Tag Archives: partnership

The backyard of Sustainable Cities

Your backyard

HOW BIG IS YOUR backyard? Is it a roof top or patio garden, a patch behind a terrace house, or the proverbial quarter acre in the suburbs. Could your backyard sustain you?

“Are you self-sufficient?” is a question often asked by visitors to Dr Richard Stirzaker’s Canberra backyard at the height of summer. At this time of year his fruit trees are laden and the backyard overflowing with vegetables, leading visitors to wonder about whether he ever visits the shops.

The reality is that Richard’s bountiful backyard falls a long way short of feeding himself for the year, let alone his wife and three kids. In his book, The Scientists Garden Richard calculates that on his 877-square-metre block, the backyard could just grow enough potatoes, fence to fence, to supply enough calories for himself only. Gone would be the fruit trees and vegetables which make the backyard so appealing during summer and provide the necessary variety in our diets.

Sustainable Cities

The notion of sustainable cities requires us to redefine our backyard. For cities are not, and never will be sustainable within their boundaries. Instead the backyard of a sustainable city extends well past what you see from your back door. The challenge is how can we contribute to the stewardship of this extended backyard?


To understand how big a backyard a sustainable city needs, let’s imagine an air and water-tight dome over our city. Such a dome would be roughly 40 kilometres across to enclose a city the size of Sydney or Melbourne and be home to around four and a half million people.

Our dome needs some farmland to produce our food as even Richards’s bountiful backyard is too small to provide a balanced diet. In fact our current diet requires around 2.8 hectares of farmland per person to grow enough food for the year (pdf). So we need to extend our dome out to 400 kilometres to include this farmland for our 4.5 million people.

But our dome needs to be much bigger to supply the water and fresh air we need. It would balloon to nearly 600 kilometres if we add a catchment area to supply water, and vegetation to absorb the carbon dioxide released by our city and stabilise the atmosphere.

A dome spanning 600 kilometres would be quite an engineering feat. When we tried running one on a small scale in the 1990’s Biosphere 2 project we could not manage it with only eight people in a dome 128 metres across. And our mega dome would become even more unmanageable if we add in space for the treatment of waste, the energy used by the city, resources for commerce, climate regulation, the national parks we like to retreat too, and room for Australia’s diverse plants and animals.

Our imaginary dome highlights the fact that the backyard which sustains you is a lot bigger than what is immediately outside the back door.

Extended backyard

So when you stand in your backyard, be it a roof top or patio garden, a patch behind a terrace house, or the quarter acre in the suburbs, look beyond the boundaries of your own backyard. Look beyond your street, your suburb and your city, for this is where the future of sustainable cities lies.

The need to connect and look after our expanded backyard is not just altruism, but enlightened self-interest: last time I looked there were no new continents to move to, so we better start looking after what we have.

This article first appeared on the ABC website

Are National Parks enough?

Eighty years. A lifetime for us, but just a quarter of a life for a mountain blue gum – Eucalyptus deanei.  And only a fleeting moment for the Blue Gum Forest in the Blue Mountains, a community which stretches back over 30 tree lifetimes.

1932 – Building National Parks

But for a brief moment eighty years ago, the continuity of the Blue Gum Forest was threatened. What saved Blue Gum Forest eighty years ago was Do-It-Yourself conservation.

Shocked at the prospect of the forest being cleared a group of bushwalkers and conservationist came together to raise £130, more than $10,000 in today’s money, to buy the lease from local farmer Clarrie Hungerford.  All the more remarkable is that this happened in 1932 during the Great Depression.

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Eighty years on and Aboriginals, bushwalkers and conservationists came together in Blue Gum Forest to celebrate its continuity and remember those pioneers who were prepared to put their money where their conservation values were in 1932.

Eighty years. During this period the conservation efforts have focussed on the protection of large areas of public lands to build today’s conservation estate. The Blue Mountains personifies this. The sixteen hectares of Blue Gum Forests purchased in 1932 was swallowed up in the new 62,000 hectare Blue Mountains Nation Park in 1959. By 2000 more than one million hectares was declared as the Greater Blue Mountains World Heritage Area.

Today nine percent of New South Wales, and thirteen percent of the nation, is protected in our national parks and reserves.

But this era of conservation is coming to a close. While battles over what can occur in the conservation estate will continue, the era of grand new national parks is drawing to a close.

The next 80 years – Conservation outside National Parks

Spending that October weekend in Blue Gum Forest provided the time to reflect on the next eighty years. What should we be doing in 2013 that would be celebrated in 2093? Maybe we also need to be looking beyond our national parks and reserves and at the landscape as a whole.

Our parks and reserves don’t exist in isolation. Increasingly our landscapes have been dissected into a patchwork of paddocks producing our food and fibre. Within this sea of agriculture sit our protected areas, increasingly isolated and vulnerable as surrounding production becomes more intensive and extensive.

If the integrity of these protected areas is to survive long-term, then conservation needs to increasingly occur across the bulk of the rural landscape managed by farmers.  We need our farmers to not only grow our food but also manage parts of their farmers for conservation. And the signs are promising.

A growing number of farmers are volunteering to put conservation covenants on their farms. In 2009 there were 4,900 conservation covenants, covering 3.6 million hectares. From Tasmania to the Northern Territory and across to Western Australia farmers have recognised the need to give nature some space in rural landscapes.  These farmers are not only producing our food but also building landscape-wide conservation required to look after nature.

