Collaboration for conservation

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We know that we need to change the old way of doing conservation to transform our approaches to meet the demands and uncertainty of the environment. This is why collaboration for conservation gives me hope for the future. And this is why I am increasingly becoming more optimistic (can that be possible!) about the future because of the collaborative efforts behind the scenes that make wonder possible for conservation.

Being a networker with passion for innovative coastal management, natural resource management and Landcare (pretty much anything to do with improving the health and resilience of our land and water), gives me access to, can I use Intrepid Landcare’s tag, ‘a backstage pass to nature’. But to be politically correct here  I would have to say a backstage pass to the conversations for conservation.

Today, I have had conversations with volunteers, coordinators, a CEO and a politician about various projects and the theme in all those conversations has been about how we can we approach conservation differently through collaboration (broadly stated). And yesterday I had the privilege of visiting the Lockyer Valley in south east Queensland to see the collaborative efforts of approaching catchment management through an entire new lens.

The Lockyer Valley is prime agricultural land and produces approximately 40% of the fresh vegetables consumed in south east Queensland. The rich black soils boost the productivity. It’s the black gold of our regions agricultural heartland. However, the land and water have been under significant pressures for many years. Unsustainable farming practices and development have impacted this heartland, with overgrazing, vegetation clearing, weeds and soil erosion impacting the entire region’s catchment.  The loss of vegetation and overgrazing has rapidly increased the mobility of sediment in the upper catchment with it ending up in Moreton Bay. The models show that this increased mobility has been occurring for many years with some sediment slugs moving at a rate of 30 years. What this means is that we have productive rich soils that are 60,000 years old moving through the creeks and rivers of our central catchments, reducing the health of the waterways. This isn’t news as we have watched the health of south east Queensland’s waterways decrease despite investment efforts in catchment management. However, what is news is the new way of approaching this issue.

What is unique, actually, transformational in this new approach is the collaborative effort to do something about the dying needs of south east Queensland catchments. It did take for a flood to shift cultural ideologies, however, we are getting there through collaboration. Here we have the Port of Brisbane spending big dollars on dredging and offsets every year. They are paying for the end result of sedimentation building up in Moreton Bay. Then we have the farmers upstream that are losing productive land. So, a handful of  collaborative conservation leaders got together to do something about this mis-matched approach and thought, how can we shift investment spent on mopping up the downstream issues to clean up the symptoms of the upper catchment issue. How about we invest in the actual issue, rather than pay to clean up the problem. This has seen a shift in investment from downstream to upstream to revegetate creeks and in time with monitoring we will see if this approach works.

To the outside world this seems like a no brainer. But inside the tent it took a natural disaster, and a flood of convincing and influencing from collaborative leaders to make this happen. And of course, a central networker to make this possible, that being Healthy Waterways and Catchments.

Unfortunately how this project was influenced and by who, their characteristics, value systems and ways of doing business isn’t captured in project or monitoring reports. Something we forget to capture, and I certainly didn’t see it showcased on the project sign hanging up in the local hall. But I think in time the value of collaboration will be communicated, celebrated and embraced more and more, and to be honest I think it’s the younger generation’s enthusiasm and fresh ideas that have a lot more value waiting to be untapped and added to the ever increasing pie of collaboration.

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