For a while now, decades in fact, I’ve been an interested observer of landscape change in the Newstead district and more generally across the box-ironbark country.
Three overarching observations:
- Significant areas of farmland, prime grazing land last century, are now largely de-stocked and actively regenerating – especially with eucalypts and native grasses.
- This farmland sits within a mosaic of ‘bush’ – forest and woodland, much of which is public land in varying states of recovery. The legacy of repeated clearing (many areas were harvested for timber multiple times since the 1850s) is often reflected in regenerating eucalypt thickets where the stem density may be 10 to 100 times greater than it was pre-clearing.
- Bird populations know what’s going on … there are distinct patterns of species richness and abundance that reflect the past history of land use and management.
What is happening in central Victoria is not unique, in many parts of the world agriculture is retreating from areas where it was once pervasive, a phenomenon described as land abandonment. In my experience the greatest variety and numbers of birds tend to be found in areas where the original fabric of veteran trees has triggered natural regeneration of understorey plants and this is happening where farming practices are changing and land is recovering with or without direct intention.
The three habitat images below exemplify this:
#1 woodland bird habitat (private land) – large old trees, natural regeneration and patchiness – ideal for Jacky Winter, Hooded Robin, Diamond Firetail and Swift Parrot
#2 woodland bird habitat (public land) – woodland thicket with fair to middling understorey – not as bird rich as #1 but has potential … just wait 100 years or so to see this realised.
#3 woodland bird habitat (private land) – woodland thicket with minimal understorey – maybe a Brown Treecreeper or two and the odd Scarlet Robin … this too has potential but would most likely benefit from some active management (fire, thinning, planting etc) … and time!
There are layers of complexity too – while #1 woodland bird habitat is good it could be even better with replenishment of missing shrubs, grasses and forbs.
Eucalytpus regrowth is an important part of the story – it is ideal breeding habitat for a range of woodland birds, such as the Yellow Thornbill (pictured below), Mistletoebird and Weebill. Black-chinned Honeyeaters also enjoy this habitat.
To read more about land abandonment here is an interesting article from the Yale School of the Environment.