Ranges Link: Caring for the Kalgan Valley

Narrator: Welcome to Heartland Journeys and to the Kalgan Valley. This productive farming area between the Porongurup and Stirling Ranges is also a place with a fascinating geological history, immensely rich biodiversity and a delightful long stretch of the Kalgan River.

Rainfall, soils and vegetation communities all change rapidly across this landscape, from the tall, wet karri forests on the northern slopes of the Porongurup Range to the drier mallee-heath country closer to the Stirling Range.

Thankfully, it also has a dedicated and engaged community who have long been leaders in community landcare and ecological restoration.

Tim Saggers: This Kalgan Valley, there’s no doubt about it, it’s a very special place and it, it grows on you.

Narrator: Meet Tim Saggers, farmer, fencing contractor, landcarer and passionate environmentalist.

I’ve spent most of my life from Kendenup in the upper reaches down through this valley in the last 10 years in particular, a lot of time along this river.

You don’t go for a walk in this bush and not find something that you either haven’t seen before or didn’t expect to see there. It’s a very special and unique environment. The ecology of here we’re only just beginning to understand, the complexity of this ancient Gondwanaland flora, the complexity and the interrelations with invertebrates and other animals is just incredible.

Peter Luscombe: The area is one of the biodiversity hotspots. Just on one property you can have 700 species of plants growing naturally – that’s extreme. It’s also of extreme interest for people –

Narrator: Peter Luscombe is a local native plant specialist, an ecological restoration pioneer and a farmer.  He has had over fifty years of fascination and interaction with the plant richness in the Kalgan Valley.

A lot of people come from the other side of the world just to see a certain plant or genus and here we’ve got multiple interesting genera and hundreds of interesting species. And you can’t help but be sort of blown away by it if you know anything about plants at all. And on top of that I think we get eight species of parrots, living on the property or visiting the property, I mean that alone is pretty significant, just to be on one farming property. It just sort of indicates a richness of the area….

Heather Adams: I was raised in the foothills of the Porongurup Range the Porongurup Range was our backyard so we were free range kids we were always in the creeks up the mountains –

Narrator: Heather Adams is a farmer, and the Chair of the Oyster Harbour Catchment Group and a key contributor to the Ranges Link program.

When I look back at my childhood I was very fortunate because I had that wonderful connection with a beautiful, natural environment. And so, I guess that love of nature and wanting to look after it was fostered in me from a young age. And then, when I married I’ve moved 20 kilometres north to Woogenellup to the boundary of the Stirling Range National Park. So, I’ve always lived next to something remarkably special as far as the natural environment goes. So, it was just a given, really, that part of the work that I would do in my life would be to look after it and hopefully, leave something pretty special for my children.

We just live in an incredibly amazing biodiversity hotspot, which we see proven to us over and over again. We’re always finding really special. We’ve actually identified a brand new vegetation community just a few kilometres east of here on the boundary of the Kalgan River. So we’ve been able to fence that and protect that and have it recognized as a brand new vegetation community. So when you can do something like that in your own little patch it’s pretty special.

Narrator: Heather has witnessed both the decline in ecological health due to farming practices and the strong ecological recovery achieved through the landcare efforts of the past 30 years.

We’re not seeing the soil washing into the waterways anymore. I mean a lot of these systems had beautiful deep pools in them years ago, on the Kalgan River just near the Woogenellup Pool there was a fantastic deep pool where they had a diving board, it was a real social meeting place for the community from the ‘20s onwards. That pool did become quite a good deal shallower as did many of the pools in the creeks and rivers just because they filled up with sediment. And that’s an ecological disaster for a creek or a river, particularly in these drier areas because the wildlife depend on those deep pools. What we’re seeing now is we’re seeing that not happening anywhere near to the same extent, we’re not seeing those large amounts of sediment washing into the waterways, with the catastrophic effects that we’ve seen in the past, so hopefully in time those systems will flush themselves out again and we can get them back to being, you know really deep clear healthy pools as refuges for animals and plants, like they used to be.

Tim Saggers: It’s a bit saltier nowadays, than it used to be, it used to be quite fresh in the early days, when there was a lot more bush around. It’s a bit saltier now, but it’s improving. And that’s due to the amount of trees planted in the catchment. I don’t think it’ll ever get back to what it was, as fresh as it was, but it’s better than it was 20 years ago. And hopefully it continues to improve.  

Narrator: Ranges Link is a project being co-ordinated by the Oyster Harbour Catchment Group. It has the aim of identifying, protecting and enhancing wildlife corridors between the Stirling and Porongurup Range National Parks. The Ranges Link focus area is the upper and middle catchment of the Kalgan River and covers about 40 000 hectares of farmland and bushland.  Here’s Tim Saggers….

Looking across the Kalgan Valley, looking south towards the Porongurups, you can see various pieces of remnant bush, just about every one of those bits of bush has been fenced by the Ranges Link program. There’s still a few bits and pieces to go, but I’d say 90% has been fenced along the Kalgan River down here and then up the various valleys and bits of bushland like you can see here in front of us, they’ve all been fenced off and protected.

Heather Adams: The thing that I’m most passionate about and I always have been, is putting up fences and everybody will tell you that I’m very good at putting up lots of fences. So other people in our group are sort of the specialists with the revegetation side of things, but my specialty is putting up fences and we’ve probably put up about well over 400 kilometres of fencing in the Ranges Link area.

