Adaptive preparation for climate change in north eastern New South Wales, Australia

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(Note from Editor: this case study was contributed by registered user Rdgier on 23 May 2008, no contact info. given but if Reidgr wants to they can add their email to their profile or include a link here to an external website - thanks!)

In this sub-tropical region the dominant agricultural land use is beef cattle grazing on rain fed pastures. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of pulse disturbances such as heat waves, storms, drought and fire. A gradual decline in average rainfall will also lead to a press disturbance of overgrazing as landowners seek to maintain stock numbers. Over the past two decades pasture quality has declined due to the invasion of fibrous, nutrient poor species tolerant of dry conditions. Soil quality has also declined due to erosion, organic carbon decline and acidity. Rising fertiliser cost has contributed to widespread soil nutrient decline further undermining the higher productivity pasture species. Soil and pasture degradation is likely to accelerate as climate change accumulates.

A project was initiated to encourage landowners to prepare for climate change through adaptive land management. The landowners were shown how to map the areas of their farm most vulnerable to pulse disturbances. Paddock by paddock plans were drawn up identifying areas best managed with adapted native species, the areas that could be buffered by measures to conserve soil moisture and the areas more likely to maintain productive capacity. Specific actions were identified in each case.


Differing vulnerability to drying in a hillside

The emphasis of the planning was on decade to decade viability instead of maximum seasonal yields. While adverse climatic events cannot be accurately predicted they can be anticipated with a longer view.

In the course of the workshops representatives were invited from community groups, local councils, schools and the rural fire service. Inclusion of these representatives integrated support for the landowners and added considerable momentum to changes in land management.

As a result of the workshops 98% of the participants intended specific management changes; plant windbreaks (78%), erect fences to separately manage areas of different sensitivity (62%), apply management practices to encourage deeper roots (87% ), introduce more drought adapted pasture species (82%), change paddock rotations anticipating dry seasons (58%) and apply management practices to build soil organic carbon (89%).

Resilience to climate change impacts was improved through bushfire preparation, by pasture management aligned to landscape vulnerbility and by reduction of financial exposure during pulse disturbances.

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