Landscape rehydration ‘better than dams’ in improving farm production, reducing fire risk, Major 2020

Compendium Volume 4 Number 2 January 2021

A project in Queensland, Australia has met with success in its efforts to rehydrate the landscape on the farmland property of Worona Station, improving biodiversity, water retention, and resistance to erosion and fire. Worona Station had been degraded and faced serious erosion issues, so Chris Le Feuvre, the owner, partnered with consultancy groups of NQ Dry Tropics and the Mulloon Institute in a project to rehydrate his land.

The project team has used a combination of planned grazing and small, low-tech dams to combat erosion problems. The grazing technique involves:

Splitting paddocks into small sizes and using large mobs of cattle grazing on rotation … grazing pasture more intensively while giving it longer to rest, [thereby] increasing carrying capacity.

Grazing in this way (which is evocative of Allan Savory’s Holistic Planned Grazing methodology) has resulted in increased pasture species diversity and boosted plant growth, allowing the Le Feuvre to double his herd size. Planned grazing has also reduced sediment runoff from the property. Sam Skeat, a grazing officer with NQ Dry Tropics, attests to the importance of grazing.

The plug-and-pond technique — also known as leaky weirs — involves small dam-like structures to lift the bed level of the water, which is then run onto the floodplain to grow pasture and recharge aquifers. While weirs have been strategically constructed, Mr. Skeat said grazing management was the most important tool to improve water retention in a landscape. ‘If you can use cattle as a tool to regenerate the grassland, you’ll get more infiltration, slow the flow, hold water up in the landscape and have you growing grass for longer’ [Major 2020].

Rehydrating landscapes can improve their resilience to extreme events, and improve their quality in the face of chronic problems like erosion. According to the Mulloon Institute Chairman Gary Nairn, the issue of degraded gullies and streams is a national concern. Gullies are created when parched land is unable to absorb rainwater, allowing it to run off. The sediment-filled runoff ends up in the ocean, polluting it.

Nairn sees land rehydration through planned grazing and related techniques as a better solution than building a massive, industrial-scale dam to retain water. The Australian government has been looking into building new large dams. Levels at Warragamba Dam, which supplies about 80 percent of Sydney’s water, have dropped to less than half capacity.

‘We’ve been able to demonstrate in Mulloon, if we repaired and rehydrated the catchment through to the Sydney water supply, you could store the equivalent of Warragamba Dam,’ he said [Major 2020].

Major, Tom, 2020, Landscape rehydration 'better than dams' in improving farm production, reducing fire risk, ABC News,

For the full PDF version of the compendium issue where this article appears, visit Compendium Volume 4 Number 2 January 2021