The Forktree Project involves restoring native habitat to a former pastoral property on the Fleurieu Peninsula, setting up a native seed nursery to grow native plants for use at Forktree and other Hills and Fleurieu properties, establishing a rare seed orchard to provide security populations of rare endemic plants, developing and delivering educational outreach programs focusing on schools, Aboriginal youth and the community, trialling improved methods of calculating both above-ground and soil-based carbon and trialling innovative water saving technologies. The project is designed to be an exemplar of what is possible with a view to encouraging other rural landowners to adopt more sustainable practices.
The Forktree Project has three main goals in addition to the restoration of the land itself:
To establish a native seed nursery and rare seed orchard to grow native plants for use at Forktree and other Hills and Fleurieu properties to help combat biodiversity loss and climate change. The rare seed orchard involves growing threatened species in a dedicated vermin-proof 1.5 hectare area for ease of seed harvesting and propagation and as a security population. The focus is on species that are rare or are of significance to Aboriginal people. Young Aboriginal men and women will be trained to help run these facilities as part of their involvement in the project.
To trial improved methods of calculating carbon for small/medium sized rural landowners, to reduce costs and encourage more land restoration; to utilise innovative water saving technologies including a LoRaWAN (wifi) hub and linked irrigation controllers and soil moisture probes to optimise water use in the nursery and rare seed orchard.
To educate the community about the importance of environmental stewardship, both through provision of curriculum-specific educational content and the modelling of proactive sustainable practices. Principal target audiences include schools, young First Nations people, the local community and rural landowners.
Progress to date
To date 15,500 native plants, trees and grasses have been planted at Forktree since the project’s inception in April 2019. In addition, 18,000 tubestock of 41 endemic species have been grown in our onsite nursery this year, including rare species for the Landscape Board. The rare seed orchard is well underway with 7 raised beds and 4 reticulation lines in place and water storage and solar power to service these areas. Baseline carbon, bird & lepidoptera, and vegetation surveys have been completed. A LoRaWAN (wifi) hub and linked irrigation controllers and temperature and soil moisture probes have been installed. Over 50 school, community and corporate groups have visited the project this calendar year.
In addition to plantings, weed eradication and access tracks have been installed as part of our fire safety plan. We have also commenced a large-scale heathland restoration. This dense heath revegetation aligns with the objectives of the ‘Back from the Brink’ project, and will provide habitat for threatened heathland species including Chestnut-rumped heathwren (closest population is in Myponga CP), Heath goannas and Southern brown bandicoots (closest populations are near Forktree Rd, Nixon Skinner CP precinct). The plants used here will also form a seed collection source in the future (e.g. Banksia marginata). Andrew Fairney from Seeding Natives is providing technical guidance and assisting with this activity, particularly regarding native grass direct seeding and weed eradication. This includes preparation and establishment of the ground layer of native grass cover on 5 hectares, consisting of a broad variety of native grassy-woodland and heath species being the cornerstone of the reconstruction of a high functioning ecosystem with the aim of saving threatened species.
Development of a course in rare plant propagation for Indigenous men and women together with Mark Koolmatrie is underway. Delivery of the Prince’s Trust vocational training package ‘Achieve’ designed for post-school young people in conjunction with The Prince’s Trust is planned. Development of curriculum-relevant content for school groups is ongoing and involves engaging additional part-time teaching resources. Course content includes science and sustainability-based coursework and learning and education materials related to resilience and mental wellbeing.
Our feral-proof fencing and pest management continues to deliver greater than 90% survival rates for all plantings. We are installing additional water storage to help service the needs of the rare seed orchard and to capture water from the climate change-related high rainfall events. We have installed a solar array and batteries for the rare seed orchard with the assistance of ZEN Energy.
We have extensive knowledge of the local area and are partnering with and/or delivering sustainability education to a range of volunteer groups and schools. We work closely with the Ngarrindjeri confederation and Mark Koolmatrie in particular, and also with Alan Sumner, a Ngarrindjeri-Kaurna and Yunkanytjatjara artist and educator. We consult with other First Nations Groups, landowners, neighbours, and charitable NRM/planting groups in many aspects of the project including revegetation, water and fire management and weed management. We engage tradespeople from the local area.
There has been a great response from both the local and broader community about what we are doing including, in particular, approaches from more than 20 Fleurieu Peninsula landowners who are keen to understand more about how we are approaching things and overcoming challenges. Our relevance is clearly demonstrated by the volume of interest in the project, from local volunteers to those offering advice on their experiences and challenges with habitat restoration. Many are keen to see the project be successful and to link up our work with theirs to bring about landscape scale change.
We also deliver sustainability and resilience-based education to a wide range of state and private schools. Co-development of course content with the schools is invaluable to ensure its relevance and effectiveness.
Monitoring and evaluation
A Monitoring and Evaluation Framework was established in 2020 to gauge the success of the project. The project’s impact, the effectiveness and efficiency with which impacts were able to be accomplished and the suitability of the project to the needs of the local and regional community are recorded. This involves the use of a Planning Triangle to help us identify connections between the work we do and the difference it makes. The Planning Triangle enables us to generate a list of outputs by examining our objectives, which in turn describe our work. Our outputs meanwhile are the products and services The Forktree Project provides.
Output indicators allow us to collect and keep track and report on the work delivered. Output indicators provide information about the outputs we delivered, who we delivered them to, and whether the end users were satisfied and thought our work was good quality. Outcomes are the changes that come from our work – the change we create and not just the work that we deliver. Ongoing monitoring enables us to adjust aspects of the way the project delivers against its goals and objectives to improve on project outcomes.
A range of measurable criteria are reported to demonstrate the overall impact of The Forktree Project, including but not restricted to the following:
- completion of the native seed nursery and rare seed orchard
- number of native saplings grown in the on-site seed nursery (18,000 this year).
- completion of seed orchard infrastructure
- numbers of rare species grown in the seed orchard
- success rates of species grown and their distribution beyond Forktree
- number of tubestock produced for use on other properties
- numbers of Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees working in the nursery and orchard, the training they receive, and the long-term benefits associated with this
- educational programs delivered and feedback from the schools and students as to their effectiveness
The Forktree Project was founded in 2019 and is designed to be a showcase of what is possible in terms of habitat restoration, regenerative agriculture and improved land and water management. In addition to being a working demonstration project it also performs the important function of being a ‘stepping stone’ habitat between areas of remnant vegetation in a very denuded region and it provides ‘security populations’ of rare species. Demonstrator projects are a powerful way of showing best practices in action.
Smaller rural properties such as Forktree constitute 75% of farm businesses in Australia. Although such smaller properties occupy <10% of Australia’s agricultural land, many are situated in coastal regions with good soil, rainfall and high biodiversity value, making them disproportionately high achievers in terms of potential for combatting both biodiversity loss and sequestering carbon dioxide. As such they are critical in helping achieve healthier rural landscapes at scale.
Despite the Forktree Project being only 3.5 years old, we hope we have served as an action-focused example of what is possible in terms of both restoring habitat and showcasing sustainable practices. We welcome positive feedback and information exchange and would like to extend an open invitation for TREENET attendees to visit us.
Further information: https://www.theforktreeproject.com/