Cuts pose threat to bush work

Lifestyle farmer Dr Les Zeitera, Landcare Illawarra representative Megan Rowlatt, Conservation Volunteers Australia representative Renae Riviere and South East Local Land Services representative Michael Andrews. Picture: GEORGIA MATTS

Lifestyle farmer Dr Les Zeitera, Landcare Illawarra representative Megan Rowlatt, Conservation Volunteers Australia representative Renae Riviere and South East Local Land Services representative Michael Andrews. Picture: GEORGIA MATTS

ALTHOUGH Landcare's future remains uncertain, there are concerns funding cuts could threaten successful working relationships between land and conservation groups, farmers and lifestyle farmers.

Earlier this year, funding for the Landcare scheme was slashed.

The federal government also announced its Green Army.

The government has committed $525 million over four years to the scheme, after cutting almost $500 million from Landcare.

The Coalition's Green Army bill passed the Senate, although federal Environment Minister Greg Hunt insisted the Green Army would not replace existing conservation workers.

"By the first of August, we will have announced a small groups Landcare funding round," he told ABC Radio in June.

"Before the election we said we would bring Caring for [our] Country and Landcare together to create a National Landcare Program."

Jamberoo dairy farmer and international farming advocate Lynne Strong said the funding being "quarantined" would have a negative impact.

She said it posed a threat to "wonderful" Landcare groups, and their efforts to revegetate and rehabilitate large areas of bushland in the region.

"What we have got in this region is a situation where 90 per cent of the prime agricultural land is owned by people who want a rural lifestyle, but aren't buying to farm.

"While they have a great desire to care for their land, they don't have the knowledge and the skillsets."

She said groups such as Landcare Illawarra could provide significant support which may no longer occur because of the funding cuts.

"After 25 years of Landcare, we have a lot of people who have skills, who can volunteer and help on farms, and help farmers look after the natural landscape.

"It's pivotal the relationships between commercial farmers, lifestyle farmers and Landcare are able to continue."

Ms Strong said one such lifestyle farmer who may be affected was Jamberoo's Les Zeitera, who farms beef cattle.

Megan Rowlatt, support officer at Landcare Illawarra, said the collaboration between Landcare Illawarra, Conservation Volunteers, Local Land Care Services and landholders was leading to high-quality projects within the region.

The groups have assisted Dr Zeitera with conservation works on his 50-acre property.

Ms Rowlatt said they didn't really know what the national Landcare program was going to look like in the future.

"The success in our region is quite unique, because we've got really strong partnerships between our organisations, where we're giving on-ground support through volunteer activities.

"We're giving technical advice through Landcare; giving them access to the knowledge that we have around revegetation, species diversity and things like that.

"A lot of our vegetation's locked up on private land.

"So it's a really good opportunity for volunteers to learn about biodiversity in the region as well."

Michael Andrews, senior land service officer with South East Local Land Services, said the partnership aimed to work on landscape-scale problems.

"In this case here on Jamberoo Mountain, woody weeds are a significant issue to address, and also assisting the landholders who live here, and manage and use this land in the productive aspects of their properties."

Dr Zeitera also had concerns.

"They've just been so helpful . . . I dread the day when these kind people say, 'sorry, we can't do it any more'."

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