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Regenerative Agriculture and Soil Carbon

“You are what you eat” is a well-known mantra. However, there is a new twist: “You are what your food eats”.

This concept originated with the organic food industry and is obviously meant to capture the idea that healthy, nutrient-rich pasture will grow healthy livestock.  Similarly, the philosophy behind regenerative agriculture is “don’t feed the crops, feed the soil” believing that healthy soil will yield more than crops doused in fertilizers.  It is called regenerative because the aim is to move the farming system to one which replenishes itself, improving soil health over time rather than depleting it.

Regenerative agricultural practises are surprisingly simple and straight forward and are not just for smallholdings.  They can be scaled up for use on large, commercial farms.  Reducing tillage is perhaps the most basic step.  Ploughing breaks up the soil, exposing deeper soils to the elements.  It increases evaporation and carbon dioxide release.  Low or no tillage systems avoids this.  Secondly, regenerative agriculture prioritises maintaining ground cover.  Bare soil, another consequence of ploughing, is prevented by a combination of rotational grazing, planting cover crops, and by leaving stubble.  Finally, regenerative agriculture prioritises diversity.  If the same crop is grown year-after-year inevitably all the nutrients those plants need will be taken out of the soil but, as different plants need different nutrients, growing a variety of crops prevents that depletion.

Keeping plants growing year-round, maintaining extensive root networks and having a stable soil structure, in addition to increased productivity has an extra benefit; it keeps carbon in the ground and not in the atmosphere.  Plants will release carbon dioxide as they decompose (or worse, are burnt).  That is unavoidable but can be more than offset through encouraging new plant growth.  Indeed, the Federal Government considers the potential of soil carbon to act as a buffer against climate change so great that it has introduced the Carbon Farming Initiative (as part of its emissions reduction plan).  Under the scheme, land managers are paid to store carbon through carbon credits.

Stephen Brend, Project Officer, Biosphere Foundatio

Photo by Josh Summerfield on Unsplash


Our Somers Patch

December 2020 marks the twentieth year since we began the process of developing “our one-acre patch” in Somers.

A move from the water tank dependant double block in Red Hill, to a larger plot with access to town water and backing onto a bushland reserve only two hundred metres from the beach, was a retirement dream.  Owner-builders during the year the GST was introduced, and during the long millennial drought, proved challenging, an extremely steep learning curve, but also very fulfilling.

Creating habitat, ‘garden rooms’ and food production areas from a once bare block has been an ongoing pleasure for us and that despite some robust discussions over habitat versus food production priorities rearing its head occasionally!  Garden areas were initially established along the boundaries to provide ‘screening’ with trial and error often found to be a defining process with hard to read soil profiles meant some areas were replanted with more appropriate species (often native to indigenous) or a complete change of position for food production crops (fruit trees and veg gardens).

During the first year ‘mark one’ for a vegetable garden was created plus initial plantings in the fenced off prepared wetland zone.  Other areas around the house and in-between were planned and initially established over the next few years.

Our wide brown land and the realities of climate change meant a rethink about the reliability of town water so two water tanks were installed in 2007.  The house and large shed roof areas provide runoff to tanks with overflow water going to the ‘wetlands’.  Habitat plantings have only been watered during their first summer, with tank water used for food production, deck plants and ‘conservation’ tube stock.

There have been many changes over the twenty years, either by necessity or due to changed priorities e.g. the main rose garden area was quickly removed as it provided ‘no crop’ and seemed only good habitat for aphids so now ground cherries, herbs and a rotation of vegetations take pride of place.  Our initial egg producing chooks were allowed retirement time before a wily fox ended that sadly, so now we have honey production with a bee hive, plus the delightful company of a wide variety of native animals that share our patch too.

Lockdown in 2020 due to COVID 19 has reinforced how very lucky we are living where we do and how thankful we are for our little patch.

Early 2000, the original circular drive gravel in place, with excavations for shed and house.  The plantings in Koala bushland Reserve, on the back boundary, were mere saplings then!

