Ruth Kirchner, Melaleuca Road, Munglinup
"My view is that it's very important to have sustainability as well as conservation. I just think that we could do that here without a lot of work and farms could continue to be profitable, and that's what it's all about"
Ruth and Frank Kirchner moved to Munglinup from South Australia in 1979 and established a farming enterprise with wheat, sheep, cattle, lupins, and barley. The land was cleared during the late 1960s. Ruth began restorative works on her farm in the early 1990s and was instrumental in the establishment of the Oldfield Catchment Group during 1996.
Restorative works have been carried out on a tributary of the Oldfield River on Location 1007. The creek flows in a southwesterly direction and joins the river just north of the South Coast Highway.
During 1994 Ruth noticed that trees were dying along the creek, she also noticed salt scalds and signs of waterlogging.
"One of the observations made by Dr. Craig in her catchment report ('Oldfield Catchment 1998' - a report prepared for the Oldfield Catchment Group by Dr.G.F. Craig, Ravensthorp) was that the salinity is rising in the tributaries, at the extremities of the tributaries. When we came here in 1979 there was one particular paddock that was partly cleared, not fully cleared, we cleared the stumps and the bush that was left in it and we began cropping it. About ten years ago we noticed that some of the trees in the bottom of the tributary were starting to die. It went ahead very quickly, the salt scald grew bigger, and in about 1994 I decided that I had to do something because the scald was really quite bad and the trees were still dying".
Ruth started restoration work along the creekline in 1994 with a grant from the Water and Rivers Commission and help from the Munglinup Primary School children. "I started with casuarinas, just planting them well above the salt scald. The children at the school came and planted trees there and we talked about various problems with salt and salinity. The next year they came again and we planted more trees. We planted paperbarks along the creekline. The third year they also came and they observed the trees that they had planted. They looked at what happens when it's fenced out, how the sheep eat the young shoots from the bottom of the trees. They actually grew trees themselves at school and planted those trees along the creekline. They didn't come for a couple of years but they came out again this year and some of the children could even remember the names of the trees that they'd planted".
In February 1994, prior to planting, the site was deep ripped to a depth of about 400 millimetres; the soil was too hard to rip any deeper. The creekline was fenced in December 1994.
In addition to the trees planted by the children, Ruth has collected seed from the property and hand scattered seeds of various species at the site. Saltbush was hand-planted on mounds in the saline areas. The weeds were sprayed prior to planting and Ruth believes that this has contributed to the success of the replanting. To further protect the creek a system of contours were established to redirect water away from the creek.
The Outcomes and Observations
"What I've tried to do, and I think it's actually working, I've rimmed the areas with trees and fenced it out. This year I've noticed, since the January flood, where the trees have died there's quite a few young eucalypts that are revegetating. I've also planted a lot of saltbush on the bare scald areas and that's going along quite well. The actual area that's bare is receding so I'm really quite pleased".
Ruth has also found that mounding the soil prior to planting has been beneficial. She noticed that the mounds collected sand during windy conditions and the consequent weed growth indicated to her that the soil conditions were suitable for planting native species.
As well as the natural regeneration after fencing Ruth has noticed a change in the species composition of the creekline. Lower down in the creek the eucalypts are becoming waterlogged and are dying and melaleucas are becoming established in their place. Ruth has planted oil producing mallees adjacent to the creek and hopes that they will use more water and alleviate the waterlogging problem. She will also be trying straw placed in areas where she wants to catch seed for natural regeneration.
Ruth experienced problems with rabbits during the revegetation as they dug down and chewed the roots of the seedling trees. Locusts also caused damage by chewing off the leaves of the young fine-leaved eucalypts.
Ruth and Frank have changed their farming methods over the years. "Today we have no-till entirely but we worked on a rotational basis before with pastures interspersed with crops because we had quite a lot of stock. We had cattle and sheep running on pastures in those days. We needed to keep plenty of feed for stock. The cropping regime was a lot smaller than it is today".
With the farm now completely no-till and with fewer sheep Ruth feels that this has had a beneficial effect on the health of the river. "Well just in this particular area, not every year, but probably on an average of 50% of years we have up to four inches of summer rain. This often runs off so it goes into the total annual rainfall. But depending on if it's been pasture paddocks, it's been running off very quickly, but now with the no-till process that water is actually being retained on the paddocks even more. Almost every farmer does no-till in this area now and I think that we're actually getting less run-off into the creeklines than we had before. Which is good in a way because a lot of that water that tends to run off tends to be of not much use in the summer".
When asked why she began the landcare project Ruth said, "I think initially it's a monetary thing in a way and it comes like this with a lot of people. If you don't do anything you have a degradation that grows enormously. Some people think that it's cheaper to let the degradation go and just buy another farm. I've heard this mentioned more than once and I really don't agree with that. But if you can contain a problem you have and lessen your problem you've got to be more viable. But it's not only that and I think that the awareness of where this water goes and where there's salt erosion, all these things, they end up in the river. So if we look after our land we're also looking after the river and I think with the landcare group being established people are much more aware of the river and what it really does have to offer because it really is very pristine. And I think people are more and more beginning to realise this and I think its an ongoing process and that's what it's all about, ultimately we're protecting the health of the river".
Ruth is proud of her achievements in landcare and says that, "It's good exercise and it gives me a sense of satisfaction".
Oldfield River Tributary Statistics
Map Reference: 1:50 000 3030 I & IV