Contributed by : Mark Selmes . RLG media officer .
This week we are celebrating volunteer week and across Australia millions of ordinary Australians are doing extraordinary things as volunteers. 2014 also marks the 25th anniversary of the LANDCARE movement.
Landcare volunteers are part of a community driven movement integrating environmental assets with often productive farmland , and embracing sustainable land management. Conserving biodiversity through such actions as protecting and restoring remnants , planting wildlife corridors and maintaining better waterways is all a part of these efforts.
The strength of any Landcare group can usually be found in it’s on ground works and local character. Roslyn Landcare Group , in the Upper Lachlan Shire , is very fortunate to still have the services of it’s inspiring local ‘character’ and founding member – Eric Hurn. Eric is a seemingly ageless 86 year old , who’s life has been founded on the principles of on ground hard work and community involvement.
Eric’s work ethic and desire to improve many facets of the local community saw him described in the regional Bicentenary issue “Farming the Australian Way” as “the classic story of a hard working battler who made good” and a man who “epitomises the characteristics that have contributed and continue to contribute so much to this great land” . Eric was himself recognised for his outstanding ongoing efforts across two catchments by last year winning both the Hawkesbury-Nepean Catchment Management Authority (now Local Land Services) and Upper Lachlan individual land carer awards. He was then awarded the prestigious NSW Individual Landcarer Award and has now been successfully nominated for Australian Landcarer of the Year.
Trees and nature have always been close to Eric’s heart and in the 1970’s Eric saw the need for a new approach to many of the problems associated with past over clearing of productive lands. RLG was established and after planting over 100,000 native trees and shrubs , protecting over 100 hectares of remnant vegetation and establishing approximately 100 kilometres of native tree corridors , they were awarded the 2009 Hawkesbury Nepean Catchment Management Authority Landcare Community Group award .
Eric practiced what he preached on his own properties and encouraged the establishment of deep rooted perennial pastures to reduce groundwater discharge and inspired others to join in projects aimed at linking areas of remnant vegetation through a vast network of wildlife corridors . “ Conserving our countries natural assets -Its widlife- can go hand in hand with a productive farm and bring multiple benefits to landholders and surrounding communities “ says Eric. “ I had been saddened by the disappearance of many of the birds and gliders over my lifetime “ said Eric “ and I was determined to see this decline in both trees and the wildlife they support reversed .“
Scientific monitoring of RLG efforts have demonstrated the benefits to small insectivorous birds which in turn provide free, safe and effective pest control services. Other natural predators of insects include the glider and micro bat species . The remnant older trees are the backbone of the system providing hollows and food resources not yet available from young trees. Eric states these areas are of “ immense value” as they often contain many of the original animals and plants of the area.
On receiving his NSW award Eric said “Some of the challenges of future Landcare work are with the old remnants dying- over the next 20 years it will be important to concentrate our plantings to compensate for this ”.
The linking of remnants with new plantings and the restoration of local travelling stock reserves underpin the variety of vegetation groups necessary for a successful community scale project. Even the scattered paddock trees are integral as they provide some of the sought after and preferred feed and den sites for species such as squirrel gliders. Eric’s goal is to see future block and intersection plantings hopefully delivering more positive outcomes for our native fauna and flora and ensure their survival at a landscape level . Eric has been personally encouraged ” to see the resurgence of bird species in the area and hopefully more revegetation programs will eventuate. Our birds and other animals don’t just stop at the farm fence . We need a broader integrated approach , a commitment to long term community efforts . “ RLG has also undertaken past willow removal projects and according to Eric “ we have also helped the return of platypus to local waterways” .
Raising awareness and educating the community is just another one of Eric’s voluntary roles and is always on hand at any school days to ensure they run smoothly , show the kids how to plant a tree (well he has planted 1,000’s over his lifetime ! ) and making sure that “every child has a job, digging holes, planting trees, or putting on the guards .”
The benefits of Landcare to local farms has been very positive . Eric has witnessed “ an increase in carrying capacity for livestock , improved shade and shelter , and other economic benefits that result, including an increase in land value”. He is also very pleased with the aesthetic and landholder lifestyle benefits of a treed landscape after many years of effort . Eric’s message for the future is simple. He hopes that over the next 25 years the Landcare movement can become bigger to meet the bigger challenges we are facing. Eric is calling for other community members to “ step up and increase actions that serve a common purpose and help to ensure a future food supply , cleaner water and at the same time help protect our countries natural values – our fauna and flora ” .
The unassuming Eric is at 86 years old, still project co ordinator for RLG . Still providing leadership and inspiration . Still sharing his knowledge at school and environmental awareness days. Still giving advice on how and what to plant and still tirelessly giving follow up care and monitoring of these plantings. A genuine community volunteer and land carer. From a teenager in the Depression years working for 22 shillings a week to one of the districts most successful farmers. From a young man with a vision for the future of the area , a true pioneer for Landcare , to being the glue that holds the group together and the acknowledged Grandfather of local Landcare.