The main drive way to the front showing our most popular koala feed tree, the spindly eucalypt in the centre background.  Blue tongues appear on the northern side during springtime, with skinks regularly spotted sunning on logs and rocks while visiting echidnas and copper heads are spotted over the warmer months particularly.

The top part of the ‘creek’ from what was originally the eastern part of the driveway.  When the drought ended, we needed to deal with serious run-off issues on this steeper section with the creek/drain, to replicate the natural waterflows, proving a good solution, until our trees grew.

Creek and pathway meandering through the mix of native and indigenous plantings.

A mid-block fence (utilizing recycled materials) was built to keep our dogs on the back portion of the patch with a rustic look construction (building edge to boundary) soon hidden by vegetation.

A more recent food production acquisition – bees in the northern habitat zone.

The ‘sheoak forest’, with many self-sown, along with other self-seeded treasures provided by birds or wind!

Northern section ‘oval’, a favourite area for koalas, birds and echidnas – the latter often leaving evidence of devoured ant nests.

The lower eastern section was the initial fruit tree area, but neighbours deciding to subdivide necessitated the creation of a ‘vegetation barrier’ with only the fig tree remaining here.  Other fruit trees were carefully transplanted, with more added along the southern boundary.

The eastern end of the deck looking towards the ‘wetlands’ a favourite place for observing wildlife…spot the two yellow tail black cockatoos in the blackwood above the hoses.

The ‘wetlands’ provide so much pleasure…visuals and sounds from a wide variety of bird species, micro bats, possums, koalas, yabbies, frogs, insects and snakes etc.

Black ducks initially nested safely in the wetlands but too many plants vying for airspace in their ‘flight path’ prevented that in latter years.  Last year’s judicious pruning will hopefully rectify that problem for them.

A bountiful food production garden in the southern section (including hothouse) with an extension to the citrus grove, along the back fence to Koala Reserve, a lockdown project.

Pam Bannister


Dolphin Research Institute: Welcome to 2021

Excerpts from the Latest DRI Newsletter

Welcome to 2021 – Celebrating 30 Years!

On behalf of all our team welcome to 2021 – hopefully a better year for us all.

March 22nd will mark our 30th anniversary. It is a time to celebrate the achievements that your support has enabled.

It is also a time to map out our fourth decade to provide solutions that will help to give these playful calves and all our living marine treasures, the environment they deserve.

In December we launched a pilot of our “Dolphin Distancing” Program, a positive approach to building a strong community of boaters who are committed to respecting our dolphins.

The good news is that response has been so good that we need another print-run of stickers!

The challenge is that it is too early to see results as change takes time. It’s frustrating because our dolphins in both bays are having a frantic start to 2021.

The best thing you can do is for you and your friends to commit to Dolphin Distancing, to help us build a strong community who both respect dolphins themselves and expect others to the do the same.

Thank you again and warmest wishes to you and your families for the year ahead.

Jeff Weir OAM, Executive Director

PS – Bookings for education programs are coming in fast, so please let your schools and groups know that we have effective Covid plans and are keen to see them in 2021.


How you can help to protect our dolphins… 

“Covid-crazy” best explains the behaviour of people around our dolphins in both bays, so far this Summer. It seems worse this year and frustrated and angry are calling us to report what they are seeing.

The stress of endless interruptions to feeding, resting or nursing take a toll and can cause the loss of local dolphin populations.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes – the best thing is to report concerns to DELWP on 136 186 for them to follow up the worst events and to support a case for greater enforcement.

DRI collates reports we receive and forward them directly to Wildlife Officers. We are also working with the community and other parts of government.

After three decades of doing things that don’t work — with the usual signs, media releases, calls for more policing, or blaming and shaming, we are trying something different that we know has worked in other situations.

We are working to build a strong community committed to doing respecting dolphins and shift the norm on the water.

This is what Dolphin Distancing is all about.

It’s easy, doesn’t cost anything and makes you part of the solution.

