Repairing grassland

Repairing grassland

The summer warmth has arrived across the paddocks of Mugga-Mugga Cottage – what a stunning vista across Canberra!

This view has changed a lot since Miss Evelyn Curley (pictured below) stood beside her car approximately 90 years ago.

But one purpose of this historic site that hasn’t changed is for this cultural landscape to show city dwellers how a farm works. Evelyn’s sister, Miss Sylvia Curley (pictured below), was an advocate for Landcare as early as 1993, and she placed the property into public hands with the intention that visitors gain an understanding about what life was like at Mugga-Mugga Cottage before the city of Canberra was established.

The cottage interior and buildings are testament to the Curley family’s value of re-use and repair. For example, a simple make-do cupboard, once a large box, lined with newspaper dated 1933, still stands in the main bedroom ready for clothes and shoes, and when a section of the cottage stone wall collapsed, second-hand bricks were used to repair it.

Just as the cottage and collection wonderfully demonstrate ways the family reused and made-do, over a 5-year period from 2013 to 2018, we have worked to repair an area of bare ground in one of the paddocks on the farm. 

The images in the slideshow above show how plants steadily re-covered the bare area. To achieve this, at the start of the project we installed a short section of solar-powered electric tape across a corner of one paddock to create an enclosure, and then worked with the owner of the horses to allow the small herd onto the area for short periods at a time. We timed the removal of the horses from the enclosure by watching for three things; they had eaten down one-third of the pasture height, they had trampled one-third, and the remaining one-third of the pasture was left standing. Spot-spraying using herbicide was used minimally, with the intention to let preferred plant species to dominate over time, and it was interesting to watch the change as the seasons have passed. The dominant type of ground cover was mostly ‘pioneer’ plants, i.e. ‘weeds’, but still those plants helped to reduce the effects of erosion caused by wind and rain. The grazing plan was underpinned by the understanding that any ground cover is better than none (aside from invasive species), and the project balanced human, financial and environmental resources towards the goal of repairing the denuded area, as well as maintaining the health of the horses.

This kind of land management is practiced nationally and internationally at a number of heritage sites, including at properties managed by the National Trust in the United Kingdom. For example, Exmoor ponies like the herd pictured above have been used for over 20 years to successfully encourage biodiversity on the White Cliffs of Dover in Kent.

Our work at Mugga-Mugga Cottage attracted the interest of a number of experts. For example, in Spring 2014, farmer and author Charles Massy, and Ken Hodgkinson, Honorary Research Fellow with CSIRO Land & Water, lead a discussion about land management in the paddocks.

Interest in our work by these experts had other flow-on effects. For example, did you notice the image in the slideshow above that had branches laid across the bare area for a while? That strategy was recommended by Ken Hodgkinson to create a microclimate to reduce water run-off, and to encourage the existing seedbed to germinate. Similarly, during his visit to the site Charles Massy noticed some juvenile Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) trees had self-seeded from our magnificent, mature specimen, and so since that time we have protected these trees using tree guards.

We look forward to sharing more updates about the outcomes of good land management in coming seasons!