Friday, 30 November 2018

Connecting agendas

A couple of years ago, at a meeting on the formation of a Landcare group in Gisborne, each of the Landcare groups around Gisborne spoke briefly about what they were doing. A woman from Bullengarook Landcare ran through what they were doing, and I was struck by her energy. I'd never got around to connecting with her, then on the trail of creek stuff, I did. 

That bit of country is important. It's right at the top of what's called the Jacksons Creek sub-catchment, the headwaters of the Maribyrnong catchment. Here's Riddell ...

If we pan out, here's us in the context of the curve of Macedon, our lovely little bit of the Great Dividing Range.

Tucked up in the south western corner is Bullengarook....

When I drive to Bacchus Marsh (and on to that horrible road to Geelong), I love the way the bush comes in around the cleared country through Bullengarook. 

An email to a address listed in the MRSC community groups page, and a couple of missed calls later, I finally got on the phone to Cherie Salmon, who's on the committee of Bullengarook Landcare. 
We covered a lot of ground quickly. Cherie is committed to keeping Landcare efforts rooted in the community, and smart when it comes to working with government. She told me the group is using Melbourne Water's Stream Frontage program, as we have in RCL. The early days of Landcare in Bullengarook saw revegetation in key areas. 

But properties turn over, and the group is in a new phase of educating new people as they move in how to look after their properties. Bullengarook Landcare have it as a priority to be a visible part of community life, and part of this is to team up with other local groups, like the CFA and the school, to run joint events. This gives Landcare a presence in the community.

I asked Cherie the next step on creeks in their area. One priority is to build on what's already in place and showcase what's been done with streamsides. Invite in the neighbours and others in the area to see what's possible. This educates people about how creeks and properties can go together and be good for each other. 

When you show people what happens when you fence off and plant out streamsides, and when they see the different ways that can be done on different properties, they start building their own picture of what they could do on their own place. 

And when they hear someone just like them talking about what they have done, how they got started, what the setbacks have been, they start thinking: 'That's the kind of person I can be.' Hearing it face-to-face, the motivations to care are felt as much as grasped cognitively. 

Dean Platt has organised creek walks/creek visits for us around Riddell every few years. These are powerful events. They are days I remember back to, and they raise possibilities that take years to work out on your own place.
Here we are in 2015 walking along Sandy Creek:

One of the strengths of Landcare is that local groups do what they want to do, but one of the liabilities that brings is that we may not tune into what other groups are doing, or pick moments when we could band together for concerted action.

I asked Cherie for the prospects for concerted action between Landcare groups along Jacksons Creek. We're meeting at Riddell to think about our priorities, with a view to connecting what we want to do with other Landcare groups, and to various government agendas, like the Healthy Waterways Strategy and MRSC's Biodiversity Strategy. Perhaps Bullengarook will be interested in our priorities.
Cherie struck a cautionary note about working with government agendas. Her view is that in Landcare, we really need to understand how the landholders along creeks think and what they want for creeks, so that whatever bright ideas we have in the Landcare group, we are always getting behind those who live on creeks, who are closest to the action and can do most. This doesn't mean going along with ill-informed opinion, but it does mean understanding how people think and hearing what's important to them, so we can build from this.

Of course, it's bigger than creeks, and bigger than planting out along creeks. As Cherie said to me:

"Nature is the ultimate community asset and unless people know what’s in their own backyards they won’t advocate for conservation and protection".

Creeks are a way of getting started, at a time when attitudes are shifting toward looking after creeks, and away from the disregard and abuse of creeks that was once common - let me show you the old domestic tip on the edge of Sandy Creek that went with the house I bought, then walk you 100 metres along Gap Road towards town and show you the former community tip, now sagging and leaching into Sandy Creek! No need to mention eroding gullies in country cleared to the creeklines - we see it every time we drive.

It might have worked once - get rid of your rubbish in the creek, water your stock, clear as much as you can. But there's a lot of us humans around nowadays, and the country just won't stand for that kind of treatment anymore. And we know more. We can do better than we have.

It falls to Landcare to lead - to start things off, initiate, educate, prod people into action, show them a pathway. Just like understanding the physical landscape, understanding in detail our social landscape is a step towards being able to influence our neighbours.

Think of it as connecting agendas: ours in Landcare with our neighbours along our creeks, and then with the agendas of government. 

Wednesday, 14 November 2018

Five starting points for looking after our creeks

A stronger voice for the creeks sounds like a good thing to me. Here are five starting points that might get us there, but we warned, each is a long road. As you consider which of these you are interested in, think about what you want to do and develop for yourself as you contribute to each.

