Heather Adams: Leadership in Landcare

Narrator: Welcome to Heartland Journeys, and to the Vale of the Kalgan, between the Stirling and Porongurup Ranges. – roughly 50 to 80 km north of Albany.

For the past thirty years, the Oyster Harbour Catchment Group has been involved in a remarkable story of landcare, ecological restoration and recovery.

Heather Adams is the Chair of that group, a long-term leader in the landcare movement, and a successful farmer with her husband Mark and their family.

We came to the farm here in the mid-1980s. This property was developed from 1920 onwards, with a major development happening in 30s 40s 50s It was easy to clear, because a lot of it was mallee sandplain and they had at their disposal at that time bulldozers and big chains.

So when we came to the property, it was quite open, windswept, the soils were hard. not that overly productive. The waterways were quite degraded, there was a bit of soil erosion, it was very prone to wind erosion.

The very first thing that we did actually was we fenced off this creek that we’re standing in right now. And we did that in the 80s, some sections of the creek were quite eaten out with sheep walking through them. So we’ve got about eight kilometres of this creek that runs out of the Stirling Range National Park and then into the Kalgan River, we have the full length of it on our property, and that was the first thing that we did.

And we had a little bit of funding, back in those days, but a lot of what we did, we did on our own and then it just sort of just grew from there, because it was um really rewarding like we saw very quickly the benefits of doing that work just in the creeks so then we started to think ‘Well, we’ve got a few salt areas, let’s get them sorted out’, so we fenced and planted salt areas… they were sort of the couple of the key things everybody started to do in those early days of landcare.

But then once we got a lot of that work done, then it started to become quite a bit more of a sophisticated approach that we used I suppose, particularly around the farming systems that we were using. So a lot of work done was surface water drainage to manage that better, and the soil testing and the resultant better tailoring of fertilizer application so that we weren’t losing nutrients down the creeks. The no-till cropping of course, a major innovation which led to massive improvements both for the environment and for us as a productive farming system as well.

We are a highly productive system here and very proud of the way that we have been able to drive productivity across our properties and at the same time enhance the environmental aspects of our properties so I believe it is possible to do both.

Narrator: The work done by Heather and her family on their property has been replicated with work on many farms across the catchment. That grew into a deeper realisation that their on-farm issues were also connected to changes they were seeing at the bottom of the catchment – in Oyster Harbour.

The Harbor was in crisis. high nutrient sediment loads, poor water quality, loss of biodiversity, loss of seagrass. So that was the whole reason why Oyster Harbour Catchment Group came into being because there was a urgent need to address some of the issues, and try and bring it back.

And it’s easy to think that what we do here, how can it be making much of a difference? when I started back 30 years ago, you know, you fence a bit here and you plant a few trees there and you think well how on earth is this going to make a difference in the longer term? But the thing is, over time, it all adds up and when everybody’s doing it suddenly you can’t go anywhere without seeing amazing work that’s been done over a long period of time that is making a fantastic difference. And now we can very proudly all of us say ‘Well, look at Oyster Harbour, look what we’ve achieved there’ because one of the few places in the world where the water quality in a harbour has been reclaimed virtually back to the point where you can get the ecosystem of the harbour back again.

Narrator: For Heather, this incredible success has been created out of the actions of an entire community that feels deeply connected with the downstream environment of Oyster Harbour.

The people here are amazing. They are remarkable for what they’re prepared to do for the health of the Harbour. Because now they can see the benefits of their efforts because works that they’ve done 20 plus years ago, they can actually see how that’s led to improvements on their properties but also in the general health of the river, and of course the harbour.
I think it’s one of the successes that we’ve seen here with Oyster Harbour in the fact that a lot of the people who live in the hinterland, even up around, the Stirling Ranges, Kendenup, Woogenellup, Porongurup areas, all of them have an association with Emu Point and Oyster Harbour. All of us from the time we were children, a lot of us did our swimming lessons here. Our families came down and still many of us continue to come down here for holidays every summertime.

The people, even though they might live 70 or 80 kilometres inland, they still have a special connection with the harbour itself, so the works that they do on their farming properties, when they understand and appreciate the impact that that has on the improvements in the harbor, that’s something that they really value because they love this place. It’s generations of their families, in many cases, have come down here for recreation.

Narrator: This area between the Stirling and Porongurup Ranges is also home to a large number of very knowledgeable and committed landcarers, restoration pioneers, naturalists, environmentalists and good farmers who all value a healthy environment.

And the other thing that we’re also incredibly lucky to have is very, very passionate people that we work with. People like Peter Luscombe who puts together tailor-made seed mixes which nowhere else in Australia could get. We can get the absolute most outstanding result with every reveg site that we plan. People like Tim Saggers, a fencing contractor but not just a fencing contractor, one of the most passionate environmentalists I’ve ever known; lives, eats and breathes itwho often has Indigenous people working with him who are just amazing the knowledge that they have and are prepared to share with us It’s a real culture that we’ve built here. It’s about the people as much as it is about the type of work that we do.

Narrator: As a farmer, Heather finds a multitude of benefits – personal and environmental – to being involved in this landcare work.

I think one of the things that is really underrated is your sense of wellbeing. When we live and work like farmers do – well you live where you work – if you live in a degraded, unsightly looking environment that just can’t be good for you and your mental health and your sense of wellbeing. But when you drive around every day and you look across the fence and you see areas like the one we’re standing in now, and you know that you had a hand in returning that to something pretty fantastic, that makes you feel really good. So I think there’s benefits from a wellbeing point of view, but of course there’s also benefits for our environment too just with having that diversity of plants and animals, birds in our farming land.

Narrator: This has been a Gondwana Link production with story development and narration by Nicole Hodgson, Margaret Robertson and Keith Bradby. Narration by Nicole Hodgson, music by Rod Vervest. Original audio recording by Frank Rijavec and Margaret Robertson. Our warm thanks to Heather Adams and to audio editor and producer Kim Lofts of Blue Manna Studio.