GLENRAC’s Tree Planting Programs, a Tale of Family Memories

05th Nov 2019

On a property just south of Glen Innes, sulphur-crested parrots nest amongst the canopies of New England peppermints, while blue wrens, mountain lowries and rosellas flitter along tree corridors of callistemons and black salees.

Owned and run by local farmer, David Howell, the 200-acreage ‘Benmint’ at Stonehenge, is one of the many farming properties within the region that has enhanced biodiversity, habitat and livestock conditions because of tree planting programs provided by GLENRAC over the years.

Mr Howell, who has been at the property for more than three decades, began fencing off and planting tree shelters after the devastation of losing thirty newborn lambs during a harsh winter night.

“The next morning, I stood there amongst the misery, looking up and down the valley and noticing the few clumps of trees where the animals could take cover,” said Mr Howell. “It was then that we began planting shelter, starting with exotics like Bhutan Cypress, to provide protection for the livestock.

The Stonehenge Landcare group started soon after, and we began collecting native seeds from trees and shrubs for the primary school to propagate into speedlings, which we then planted out. We started with Eucalyptus nova-anglica and stringybarks, and later on, we added understoreys of wattles and callistemons, which have really gone well and we’re now seeing a lot of succession happening with them.

Between 7000-8000 trees and shrubs have been planted on ‘Benmint’, with not all surviving due to the extremities of heat, frost and flood that are common to the New England. But of the many trees that have endured, Mr Howell says the benefits to the wildlife and livestock on the property are manyfold.

“We’ve got families of magpies living here – before you might have seen one or two, but now we’ve got heaps, much to the dog’s chagrin. There are the most superb blue wrens bouncing about, and finches, mountain lowries and rosellas, which we never had here before the trees. There’s also a sulphur-crested parrot nesting in a tree corridor just next to a trough where it drinks from.

“I strongly believe the trees are a huge benefit for the livestock. I started with no wind breaks here at all, and with the plantings, I’ve tried to angle the direction so that when the icy south westerly winds blow the animals can shelter against the tree line. And it’s similar during the warmer months. What do people do on a hot day? They find shelter, don’t they? The stock need the same. The few cattle we’ve got left on the place at the moment are cooling off under the trees, they’re not sitting out in the sun.”

Mr Howell has also noticed improved drought resilience amongst the pastures around the tree plantings: “You’ve just got to look at the fescue immediately on the eastern side of the tree lines along my western boundary – it’s much denser and it’s hung on longer than it has out in the paddocks.”

But perhaps the most important reason for planting trees at ‘Benmint’ is the commemoration of happy family events. “My wife of 41 years passed away 12 years ago with ovarian cancer, her name was Margo. My second wife is Sheryl, whose husband, James Stokes, passed away one year before I lost Margo. Our marriage ceremony was held in one of the tree lines. It was beautiful. So we have the marriage tree line commemorating Sheryl and I, and then next to it is the 25-year anniversary block which commemorates the day Margo and I were married. So all of us who have been involved with the farm – Margo, our sons Mark and John, Sheryl and I, are all connected through the trees we have planted on 'Benmint'.

Of the numerous tree planting initiatives supported by the Landcare Network, and facilitated by GLENRAC to the Glen Innes community over the years, such as the 20 Million Trees Program and the Trees on Small Farms Project, Mr Howell says he is extremely grateful, with the supply of materials and support during the planting process greatly improving the holistic health of his property.

“Before GLENRAC, we used to pay for the fencing and all the putting in of trees; we’d be on hands and knees at the end of the day trying to get them in. I would definitively recommend anyone to take up the opportunity and get involved with any future GLENRAC tree planting initiatives.”

GLENRAC’s history of tree planting and biodiversity regeneration projects are amongst the many achievements being celebrated at their 30th anniversary 100-mile community dinner at the Glen Innes RSL, Friday 22nd November. Pick up your tickets from the Glen Innes RSL to join in the celebrations. $45 each.


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