We ask people to commit on our website and proudly display the sticker we send them. Also to enlist their friends. We are talking to yacht clubs, fishing and boating groups (including Jet skis) and many more, to join in.

DRI is here for the long-haul and Dolphin Distancing will be a core program throughout our fourth decade. Because the uptake has been so great, we need to print more stickers, so get in quick so you don’t have to wait!


Our 2020 Summer Snapshot is ready to download.

Read how your support has helped our team of staff, interns and volunteers to achieve some fantastic research and education outcomes – in spite of the challenging times.

2020 has ended with some positives,  March 2021 will see our 30th anniversary – stay tuned for some exciting announcements…

Download 2020 Summer Snapshot Here

 


Protecting Western Port RAMSAR Values Project

Photo courtesy of Chris Stock

On any given Saturday in summer, there may be over 2,000 recreational boats out on Western Port and most of them will be fishing.

King George whiting are a prime target.  The catch limit for the species is 20 (over 27 cm).  Even if each of those boats only carried one angler and they only caught half their catch limit, given that this can happen day after day, it is easy to see the pressure on the resource.

The Biosphere Foundation’s Ramsar project is working with the recreational fishing community to try to ensure the best outcomes for both the environment and people.  We have been out with Charter Fishing operators, to hear their perspectives and spoken with fishers and boat owners.  One of the surprising findings is the variety of feelings about, essentially, everything!  From catch limits to the use of berley, from anchor types to how to handle and release fish, there is a huge spectrum of opinion.  A few consistent themes have emerged, however.

The popularity of the sport means everyone recognises some level of control is essential.  Left unchecked, there is a real risk that the resource will be over-harvested.  Secondly, the correct disposal of spent line, bait bags and other waste is far, far better now than it used to be.  In other words, the message about littering has well and truly been taken on board (pun intended).  Thirdly, Fisheries Officers are only infrequently seen (that’s not a criticism just a comment) meaning that people need to do the right thing out of a belief it’s the right thing to do rather than fear of being caught.  This links back to both catch limits and littering.  Good behaviour can become the norm.  Finally, there is a genuine love for and interest in Western Port.  This may not extend to being told to catch less fish but does show in interest in sea grass meadows, fish life cycles etc.

All of this gives the Biosphere Foundation plenty to think about, and a pretty big challenge; finding the right messages for the right group, but also to bring everyone along.  For the whiting it doesn’t matter if they are landed on an 8m long, 250Hp hard-top or onto a sea kayak.

In the coming months, we will continue to engage with the fishing community and angling clubs, and will produce an educational video and brochure.  We are also holding an interactive workshop to debate some of the issues which have arisen – save the date, 4th of March.


4 March 2021 – Save the Date

Our next community forum, Recreational Fishing & The Protection of the Ramsar Values of Western Port, will be held on the morning of Thursday 4 March at the Warneet Motor Yacht Club/Community Hall.

The aim of the meeting is to hear from the fishing community particularly about their ideas for solutions to identified problems.

If you would like to attend, please send an email to events@biosphere.org.au


Safe Havens

Good news for Bandicoots!  The Federal Government recently offered funds for the establishment of predator proof, safe havens.  This funding opportunity arose from a 2019 election commitment with the Safe Haven pool of some $10 million being drawn from the larger Environment Restoration Fund.

Three members of the Southern Brown Bandicoot Regional Recovery Group (SBB RRG), of which the Biosphere Foundation is the secretariat, made applications.  The Foundation assisted with the Boneo Landscape proposal; the Boneo landscape surrounding the all-important Tootgarook Swamp.

It is too early to say if any of these grant applications will be successful, but it is exciting that the Federal Government is taking both bandicoot conservation (SBBs were specifically named as a priority species) and acknowledging the importance of predator proof fencing.

