Restoring landscapes across the Mount Alexander Region

Caring for old paddock trees: best practice

Posted on 11 September, 2023 by Ivan

Why protect paddock trees?

Paddock trees are often the oldest and most valuable habitat elements in agricultural landscapes. When paddock trees are cleared, it takes generations to replace the habitat they provided, including the insects and abundant nectar for birds and mammals, thick bark with cracks and crevices for microbats and small reptiles, and hollows for many significant species.

Paddock trees provide great habitat for travelling birds and wildlife between larger tracts of habitat. Photo: CC

Even standing dead trees, fallen branches and leaf litter offer valuable resources and should be retained wherever possible. Many paddock trees across our region are suffering die-back caused by old age, pests and disease, nutrient loading, soil compaction and lack of protection from intensive agricultural practices. These valuable giants are disappearing from our farming landscapes, often with no younger trees to replace them. However, we can take action to protect paddock trees to extend their life, and establish future generations.

How do we protect paddock trees?

  • Fence off paddock trees from stock and machinery where possible, including space around them to promote natural regeneration.
  • Incorporate existing paddock trees into revegetation plantings to improve the health of paddock trees and habitat value of revegetation.
  • Leave dead paddock trees standing if possible – they contain cracks, crevices and hollows for wildlife such as microbats, and perching sites for birds of prey, parrots and water birds.
  • Install stock-proof guards around young trees within paddocks if fencing is not feasible.
  • Reduce grazing pressure: When native vegetation is browsed heavily, plants struggle to flower or set seed, and they have less habitat value. Grazing pressure also creates soil compaction and increased nutrient loads from manure.

A magnificent large Yellow Box (Eucalyptus melliodora) with young, successional trees growing in a fenced off area. Photo: CC

The importance of remnant vegetation

As most of our region was cleared for mining, timber and agriculture, any remaining native vegetation is extremely valuable for wildlife habitat and provides many on-farm benefits. Remnant vegetation is essentially indigenous plants growing in their natural environment. Protecting bush with lots of plant species and a complex structure is the highest priority. However, even a single large old tree, or a patch of native grasses or shrubs is worth protecting.

Revegetation is a valuable tool to increase species diversity, and expand or reconnect existing patches of bush to provide habitat for wildlife. However, the process of reestablishing high quality habitat in cleared areas is very labour-intensive and slow.

Large trees can take hundreds of years to grow and develop the tree hollows and create the fallen timber essential for many local wildlife species. Leaf litter can take decades to rebuild. Soil conditions in disturbed areas often favour weedy grass growth or inhibit growth of native plants, and some plant species are difficult to source or are unavailable.

Revegetation of degraded woodlands with understory plants. Photo: Gen Kay

Protecting what native vegetation is already there, and providing the conditions for it to regenerate naturally, is much cheaper and easier than re-establishing it from scratch. Eucalypts and other plants often self-seed, and if protected from grazing animals and weed competition, can start to establish. It is far easier to protect areas of seedlings with plant guards or fencing than investing in the planning, site preparation, planting, and ongoing maintenance of revegetation.

And finally……leave rocks, logs, branches and leaf litter

Leave logs on the ground to provide important resources for fungi, insects, reptiles, frogs, birds and small mammals. Clearing up rocks, logs, branches and leaves will exclude many woodland animals by removing the habitat elements they depend on. It will create a simple habitat and favour animals that are already common in our towns and farms, like magpies, cockatoos, rabbits, foxes and hares.

The gorgeous Spotted pardalote (Pardalotus punctatus) searching for insects in the leaf litter and dead branches. Photo: Geoff Park

We all want to protect our properties from bushfire.  However, make sure you check the latest research and guidelines on fire hazard reduction. Some historical practices are now considered ineffective for fire control but highly damaging for the environment. For example, removing leaf litter creates bare ground which often encourages weed growth, creating its own fire hazard. If you do need to remove logs and branches for safety or access, consider moving them to another location where they can continue to provide habitat.

This factsheet is part of a larger project called ‘Regenerate before it’s too late‘ that engages the community about the importance of old trees and how to protect them.  We are most grateful for the generous project support from the Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation .  The foundation aims ‘To encourage and support organisations that are capable of responding to social and ecological opportunities and challenges.’ To learn more about Ian & Shirley Norman Foundation – click here

2 responses to “Caring for old paddock trees: best practice”

  1. Sue+Boekel says:

    Such and important and well written article which should be circulated far and wide. Thanks Ivan.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

« | »