On restoration, old photos and provenance

Veteran White Cypress-pine (Callitris glaucophylla) at Terrick Terrick National Park.

Apologies for the delay in posting another blog, but I’ve been away in the field enjoying old-growth ironbark forests, long-unburnt box forests, grassland grazing exclosures, regrowth mallee and more. All of which have prompted lots of ideas for future posts.

In the interim, here are three ‘must read’ links from two fantastic vegetation bloggers, which you are sure to enjoy. All three posts highlight the importance of the way we think when we talk about ‘grasslands’, ‘restoration’, ‘conservation’ and ‘functionality’.

The first post, by Chris Helzer, The right metaphor for prairie restoration, is a superb essay on goal setting in ecological restoration. If you manage or restore natural ecosystems you must read this blog. Chris concludes:

At first glance, choosing the appropriate metaphor for prairie restoration may seem insignificant compared to other challenges we face in grassland conservation.  However, if we’re going to successfully restore the viability of fragmented prairies, we can’t afford to waste time and effort worrying about whether or not we’ve matched pre-European settlement condition, or any other historical benchmark.  Instead, we need to focus on patching the essential systems back together.

After all, we’re not building for the past, we’re building for the future.

The second post by John Morgan, The basics of repeat photography, compares old and new photographs to document 30 years of changes in an endangered grassland. The magnitude of the change is extraordinary, and the comparison highlights the chasm between our current vision of a ‘good quality grassland’ and what actually existed in the past. This comparison alone highlights the importance of Chris’s post on setting goals that look forward rather than back. And while you visiting John’s site, make sure you read another of his recent posts on local provenance; it’s a cracker.

A year or so ago, I began a post on grassland restoration with two great quotes.

If you never change your mind, why have one? ~ Edward de Bono

Faced with the choice between changing one’s mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everyone gets busy on the proof ~ John Kenneth Galbraith

If these three blogs don’t make you think deeply (let alone change your mind) about the way you conserve and restore natural ecosystems then, I’d argue, maybe you shouldn’t be conserving and restoring natural ecosystems.

Read and enjoy!

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6 thoughts on “On restoration, old photos and provenance

  1. Hi Ian. ‘To restore or reconstruct’, seems a very useful question and those posts you linked to certainly highlight the issues – a very interesting discussion (along with your previous posts), thanks. I just spent last week on the Box Ironbark Ecology Course in north-central Victoria (enjoyable, insightful and well run), where we spent a lot of time trying to interpret a massively altered natural landscape. Mining, landscape denudation, landscape-scale soil alteration, forestry, agriculture, firewood, more firewood and now fire – oh my goodness! That there is anything of conservation value left, given such an extended period of ecological abuse, is amazing and a testimony to the resilience of the system. The ‘to restore or reconstruct’ question certainly applies to parts of the Box Ironbark country, if only because so little is known about what was there ‘before’, making ‘reconstruction’ a logical approach. Keep up the thoughtful posts and I loved the ‘dirt ring’ series.

    • Hi Bert, thanks very much for your comment. I’ve got another couple of blogs in mind about box-ironbark forests that I’ll probably post in the next couple of months, so hopefully we can keep the restoration / reconstruction / management discussions alive and constructive, best wishes Ian

  2. I note the nice little drift of Isotoma axillaris (?) growing around the granite boulders. I’ve been able to establish it under some some grey box on my acreage in central Victoria but I imagine it would disappear in a year or two if I didn’t constantly hand weed exotic grasses that are trying to establish around it. Anyway, it’s all good fun.

    • Thanks Mel, its a beautiful plant, isn’t it. It must be amazingly drought tolerant to survive in such small rock crevices. I hope you can keep it flourishing on your property, best wishes Ian

  3. Hi again Ian, I enjoyed the article on local provenance. I’ve always assumed that it is better to revegetate with a range of different provenances and allow natural selection to do its work, however I’ve found this to be a minority view among my fellow Landcarers including persons in positions of authority. What I find truly startling is people who think that if a provenance is extinct, for example Banksia marginata in a particular location, that introducing the same species from another location is akin to introducing a weed! My view has always been that if the birds etc had a say in the matter they would disavow such puritanism. Also, given that “restored” areas and modified areas often have a greatly diminished range of plants, maybe some weeds are actually a good thing, for instance the red browed finches on my acreage seem to rely weed seeds (wireweed etc).Any thoughts?

    • Hi Melaleuca, thanks again for your comment. In a abroad sense, I think your examples highlight the value of a functional approach to restoration – what functions do we want to fill, and what species can we use to fill those functions – such as providing nectar for birds (from honeysuckles) or shrubs to provide cover for birds. We often use intact remnants (or historical records) to guide us on the functions that natural ecosystems can (or did) perform, and we then guide our restoration works from these. The more degraded sites are, the greater the chance that functions that were once provided by native species are now provided by exotics (if they are provided at all).

      The tree-form of Banksia marginata has completely disappeared from many, many regions. This must have made a huge change in food availability for animals. Personally, I’d welcome the day when Banksia marginata “re-invaded “ the plains – no matter what the provenance was.

      Best wishes Ian

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