The Central Wheatbelt in WA is 154,000 square kilometres of small towns, farmlands, rolling hills and desert, starting just over 100km to the north east of Perth.
We are working on a 242 hectare (600 acre) area of degraded land in a semi-arid region with little annual rainfall. It used to be home to a healthy range of trees and fauna, but had been rendered almost bare.
Most of WA is classified as ‘arid’ or ‘semi-arid’ with rainfall as low as 100mm a year. By contrast Melbourne has five times that total and New York over 11 times as much.
Project Field Partner
Auria Forestry Research Project
To support the development of innovative techniques and technologies that enable degraded land to be recovered, the spread of deserts reversed and rainfall enhanced.
Correcting a simple mistake
The red soils are among the most impoverished on the planet, yet incredibly, trees flourished here for centuries.
The reason they disappeared was down to a simple mistake made by 19th Century settlers. As every schoolkid knows, you can work out a tree’s age by counting the rings in its trunk. That’s because there are periods of strong summer growth and winter dormancy during every 12 months.
So a tree with 20 rings must be 20 years old, right?
Well, not here.
With moisture so limited, a single rainfall can lead to a burst of rapid growth followed quickly by inaction. Some trees can have 10 growth rings in a single year.
The new inhabitants counted the number of rings and wondered why a tree that clearly been around for many years was so small, not realising that its actual age was much younger.
As a result, they declared that the trees clearly grew far too slowly to supply all the timber they required so they were chopped down and replaced with more traditional logging trees from Australia’s eastern states.
But the new trees weren’t impressed with their new home and refused to do much in the way of growing.
Before the thousands of deep-rooted trees were systematically cleared, the water table was at least a metre below ground level. But when there were suddenly no roots absorbing the moisture, the humidity drew water towards the surface where it evaporated, leaving a crust of salt on the ground which made it even harder for the introduced trees to establish themselves.
With fewer trees, less water is pumped into the atmosphere, exacerbating the problem still further. Before long, the formerly dense forests had become windswept deserts.
Solving a big problem
Innovative forestry methods had to be devised to establish the huge numbers of trees needed in what was now an even more hostile environment.
But even then it was a struggle, with many false starts. But in just a few years, the trees established themselves and are already supporting a plethora of other plant and animal life.
Lord of the Trees is utilising drones to plant thousands of predominantly endemic trees including eucalypts, acacias, callistemon, grevilleas, casuarinas, melaleucas and hakeas.
The delicately balanced mix of species was chosen based on the differing soil types in the area, and our success rate has been impressive. The experience has taught us new tactics in regenerating barren landscapes with soils devoid of nutrients, and shown us that even barren, sun-baked terrains can be turned lush and green.