Tim Saggers: We’re just trying to encourage the native species to take back over the environment a bit. And, sections that have been fenced off, you can see a dramatic improvement within a few years, you know, it’s quite um amazing how quickly it can recover.

Peter Luscombe: I consider it extremely important to maintain what we can and like we’re trying to do within our zone, the Ranges Link zone, between the two national parks, is to link those areas as much as possible with revegetation, so the plants, the wildlife can interact throughout the area. Wildlife are important for the plants and plants are important for the wildlife, it goes hand in hand…

Tim Saggers: What we’re trying to do is to join up these little patches and strips of bush so you’ve got more or less like a mosaic, like a spiderweb between the two big reserves. All these little bits provide interconnecting lines that are possible corridors. I know for instance, that Peter and Susie Luscombe, which are basically about halfway between the two reserves, they found a mallee fowl on their property, we haven’t seen mallee fowl in this region for 60 years, when I was a boy. And ah, hopefully, these interconnections of these little bits of bush can help that.

Narrator: Peter is observing other wildlife coming back to his place…

Peter Luscombe: We are seeing recently sightings of phascogales and echidnas. It’s a really good sign because they haven’t been seen for 35 years, well the whole time I’ve been here.

There is a core group within the local farming community who are interested in seeing farming become a bit more sustainable Ranges Link tries to marry the two together where you look after your wildlife and keep farming economical and sustainable. If we can get to a stage where both the wildlife conservation and the farming are both viable, I think that’s a great thing and they can enhance each other.

Tim Saggers:  It’s amazing the way all the landowners in this valley have worked together and supported this project. It’s quite a fertile and productive agricultural area, this Kalgan Valley. And there’s some incredibly good farmers along here, very professional, and they make this land very productive. Cropping is the predominant farming activity in this valley nowadays, and they’re very productive with canola, wheat and barley especially. They’re not as heavily involved with sheep and grazing nowadays, but most farmers do still have sheep. And that’s why we’re fencing off the remnant bushland so it doesn’t get flogged by sheep, who you know, will eventually eat it out. And the farmers have been very supportive. There’s not one of them that hasn’t come to the party and been supportive of the project. That’s one of the features of this Ranges Link is the amount of support Heather has been able to get from the landowners.

Narrator: Many of the farmers along the Kalgan River are also keenly aware of how their actions will affect the bottom of the catchment – which in this case is the beautiful Oyster Harbour in Albany. Martin and Tammy Wiehl have extensive river frontage on their property.

Martin Wiehl: We’re very aware that all the water that runs off our farm runs into the river, and down into Oyster Harbor.

Tammy Wiehl: We have quite a big river frontage on our property coz it’s sort of a long skinny property. So a lot of our stuff was going to the river so we were very aware, as Martin said, that anything we do on the property affects the river system here and further down.

And since we took over we’ve actually fenced all the riversides and done a lot of reveg projects to actually try and, re-establish more of a natural environment in places that were quite degraded.

Martin Wiehl:  The idea is to build a habitat as such, we’re not planting trees in lines that are going to be harvested down the track. We’re actually planting like a multi species mix of shrubs and taller trees so that you try and mimic roughly what was here before.

Like Tammy said we have got quite a bit of river frontage here and all that’s fenced now whereas it wasn’t before so our sort of 14 or 15 kilometres is all fenced, but continuing on, it’s fenced almost all the way to Albany now. So, if we had done all that work and nobody else had bothered to do anything, you wouldn’t see the improvements in terms of water quality and um soil runoff and other things down in Albany. But doing it together, as a catchment approach, I think really multiplies those benefits. 

Narrator: Here’s Tim reflecting on past attitudes to the land, and the importance of the present-day Ranges Link effort.

Tim Saggers: I remember an old cockie, old Steve Baesjou told me when he was a boy, on his holidays, his job was to rip rabbit warrens and his father told him never leave a piece of bush the size of your hat. Because if you do, there’ll be a rabbit underneath it. And that sort of attitude to the bush, we sort of inherited for several generations. That rabbit plague in Australia, they reckon there was 8 billion rabbits in Australia and the rabbits were right through here. They’re not such an issue nowadays, there is rabbits, and they do cause damage, but nothing like they did then. But that sort of attitude to the bush, a lot of people were inclined to clear fence to fence, leave no bush, so they’d have no rabbits, and no kangaroos.

But I think we’ve come a long way since then. And I think the younger generation are 90% sympathetic to what we’re doing here, and certainly don’t detect much antagonism. And really, that’s a credit to Heather and the way she’s gone about diplomatically developing this project through the valley. And those landowners all deserve a pat on the back because they are doing something of national and of human importance for the future.

Narrator: This has been a Gondwana Link production with story development by Nicole Hodgson, Margaret Robertson and Keith Bradby. Narration by Nicole Hodgson and music by Rod Vervest. Our warm thanks to Heather Adams, Peter Luscombe, Tim Saggers and Martin and Tammy Wiehl. Thanks also to Frank Rijavec and Margaret Robertson for the original 2018 and 2020 recordings, audio editor Teresa Ashton-Graham and audio producer Kim Lofts of Blue Manna Studio.