For many years, the Biosphere Foundation has been concerned with the presence of so many foxes and feral or unrestrained domestic cats in the Biosphere Reserve.  The impact of these introduced predators on native wildlife is nothing short of catastrophic.  Baiting is one tried and tested strategy but faces the dual constraints of public concerns, particularly concerning domestic dogs, and the need for it to be on-going.  If the baiting stops, the removed foxes will soon be replaced.

Fencing avoids these concerns, but scale becomes a concern; we can’t fence the whole Biosphere!  The answer is that both strategies need to be applied.  Fenced areas ensure species survive and thrive while the predators outside the fence are controlled.  Modern fence designs have mechanisms to allow native mammals to leave, which is particularly important to stop macropod numbers expanding unsustainably inside the fenced area.  Predators, however, are still kept out, typically through a “floppy top”.

While we hope the local applications are successful, even if they are not, it certainly won’t be the end of the idea of fenced bandicoot safe havens in the Biosphere Reserve.


This Wet Summer

More than one person has grumbled, as they put on a jumper, this January “so much for global warming!”  Unfortunately, they are wrong.  This wet summer actually is another indicator of climate change – albeit a rather more benign one that last year’s tragic bushfires.

We are currently experiencing a La Niña.  This weather pattern, which is the opposite of an El Niño event, is the result of changes to water temperatures across the Eastern, Central and Western parts of the Southern Pacific.  This is why the full name for the phenomenon is the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO); water temperatures oscillating back and forth.  Wherever water is warmer, there will be greater evaporation followed by more rain.  If the waters are warmer in the Central and Eastern Pacific, South America receives more rainfall.  This happens in an El Nino.  During those years, Australia and our northern neighbours tend to receive below average rainfall, leading to drought and increased fire risk.  Conversely, in a La Niña, when the waters closer to us are warmer, we will receive above average rainfall.  This is the situation we have this year.

The link to climate change is ominous.  Though not caused by global climate change, overall temperature rises are likely to make the effects of both El Niño and La Niña more pronounced, and the cycle more frequent. The ENSO is already associated with extreme weather and negative impacts on both people and the environment, being implicated in events as widely separated as snow in California, famine in East Africa and coral bleaching in Queensland.  In other words, while we can be grateful for rain rather than fire, the respite may not last long.


Second bite at AGL

After firing our best shot at the panel hearing on the adequacy of the EES for the Crib Point Gas Terminal Project our best shot, a second opportunity for formal response arose.

The following comments and questions were addressed to the panel:

The Biosphere Foundation, in its initial response to the EES, included reports of AGL being in breach of environmental regulation.  Wisdom after the event is of little moment when the environment suffers.  While our questions are framed within a context of poor performance, as we stated in the IAC hearing, for the good of the environment the proponent should be considered guilty until proven innocent.  That is, it is they who must provide satisfaction that damage will not occur, or if it does, it will not be of sufficient magnitude that it is insufferable and if it does occur, that it can be satisfactorily repaired.

What are the thresholds for a shutdown of various elements of the project should breaches occur?
 
Who assesses whether the threshold has been reached?
 
Does Victoria’s Office of the Environmental Monitor have an involvement here?
 
How does the compliance and enforcement provision of the EPBC Act, with the capacity to exact enforceable undertakings and negotiate civil penalties, apply should breaches of the Act occur in project development and operations?  Who calls in EPBC compliance staff and in what process?
 
Is there a bond lodged by the proponent that is of a realistic magnitude to support rigorous compliance?
 
What provision will be included in any contract to provide for remediation of the environment and reparation to the community for losses should they suffer?
 
Should this project proceed, it should not be a case of privatised gains, where AGL’s shareholders are the major beneficiaries, and socialised losses, where the environment and the local
community are left to endure the damage.

We need gas – but how much?  Supplied where?  And in what process?  These remain unanswered questions.

Greg Hunt, Executive Officer, Biosphere Foundation


Biosphere Foundation’s Duncan Malcolm Scholarship

Duncan Malcolm retired as Board Chair at the end of 2019.  In recognition of his considerable contribution to the Biosphere Foundation and to the region, the Foundation has established a scholarship in his name.