But this is not something they can do on their own. They need our support, as the benefits are for all.

If you think State or Federal Governments will provide the ongoing support for landscape-wide conservation – think again. Recent cuts to Catchment Management Agencies and the biodiversity  and carbon farming initiative are part of a wider run down in the public investment in land management.

A leading ecologist, Hugh Possingham has called for a new order, where maybe more than half of all conservation of Australia’s wildlife needs to be done by individuals, not governments.  Clearly, a more sophisticated and ongoing DIY conservation approach is required.

Individuals again need to put their money where their conservation values are. This time not to buy a forest, but instead to support and encourage farmers to manage parts of their farms for conservation.

This could be to provide habitat for an endangered bird like the regent honeyeater, reduce sediment and nutrient run-off into your favourite waterway, to protect and restore bushland in a favourite walking area, maintain the landscapes aesthetic beauty and inspiration in a valley where you holiday, or to increasing carbon stored in the landscape to regulate the climate.  The gate needs to be opened to bring urban and country people together to support tomorrow’s landscapes.

Imagine eighty years on – 2093.

We have come together on a farm in Capertee Valley, west of the Blue Mountains, to celebrate and remember those who started supporting landscape-wide conservation.  The songs of the regent honeyeater can be heard as they feed along the now revegetated banks of the upper Capertee River.  Farmers, while still grazing the fertile flats, have reduced the invasive weeds, salts and sediment washing into the Colo River as it cuts through the Wollemi wilderness.  Regenerated corridors now connect the larger surrounding National Parks with remnant bush further west. This ongoing partnership between urban and rural people, started eighty years ago, now sustains both the people and landscapes where nature can flourish.

This article originally appeared on the ABC website

Conservation on Farms Survey

Take the survey below

This survey asks you how city and country people can come together to give nature a hand and support landscape-wide conservation. Just why we need to broaden our view of conservation is outlined below the survey and in articles on the ABC and National Geographic website and on my blog The survey will take around five minutes. If you would like the results sent to you make sure you sign up.

Create your free online surveys with SurveyMonkey , the world’s leading questionnaire tool.

Why do we need a conservation on farms?

Australia has a great parks and reserve system. But these parks and reserves don’t exist in isolation. Our landscapes have been cut up into a patchwork of paddocks to grow our food and fibre. Within this sea of agriculture sit our protected areas, increasingly isolated and vulnerable.

A move to landscape-wide conservation supported by individuals may be needed if the integrity of our parks and reserves are to survive long-term. We need our farmers to not only grow our food but also manage parts of their farms for conservation. But how can we encourage this?

If you think state or federal governments will provide the ongoing support for landscape-wide conservation, think again. Recent cuts to Catchment Management Agencies and the biodiversity and carbon farming initiative are part of a wider run down in the public investment in land management.

A leading ecologist, Hugh Possingham has called for a new order, where maybe more than half of all conservation of Australia’s wildlife needs to be done by individuals, not governments. Clearly, a more sophisticated and ongoing conservation approach is required.

Your privacy

Your individual responses will be confidential (results are combined for analysis) and anonymous (no information is collected that will personally identify you). If you would like the results from the survey to be sent to you, in addition to be notified on any new articles, surveys and other activities, then head over to the sign up page.

Environment conservation, conservation on farms, landcare, support conservation, landscape conservation, farm conservation, on farm conservation, caring for country

A second transformation of Australian landscapes

Inarguably colonisation and industry have changed Australia’s environment since the first fleet set foot on NSW in the late 18th Century. This first industrial age was built on natural capital, driven by the need to populate and establish, with unprecedented changes to the natural environment.

In some cases we have exceeded environmental and resource limits, a scenario echoing across the world.

A new paper, co- authored by Wayne Meyer from the Environment Institute suggests we are moving through a second industrial transformation of Australian landscapes. Wayne and his co authors including Kelvin Montagu, examine six emerging economies driving change in the Australian landscape; water, carbon, food, energy, amenity and mining.

Capertee valley

These emerging economies could result in positive or negative transformations of Australia and the paper delves into some of partnerships and decisions we face as a nation to ensure a positive outcome.

This includes forming new partnerships between government, science, the private sector and communities, supported by renegotiated institutional settings and governance. Science has a pivotal role in getting the information we need to make these decisions and supporting effective strategies for positive change.

The paper is wide ranging in its scope, looking at local impacts and communities to generation- and nation-wide changes in how the country manages economies, environments and society. Overarching is the need to adapt to climate change and the global changes it will force in the absence of immediate and deep cuts to carbon emissions.

The authors provide  potential pathways to move forward, citing the need for vision and the power it provides towards solving these complex multidisciplinary problems.

The full paper is accessible here or email me for a copy at kelvin@ecoxchange.com.au

Brett A Bryan, Wayne S Meyer, C Andrew Campbell, Graham P Harris, Ted Lefroy, Greg Lyle, Paul Martin, Josie McLean, Kelvin Montagu, Lauren A Rickards, David M Summers, Richard Thackway, Sam Wells, Mike Young, “The second industrial transformation of Australian landscapes”, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, Available online 24 June 2013, ISSN 1877-3435,http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.cosust.2013.05.011.

This post is from The Environment Institute of Adelaide University.