quality or top soil protection etc) and will happily grow in a heavily degraded environment is immensely valuable. We have thus avoid an otherwise barren landscape.
Nowadays when I hike, it’s a lot slower. I have two pairs of tiny feet walking with me.
“Look!” my eldest daughter points out suddenly. “It’s fennel! It’s a licorice plant!”
I snap a few pieces off, handing one to her, one to her little sister and I keep one for myself to chew while we walk.
Fennel is, in my opinion, still unappreciated. But not as a weed.
Instead, it is an incredible plant that grows remarkably well in poor soils with very little effort. My own fennel was grown from a fennel seed tea bag that I tore open and sprinkled into a seedling tray (and one a being from a dropped seed that grew straight from the hard clay soil of my yard).
Looking towards the future, with an appreciation for the difficulties and uncertainties around our climate and resource security, species that ask the least of us, but serve a function (be it carbon sequestration, food production or water quality) will gain centre stage.
They are our safety net.
Today, I’m a grower, however I need to define it, not just a conservationist.