Showcase what we do already. We have to get savvy about communication. At Stanley Park, Greening of Riddell, and now in Gisborne, regular working bees improve the health of creeks. Working bees in Barrm Birrm show people what is happening in that big piece of bush. And we have walking the creek events - follow the links for a note on Bullengarook Landcare showcasing creek work and some photos of the walks organised by Dean Platt in the south end of the Macedon.

These events have been developed over years, and our communities know about them. We can make more of the effort we're putting in there with publicity that gets through to those who are be ready to join in. That means being clear about who we want to target, and understanding what they think and value. 

Those who like communication work can then learn how to get the message through. Community groups can call on government programs to support the way we communicate community events, because connecting people to nature and educating them and providing opportunities for action is a central goal in the State Biodiversity Strategy, the Healthy Waterways Strategy, and the Environmental Volunteering Plan.

Walk the creeks of the Macedon. If more people walk our creeks, they’ll learn about them, fall in love with them and get noisy about them. Let’s tell people what’s there and make it easy for them to venture out. This will also bring more people closer to environmental volunteering, so those who want to make a difference can.

Get the data: Citizen Science. Agencies have the historical record, but community recording at critical points along our creeks can highlight stresses, show progress and what action is needed, and educate our communities about how the creeks are faring. This is another avenue for more people to join in. The committed few will stay the course, but let’s share the love and bring others in.

Improve water quality up-stream. Western Water wants to expand capacity at Riddell’s treatment plant. What incentives could it offer to landholders, and where, to improve water quality up-stream? How do we get compliance to what has already been officially decide is essential for our waterways?

Make promises transparent. The community has longer memories than government. That comes down to a few people, admittedly, but these are people who know what was studied, recommended, promised. Can we afford to let people fly in the face of standards and regulations, reducing flows and compromising stream health downstream? Let’s address the long game being played, and lift the heat on the past and present promises.

Voices of the creeks

If find yourself puzzling over your bit of dirt, and how to look after it, then you’re thinking creeks. Rainfall becomes grass and trees, and rolls down slopes to gather into streams that meet up with other streams to become creeks. How to use that water, and not let it pick up pace and wash my land away?

And creeks think too. Perhaps you've heard a creek mutter: ‘Oh no, not more housing!’ In other places, the pressures are intensive agriculture, or land bankers and their weedy acres. Horses everywhere, bless them. On the horizon, reduced rainfall and higher rates of evaporation. 

Riddell town's main drain/creek
What is to be done? Melbourne’s Healthy Waterways Strategy (HWS) has been signed off by the Minister for Water. Designed between those with a stake in each of Melbourne’s five catchments, Melbourne Water (MW) has been the initiator, but HWS records the commitments to the future made between those who showed up for the planning process (cunningly disguised as Performance Objectives in the HWS, with plenty of promises). MW is a big player because it has statutory responsibility for the waterways of Melbourne. It also charges for water supply and for looking after waterways. How this revenue ought to be used is a relevant question for community groups.

Co-designing the HWS trod a well-hewn an old path. In the 1960s and 70s, engineering-based organisations like Volvo worked out how to set up autonomous work teams—co-design is the same idea, that a design is better when those with a stake are part of the design. MW did a pretty good job with this, and so too did MRSC as it developed its Biodiversity Strategy. 

Riddell now has one strategy that faces us north into the Macedon, and one that places us at the top of the flow downstream to the city and the bay. Are these strategies opportunities or just empty promises on another boulevard of broken dreams? 

Riddell Main Drain at Bolithos Road

Local groups in Riddell, Gisborne and Macedon, with help from our local Landcare facilitator, want to decide where to focus our efforts for the next 5 years or so.

We’re pulling together information on creek condition, on land use zoning and on where action is being taken. The discussion (10 December) is in the first instance for the battle-hardened stalwarts of our environment groups, but later, perhaps we can set up a way to take our thinking out to our immediate communities, and explain how we got to our priorities. And if you're just curious, come along for the ride. We'll meet at 6.00, 10 December, 288 Gap Road, for spag bol, a salad and red wine, then talk.

We need more hands on deck; we need more voices speaking out. Environmental volunteering effort is falling as a percentage of overall volunteering effort, but at the same time, many people want a stronger connection to nature. Many want to make a difference to the state of the world. What we do now as communities matters. How can we open up connections here?

The Main Drain's big brother, Riddells Creek
Deciding on priorities is a starting point for speaking up for the creeks. See also Five starting points for looking after our creeks.

Ross Colliver, Riddells Creek Landcare,