This scholarship to attend the Chisholm Institute of TAFE, will be awarded through the Caroline Chisholm Education Foundation (CCEF) and has an annual value of $1,000.

In line with Duncan’s interests, it was agreed that the scholarship would go to a student of Conservation and Land Management.  Pat, a local resident from Shoreham, is the first recipient of the Duncan Malcolm Biosphere Scholarship.  Pat is currently completing a Certificate III in Conservation and Land Management at Chisholm Institute’s Mornington Peninsula Campus.

Apart from his formal study, Pat has worked as a volunteer in a number of local projects.  His future goals include:  Achieving a strong academic and practical basis for conservation and land management; working where his enthusiasm and love of nature can be realised; and making positive social and ecological changes in Victoria, Australia and beyond.

Congratulations Pat, we wish you well!

The Biosphere Foundation is proud to support the CCEF which works with individuals, businesses and others across the Biosphere region to support people in hardship undertake further education.

Contact CCEF:
chisholm.edu.au/about-us/caroline-chisholm-education-foundation
if you too would like to make a donation or establish a scholarship.


IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Geoff Brooks

Biosphere Foundation Board Member

What makes Geoff tick, or perhaps in your case what floats your boat? 
Despite deriving an income from behind the keyboard, I find my real joys in outdoor life.  I am an enthusiastic recreational kayaker of modest skills and like to add to its risks by taking a camera and lenses out on the bays to indulge in photography, something I have done since I had my first darkroom as a primary school student.  I’m interested in anything to do with science and technology – from digital imagery to astronomy.  Winning a copywriting competition a few years ago scored me an 8-inch reflector telescope with motor drive, which I should use more after failing at my first crack at astrophotography.  I had ambitions to be an astronomer as a child, but landed in PR.  As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens while you’re busy making other plans.”  A keen traveller, I thoroughly enjoy wildlife and landscape photography.  In the heady days when we could travel anywhere, I most recently visited Canada and Alaska, where I literally had a field day among the bears, seals, orcas and birdlife.  I should also note that I’m a fanatical remote supporter of Liverpool FC and never miss a game on TV.

Tell us a bit about your professional background: 
My professional background has been quite eclectic, although always following the central theme of stakeholder relation and corporate communications.  After graduating from the University of Queensland, I joined Brisbane’s The Courier-Mail as a journalist, spending a bit of time covering the often-bewildering gyrations of the Joh Bjelke-Petersen government.  I also spent a short time on The Sunday Sun before joining Ford Australia’s public affairs office.  Later, I headed PR and communications for Jetset Travel before establishing my own communications and marketing consultancy, where I worked with some great international brands.  I was always an early adopter of technology and evolved through the early days of the internet, desktop publishing and digital imaging.  After 12 years in the business, I moved into superannuation, where I grew my knowledge of finance, investment and governance.  I became quite interested in the latter, which prompted me to complete the Australian Institute of Company Directors GAICD qualification.

What led you to join the Biosphere Foundation? 
I’ve always had a great love of nature and animal welfare.  I undertook some pro-bono work on some great projects for the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in the 1990s, including the campaign to establish the Southern Ocean Sanctuary for Whales, promote the fund’s global Sustainable Fisheries program and facilitate a commercial association between WWF and Ansett Airlines to raise money for Taskforce Tiger, an effort to save the Indian tiger population.  Sometimes, global issues like climate change and ecosystem restoration seem just too big to tackle or make a significant contribution to, but I believe the difference will ultimately be defined as the sum of collective effort put in locally.  Bringing my experience, business skills and entrepreneurial outlook to the Biosphere Foundation board seemed like a very practical way of contributing to both the local and the wider global effort.

