Sharing information on innovative leading performance in managing Australia’s natural environment to encourage the wide adoption of regenerative landscape management techniques by our farmers and land managers - and why this is essential.

Peter Andrews' management of vegetation & soil hydrology

Thursday, May 08, 2014
Stuart and Peter Andrews and John
Leggett from Soils for Life

Peter Andrews took over management of Tarwyn Park when it was severely degraded and salinised. He spent many years researching and applying innovative ways to restore landscape function, based on building soil condition and managing water movement through the landscape. Today the property is a leading example of regenerative landscape management.

Peter and his son Stuart, who now manages Tarwyn Park, hosted a field day on 14 April to explain the methods used and show the results achieved. Read on for some of what we learned and for images from the day…

The introduction of sheep and cattle to Australia undoubtedly caused massive disruption to previous landscape function. Maintaining high numbers of introduced hooved animals in set areas has led to degradation of the vegetative cover that protected soil, particularly along water courses, and of deep rooted plants which drew up soil nutrients. Many of our land management practices have resulted in a downward spiral in landscape health.

We know that sheep and cattle are now here to stay. To the extent that we can replicate the historical soil, water and ground cover conditions in our landscape management, we can vastly increase the productivity and health of the land.

Moreover, the more degraded the landscape, the more we need to turn to plants to regenerate that landscape.

Peter Andrews in front of group

Peter Andrews explains his philosophy of soil hydrology management to Field Day participants.

A sunny day for a Field Day

The day was a beautiful one for learning, observing and thinking about the landscape.

Plants colonise land according to the land’s potential to host those species. The first colonisers, that we often call ‘weeds’, establish in degraded and disturbed soils. Their function is to build up nutrients and soil structure and enable other plants to follow. As nutrients develop in soil, so more valuable plants inhabit the landscape.

Accordingly, there is nothing to be gained from removing ‘weeds’ early, because the greater the biomass to harbour increased nutrients and produce organic carbon, the faster the progression to more desirable species. We need to sponsor and replicate natural processes of plant succession as a function of landscape regeneration.

Peter Andrews holding up a 'weed'

‘Weed’ species are important to help return nutrients to degraded or exposed soils.

Peter Andrews with Field Day participants on a grassy area

Peter explains how grasses replace weeds in fertile soils.

When asked about the controversial use of willows in his landscape, Peter explained, "Yes. I have planted 3000 willows. Look along the creek and see how many have survived among the casuarinas. Of course, the casuarinas would not have survived in that creek line without the willows. So what did the willows do that was wrong?"

image of casuarinas and a few willows along creek line

Peter Andrews uses willows to stabilise creek banks and act as pioneer species. Fast growing willows protect the slower-growing casuarinas, which eventually dominate the creek lines.

Participants raised their perceived concerns with willows, however, the strongest objection seemed to be that they are an introduced species. Peter responded, "Willows are early colonisers that stabilised the creek system to allow the casuarinas to develop. Sure, they are an introduced species ... and so are we. And the hard footed animals that have so damaged our native environment over the past two centuries ... they are introduced species also."

Clearly, willows can be used as just another management tool to help regenerate the landscape.

It was also noted by NRM specialist in attendance, Peter Hazell, "The willows that have survived in the creek are weeping willows which are not listed as weeds of national significance."

image of Stuart and Peter Andrews

Stuart and Peter Andrews hosted an informative day.

Similarly with the management of soil hydrology, we need to replicate natural processes. We need to develop flow patterns that slow water and have it moving through the soil to distribute soil nutrients and support vegetation - rather than flowing across the top. Vegetation growth in turn protects the soil, moderates temperature and reduces evaporation.

Field Day participants were treated to a demonstration of the different way water interacts with the soil when its flow is slowed. By placing some straw mulch to divert the flow across the gradient of a farm track, the benefits of diversion and filtration were illustrated: the water spread more widely and was absorbed, rather than running off – even on the well-compacted track. We can mimic these practices in our landscapes to restore healthy hydrological function.

image of straw mulch on compacted soil with water poured through

image of straw mulch on compacted soil with water poured through

Peter demonstrates and Stuart explains the simplicity of management of soil hydrology and nutrient transfer.

image of straw mulch on compacted soil with water poured through

Field Day participants observe what happens when the flow of water is slowed.

By revegetating higher ground and using these areas for stock shade, this also allows for the transfer of nutrients and carbon up and across the landscape. In managing this however, we need to be careful that stock camps do not develop as sources of potential gully erosion. Active management, observation and response are critical components of regenerative agriculture.

Healthy paddock image

Soils from sandstone cliffs have been improved from years of management which replicate natural processes.

The innovative solutions on display at Tarwyn Park are tools to increase productivity and to overcome many of today’s farming issues including:

  • declining fertility (and low soil carbon)
  • dryland salinity
  • stream, gully and wind erosion
  • watershed dislocation
  • lack of biodiversity
  • lack of farm water availability especially in times of drought
image of Costa amongst Field Day participants

Costa Georgiadis takes part in the Field Day.

image of Costa taking a photo of soil

Costa always on the lookout for great soil.

image of rich soil

Management of soil hydrology helps develop soils rich in organic carbon.

The health of the Tarwyn Park landscape and its soils are the best evidence that Peter Andrews’ soil hydrology management practices can work. If you work with landscape processes, you will reap the results.

As summed up by Peter and Stuart:

Slow the flow
Let everything grow
Careful where the animals go
- and filter is a must to know

Peter Andrews addressing participants

Peter challenges beliefs – and gets everyone thinking.

Watch the original ABC Australian Story episodes on Peter Andrew on the unofficial Tarwyn Park, Peter Andrews & NSF website or read the transcripts.

Find out about future Tarwyn Park activities via the Tarwyn Park Training Facebook page.

Participants walking across a healthy landscape

Walking the spectacular, thriving paddocks of Tarwyn Park.

Thanks to Anne O’Brien who shared her photos of the day with us, some of which are included here.

Anonymous commented on 07-May-2015 08:35 PM
Peter Andrews you are a very clever and determined man only through your dogged determination and self belief and at great personal cost have you finally sold your message to the non believers, I truly hope your methods are adopted across the nation well done to you sir.
Jane Stanham commented on 08-Nov-2015 05:45 PM
fascinating - keep up the good work and I hope everyone can keep spreading the word
titus commented on 29-Jun-2017 04:54 PM
very educative commented on 18-Nov-2017 09:58 AM
This piece was a wake-up call for me. I say I've hearded about that like thousand times but this time is big eye opener
in some way. Thanks for posting this this stuff.
Tracy Winner commented on 25-Nov-2017 03:36 PM
WOW!!! This is a very informative post. I love your post.
Thanks for sharing your experience!
Please, Keep your good work in the future!

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A healthy landscape