Rangelands NRM Blog, News & Resources

WA pastoralists tour NT stations for rangelands rehydration and rehabilitation insights

[May 2015]

Last month, four Western Australian pastoralists took a field trip to stations in the Northern Territory to learn more about different grazing practices and landscape rehydration techniques.

Tour Old Man Plains StationThe trip, funded by Rangelands NRM, was attended by Michael Clinch, Neil Grinham, Harry McKeough and Steven Sonneman-Smith as a follow up to the Australian Rangelands Conference in Alice Springs.

Day one of the trip was to Old Man Plains Research station (Owen station) where Chris Materne, Livestock Industry Development Officer from the Northern Territory Department of Primary Industry and Fisheries presented key research and demonstration sites.

Of particular interest were Walk Over Weigher units that have been used to develop electronic stock tracking technology for commercialisation, an area of rangeland rehydration activities established in conjunction with Bob Purvis, and an area of rangelands rehabilitation which has been monitored for more than decade with time-series photos.

The WA visitors then headed to Woodgreen Station, a property managed by Bob Purvis and his son Jim, two and half hours north east of Alice Springs

After an orientation at the homestead using home-made maps, Bob and Jim took the group to see the impacts of long-term landscape rehydration using ponding banks, now commonly referred to as Purvis Banks.

Rangelands NRM Southern Rangelands Program Manager, Jane Bradley, said rehydration was key to managing rangelands landscapes and that it could take up to 20 years to see results.

“Bob has been successful in managing his country over many years using a number of practices including [Purvis] banks, and is a mentor of Ken Shaw of Cunyu, who has achieved incredible results managing his country east of Wiluna,” she said.

This tour gave the pastoralists a first-hand look at the rehydration and rehabilitation methods, and the opportunity to discuss what is happening with their soil, the success or failure of rehydration mechanisms and the possible causes of this.

Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation Pastoral Manager Michael Clinch, who manages Karbar, Peedamulla and Mt Divide stations, said the Purvis family’s work on Woodgreen station had taken between 25 and 45 years to show dividends in terms of land restoration and the rebuilding of a destroyed A Horizon (precious top soil).

“How many years do I have left on this Earth? I don’t really know,” Mr Clinch said.

Given Bob’s legacy has taken near on forty years to appear, will I ever see my land care legacy? Doesn’t matter. You just get on and start doing it!

“You can almost see the new soil being formed, year by year, millimetre by millimetre. And with total grazing management and the planned resting of paddocks I can see the pastures re-establishing the formerly washed out and scalded areas.”

Ashburton Aboriginal Corporation Business Development Manager, Steven Sonneman-Smith, said seeing Woodgreen’s gross margins highlighted what it takes to run a profitable business.

“It is about making regular investments in land management and leaving a legacy of a better rangelands,” he said.

Rangelands NRM Program Manager for Pilbara and Deserts Chris Curnow, said it was important to understand that Bob Purvis approach is based on what many champions of sustainable rangeland management have now commodified.

“He has taken a careful and deliberate approach to understanding the land, how water moves and modifies things and he knows the woes that come when vegetation and biological soil crusts are not maintained,” he said.

Mr Curnow said tour participants now have the opportunity to apply some of their new knowledge to undertake similar actions on their own stations and would share their experiences and lessons from the NT tour with their local groups.

Images: Tour of Old Man Plains Research Station Alice Springs. Photos by Chris Curnow.