Repairing grassland

Repairing grassland

The summer warmth has arrived across the paddocks of Mugga-Mugga Cottage – what a stunning vista across Canberra!

This view has changed a lot since Miss Evelyn Curley (pictured below) stood beside her car approximately 90 years ago.

But one purpose of this historic site that hasn’t changed is for this cultural landscape to show city dwellers how a farm works. Evelyn’s sister, Miss Sylvia Curley (pictured below), was an advocate for Landcare as early as 1993, and she placed the property into public hands with the intention that visitors gain an understanding about what life was like at Mugga-Mugga Cottage before Canberra was built.

The cottage interior and built fabric are testament to the Curley family’s value of re-use and repair. A simple make-do cupboard, once a large box, lined with newspaper dated 1933, still stands in the main bedroom ready for clothes and shoes, and when a section of the cottage stone wall collapsed, second-hand bricks were used to repair it.

Just as the cottage and collection wonderfully demonstrates ways the family reused and made-do, since 2013 we have been working to repair an area of bare ground on the farm. 

The images in the slideshow above, taken over 5 years, show how plants have steadily re-covered a bare area in one of the paddocks. In 2013, we installed a short section of solar-powered electric tape, and then worked with the owner of the horses to allow the small herd onto the area for short periods at a time. We timed the removal of the horses by watching for three things; they had eaten down one-third of the pasture height, they had trampled one-third, and the remaining one-third of the pasture was left standing. Spot-spraying using herbicide has been used minimally, with the intention to let preferred species to dominate over time, and it has been interesting to watch the change as the seasons have passed. The dominant type of ground cover across the once bare area continues to be mostly ‘first succession’ plants, i.e. ‘weeds’, but still those plants help to reduce the effects of erosion caused by wind and rain. The grazing planning is underpinned by the understanding that any ground cover is better than no ground cover (aside from invasive species), and the project has balanced human, financial and environmental resources towards the goal of grassland repair.

This kind of land management is practiced nationally and internationally with a range of methods at a number of heritage sites, including at properties managed by the National Trust in the United Kingdom. For example, Exmoor ponies like the herd picture above have been used for about 20 years to successfully encourage biodiversity on the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent.

Our work has attracted the interest of a number of experts. In the spring of 2014, farmer and author Charles Massy, and Ken Hodgkinson, Honorary Research Fellow with CSIRO Land & Water, lead a discussion about land management in the paddocks.

Did you notice the image in the slideshow above that had branches laid across the bare area for a while? That strategy was recommended by Ken Hodgkinson to create a microclimate to reduce water run-off, and to encourage the existing seed bed to germinate.

We look forward to sharing more updates about the outcomes of good land management in coming seasons!