A diversity of vegetation and groundcover is fundamental to regenerating our degraded landscape. Vegetation generates soil organic carbon and helps to maximise the water-holding capacity of the soil. Vegetation can be seen as the engine driving the water/carbon cycle and must be managed in an integrated way with our soil and water resources.
Restoring vegetation will sustain ecological processes critical to delivering the ecosystem services that provide the life support systems for the planet. Vegetation and its lifecycle processes form the basis of food chains, purify the air, protect water quality and yield, store carbon, maintain soil fertility and stability, cycle nutrients and support various industries. Vegetation also provides habitat for all biodiversity which supports landscape function and pest control, amongst other things.
We need to encourage mixtures in our vegetation, not monocultures, and where possible, perennials rather than annuals. Plant variety means more resistance to pests, weeds and weather extremes. Perennial plants provide longevity of growth and an ongoing protective cover for the soil – and feed for stock. They require fewer inputs and are more resilient and respond better to seasonal and climate changes.
A diversity of vegetative cover supports diverse microbial communities and healthy root ecologies, improving soil mineral health and facilitating effective nutrient transfer. Nutrients are necessary for healthy soils and vegetation function and they are fundamental to healthy food. Mineral depletions in soil and vegetation have lead to much of the food we eat today to be generally less nutritious than it was before World War II. We can turn this around by restoring the right minerals to our soils and making them available to our plantlife.
Different plant root structures also access nutrients and moisture from different depths in the soil. Trees can lower the water table and drawdown salinity from the soil surface. Trees also moderate temperature – limiting the effects of temperature extremes on surrounding groundcover. The restoration of functional vegetative cover also has the capacity to facilitate a cooler landmass by re-establishing the small water cycle to bring about a more even and regular distribution of precipitation.
Importantly, vegetation also provides the means to enable the drawdown of carbon dioxide via photosynthesis to be bio-sequestered into soil carbon sinks.
A diversity of vegetation can be restored through revegetation activities, supporting natural regeneration, or using regenerative techniques such as time-controlled planned grazing.
Managed landscapes provide the major opportunity for revegetation and sequestration of carbon back into the soil, subsequently restoring natural hydrological cycles. Establishment or re-establishment of pastures, crops, trees and other plant life through regenerative land management practices is achievable across the vast majority of land in our country.
Innovative farmers across Australia in the Soils for Life case studies each emphasised the importance of vegetation in their regenerative landscape management practices - especially in maintaining groundcover all year round. By using these practices they have been able to achieve positive environmental and production outcomes.
- increased production from paddocks with regenerated stands of trees and bushes than those that had been cleared
- how productive pasture and crops can be maintained simultaneously
- how to use time-controlled planned grazing to increase perennial pasture cover
- some innovative techniques for revegetating large numbers of native trees
- and the use of revegetation to capture rainfall higher in the landscape to lower the water table and subsequently reduce salinity problems