What would you like to achieve through your involvement in the Biosphere Foundation? 
As for any organisation in which you get involved, I believe your contribution should ensure it is better than when you joined it – now and into the future.  Participants in the not-for-profit sector will face enormous challenges for attention and funding after COVID, so we need to ensure that our community clearly understands what is our purpose, the outcomes we deliver for everyone living and doing business within the Biosphere and by what metrics we measure our success.  These will be the pillars upon which the Western Port Biosphere Foundation builds its own success and sustainability, while ensuring the lifestyle for residents and visitors to the five council shires that fringe its boundaries is enhanced by living in harmony with the natural environment.  Recognintion by UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves Program underscores how fortunate we are to live in such a unique part of the world.


From the Chair: Jo McCoy: Issue 28

Welcome to our first Connector newsletter of 2021.  I am sure readers will all be hoping that this year pans out better than last.  Many will be awaiting the roll-out of vaccines that they trust will allow us to resume life in a manner that more closely resembles what we were used to before COVID 19 became part of the lexicon.  This would provide us with the space to refocus on climate change and other environmental and sustainable development issues that have been pushed down the priority list in the last year.

Some of you will have seen the announcement by HRH Prince Charles of his Terra Carta (Earth Charter) ahead of the One Planet Summit in Paris in early January.  He hopes that it “offers the basis of a recovery plan to 2030 that puts Nature, People and Planet at the heart of global value creation.”  The aim is to encourage big business and industry to invest more than $10 billion in the natural world.  The belief is that only they can provide the practical leadership to mobilise the innovation, scale and resources that are required to transform our global economy.

The Terra Carta offers a blueprint for making sustainability mainstream and slowing degradation of the natural environment – an objective with which those of us who support the UNESCO’s Biosphere Reserves model can all wholeheartedly agree.

The Foundation’s Annual General Meeting (AGM) was held on the evening of Thursday 28 January, and the easing of COVID Restrictions meant that we did not have to resort to another Zoom Meeting.  The knots of people still chatting after the chairs had been cleared away showed the joy of meeting face to face, in COVID safety of course.  Members and Guests heard about what has been achieved in a disrupted year and met the four new Directors appointed to the Board in September.  The Annual Report for 2019-2020, presented to the Meeting, is available here.  Nicola Ward, the keynote speaker at the (AGM), presented the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals SDGs) and their applicability to the Foundation.  Her presentation is here.

The Foundation’s biennial Report Card uses the SDGs as indicators to report on the performance of the region.  The Report can be downloaded here.

The new Board met for a strategic planning session in December and is now working to develop the Business Plan for 2021-22.  In addition to familiar Biosphere projects, staff will be focused on further developing new projects including Biodiversity in Schools, Food and Agriculture, Banishing Biosphere’s Pests, and a French Island Biodiversity Plan.

Board directors will have their own projects and will be focusing on strategic priorities including strengthening awareness of the Biosphere brand, achieving a sustainable business model through diversified revenue streams, and expanding our membership base with a particular focus on younger people and diverse cultural communities.  While none of these priorities are completely new, I am confident that our current cohort of directors will be well placed to help us achieve them.

Following last year’s structural upgrade of the Foundation’s website, we are reviewing its internal architecture to make sure the material and information is topical and up to date.  Our staff will be assisted in this by at least two of our new Directors who have significant skills and experience in communications.

I wanted to take the opportunity to alert readers that our Executive Officer, Greg Hunt, has advised that he will not be renewing his contract which is due to expire in a few months’ time – too many birds on his watchlist and not enough time to see them all!  In the nearly three years that Greg has been with the Biosphere, we have benefitted from his enthusiasm, passion and dedication along with his extensive knowledge and networks in the region.  He will be sadly missed – but hopefully, not completely lost to the organisation.  I know all members and readers will join me in wishing him well in the future.

With Greg’s impending departure, the Board will be searching for a replacement Executive Officer.  The position description should be available on the website by early February.  Please feel free to contact Greg or myself if you have any questions – and alert anyone you know who may be interested in this exciting opportunity!

Please also write to me at chair@biopshere.org.au if you have any comments or suggestions for issues or updates that you would like to see included on the website and/or addressed in future editions of Connector.

Jo McCoy, Chair, Biosphere Foundation