Herbert Park Landcare instigates trip to visit Peter Andrews

Story and photos by Karen Zirkler

See pics here

On Thursday and Friday 7th and 8th of June, 32 participants mostly from the Southern New England, travelled to the Upper Hunter Valley to learn about and see first hand, the work of Peter Andrews and his Natural Sequence Farming.

Travelling by coach, the group spent Thursday afternoon visiting Gerry Harvey’s property ‘Barramul’, approximately 1½ hours west of Muswellbrook in the Widden Valley, where stunning sandstone ridges that flank the valley floors provide specific minerals that produce equally stunning

Peter Andrews and his partner Jo, accompanied the group on a creek walk, all the time, pointing out features of the landscape that shape the watercourse and re-hydrate the land. It seemed obvious that the achievements at ‘Barramul’ are quite amazing, when compared with similar valleys in
the district. Indeed, where the ‘experimental’ area adjoined a traditionally managed area, the fence-line effect was significant.

On our return to Muswellbrook for the night, the group stayed and dined at the John Hunter Motel… and that was when the rain really came down.

Having experienced flood rain in the (dim and distant) past, I could tell this was flood rain! (My first assignment with SNELCC in 1998 was a trip to the State Landcare Conference in Orange, during which time it rained so much that the coach was delayed on the trip home due to flooding on the
Oxley Highway.)

However, a phone call with Peter Andrews on Friday morning calmed our fears and we took to the road (with a slightly anxious coach driver). After a very picturesque 2-hour drive west of uswellbrook, we arrived at ‘Tarwyn Park’, now owned and managed by Peter’s son and his family.

This is where Peter first put his ideas into action, so in a way, it was different to ‘Barramul’ in that the work on ‘Barramul’ has had the advantage of hindsight.

By this time, the rain was light but constant, making the normally firm farm tracks a little slippery for our coach, and, you guessed it, we got bogged. While the tractor and chain were being summoned, and Jo was organizing a hot drink for the group back at the homestead, Peter carried on talking with the group, pointing out the structures he had put in place across the local landscape that mimic the natural sequence of valley floor processes, and the effects they had achieved over time.

It is Peter’s ability to ‘read’ these landscape features and the roles they play, which is unique. His understanding of these roles is somewhat different to conventional understanding, and catching on to his concepts sometimes requires one to perform mental gymnastics.

After a good hot morning tea and a very interesting question and answer session, we set off home, well aware that by this time, we might be making some significant detours. (I’m not sure that any of us actually remember the route we took to get back to Scone, but it was interesting!)

And, it wasn’t until I arrived home that night and saw a ship parked on Nobby’s Beach, Newcastle, that I realized just how lucky we were to arrive home safely and not too far behind time! We were indeed somewhat blissfully ignorant of the fact that we were literally only just staying ahead of road closures due to floods, snow and ice!

Perhaps this event should have been 2007’s real ‘Landcare Adventure’!

The following are some testimonials collected from participants on the way home:

Peter has completely opened my eyes to looking at the lay of the land in a totally different way. He’s challenging our mindsets.

I like the idea of manipulating small areas and creating small wetlands by using plants.

Getting humus on the ground and slowing down the movement of water impressed me.

The regrowth of Casuarinas in the creek was amazing – slowing the water allowed them to germinate naturally.

There’s hope for the lay person: Peter’s knowledge comes from experience not necessarily academic training. We can go home, and in a small way, start managing our water, plants and environment better.

We’ve learnt so much – to look at plants in a completely different way. Every plant is there for a reason and can do a job. We can now picture in our minds, what Peter is talking about!

Learning to see the ways water moves through the landscape (not just down the creek). To learn how to see the ‘choke’ points in the waterways. Learning to slow the water and use it more effectively.

The most significant thing we learnt was how important it is to fence our creek banks (and how important it is to have cover on your ground when it rains like this!)

The main thing for me was having the ability to read the land. If you can read the landscape you can manage it better. That’s something that agriculture doesn’t teach. For some people (e.g. Peter), it comes naturally. For others, we need to learn it.

It’s one thing reading about it or watching slides or television, but it’s really mind-blowing to actually see it. Your mind gets opened to the possibilities, even on a small patch of land such as ours.

It brings home the fact that there are many successful farmers who challenge the traditional way of doing things. We need far greater investment to ensure that the politicians and decision-makers understand what they know and do.

I was struck by the importance of resurrecting the hydrology of the landscape, and taking the time to get out and observe. It was interesting to change the mindset about for example, ‘weeds’ – they have a role in the hydrology of the landsape. I can see the urgency of Peter teaching others who can learn and carry these ideas on. Read his book!

It was incredibly valuable… I’ve seen past damage in the New England in large rainfall events. The implications for nutrients when you slow that water down – it has to be a step in the right direction.

Slowing the water down is paramount to managing the hydrology of the whole landscape.

The most impressive thing was the timeframe of the turn-around – from barren sandy banks to full-on lush creek beds in four years or less was incredible!

We’ve just been exposed to totally different ideas that are producing real results. It really questions convention.

The new paradigm of bringing the water up to the plants and making sure the plants are always there. The domino effect… create the ponds that collect the nutrients, which creates more regeneration, which facilitates more water!

I’m pleased that we all came so we can discuss what we’ve learnt. This ties in very nicely with the Envirofund we’ve applied for. It would be ideal if we can get the chain of ponds going again. To actually see Peter’s work was a great lesson.

I learnt so much, I don’t know where to start! Someone asked me what the secret is and I think it’s that Peter has turned everything upside down. We get all our water from underground in Australia - the opposite to what happens in Europe, which is where a lot of the conventional thinking comes from!

I’m impressed by the need for diversity of plants and how they work together. Actually seeing Peter’s place and what he’s doing – the type of country he’s working with – was great. Could we have a mobile field day for a week with Peter on different types of farms?

See photos here

Download .doc file

From Landcare No 58 June July 2007 Edition (full pdf file here)