Range Management Newsletter 11/3

November 2011 – Range Management Newsletter 11/3


Noelene Duckett
5 Amery Street
Ashburton  VIC  3147
Email:  aduckett7@msn.com

Welcome to the last Range Management Newsletter for 2011. This issue contains details of a number of upcoming events and some stimulating articles which I hope you will find time to read.

As I am writing this, the Rangeland Journal Lecture series is about to get underway. Four lectures are being presented by eminent scientists during the visit to Australia of Professor John Milne, the new Editor-in-Chief of The Rangeland Journal:

  • SUSTAINING THE OUTBACK: from rangelands ecology to a science of desert living – To be presented by Mark Stafford Smith in Canberra at 1:30pm, 17 November 2011.
  • SEEING THROUGH THE SMOKE: the challenges of fire management in central Australia – To be presented by Grant Allan in Alice Springs at 12:30pm on 22 November 2011. This event will be live-streamed to:  www.ustream.tv/channel/seeing-through-the-smoke.
  • IS PROACTIVE ADAPTATION TO CLIMATE CHANGE NECESSARY IN GRAZED RANGELANDS? – To be presented by Andrew Ash in Brisbane at 3:30pm on 25 November 2011.
  • ANIMAL/PLANT RELATIONSHIPS IN RANGELANDS – To be presented by John Milne in Townsville at 11am on 28 November 2011.

These four lectures are free and are open to the public. Further details about John Milne and each of the lectures can be found later in this newsletter and on the ARS website.  For those of you not able to attend, please note that you will be able to access all the lectures on the ARS website as they will be videoed, together with 5 minute conversations with the speakers.  You can also view live the lecture by Grant Allan through the above link – you will need to register beforehand (its free) so that you can join the live-streaming.

Additionally, I would also like to highlight that applications are closing soon for the ARS Awards. These grants are awarded to help members with either travel expenses associated with attending a conference or some other activity, or for studies related to the rangelands. The awards are given out on a yearly basis and applications for the current round of travel awards will close on the 30th November 2011. Any member of the Society interested in either award is invited to apply – further details are available later in this newsletter or on the ARS website.

Following on, this issue contains several interesting articles including information on next year’s ARS Conference in Kununurra, the Global Rangeland Initiative, Ausplots-Rangelands and Peter O’Reagain’s study tour incorporating visits to Wageningen University in the Netherlands, Aberdeen Scotland and the 8th International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores in Aberystwyth, Wales.

The next newsletter is due out in March so please have your contributions to me by early February.  I hope you all have a happy and safe holiday season – we will see you in 2012!

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John Taylor
ARS President and Director, Rangelands Australia/Professor of Rangeland Management
The University of Queensland
Gatton   QLD  4343
Email:  john.a.taylor@uq.edu.au

Back in July I noted how good our eastern rangelands looked after a very wet summer, and observed that the risk of wildfires would be very high over the next 4 months. Sadly, that prediction has come true with large tracts of Central Australia and other regions burnt out. You can see the scale of the fires in Central and northern Australia on the North Australian Fire Information (NAFI) website (www.firenorth.org.au/nafi2), and, if you are in Alice Springs on Tuesday November 22nd, could hear Grant Allen’s talk about their extent and impact. Overall, the fires will have some valuable longer-term benefits, but for those grazing enterprises looking forward to good returns for the first time in many years, the benefits may be hard to see right now as I am aware that many have had to de-stock.

Grants’ talk is the second of four talks in the Rangeland Journal Lecture Series. This series is about raising awareness of major issues in the rangelands and introducing the new Editor-in-Chief of TRJ, John Milne. There’s more on the speakers and topics in this series on the ARS website, and in an article by Ken Hodgkinson.

Council Activities: Your Council has met on two occasions since the last RMN. We have reviewed our financial position, especially abnormal expenditure items, and will be surveying past and current members to determine how we might better serve you and grow the membership. The survey instrument will be accessible to you and other interested people through the ARS website. Please take this opportunity to give the Council some feedback. We have redrafted the Articles of Association regarding the timing and mode of meeting notices, and this will be on the agenda for the next AGM (May 2012). Council has also considered the Bourke Conference Final Report and an Update on the planning for the Kununurra Conference. In accepting the Bourke report we recorded our appreciation of the efforts of Russell Grant, Natalie Bramble Management and the Local Organizing Committee. Copies of this report and the Charters Towers Conference report have been provided to the Kununurra Organizing Committee. Planning for the Kununurra meeting is progressing well, thanks to the efforts of a very active and committed Organizing Committee. Please put the dates in your diary now – 23-27 September 2012 – and plan to be there! The next meetings of Council will be by teleconference, and these are scheduled for early December and mid January 2012.

Looking further ahead, I’ll be at the Society for Range Management conference in Spokane, Washington in late January, manning a joint ARS-CSIRO Publishing-Rangelands Australia stand (badged as ‘Australian Rangelands’) at the SRM trade show and endeavoring to attract some US visitors to our Biennial conference in Kununurra.

I will take this opportunity to wish you all an appropriately damp Christmas, and a happy and relaxing break with your families and friends. In the meantime I look forward to catching up with some of you somewhere in our vast rangelands.

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Ken Hodgkinson
Chair, Publications Committee, Australian Rangeland Society
C/- CSIRO Ecosystem Sciences
Clunies Ross Street, Black Mountain, 
Email: ken.hodgkinson@csiro.au

In my role as Chair of the Publications Committee, I would like to warmly welcome Professor John Milne to the Society as the new Editor-in-Chief. John replaces ‘Wal’ Whalley who stepped down from this important job at the end of July.  He is a worthy successor to “Wal’.  John is an internationally renowned scientist, with considerable experience in scientific publishing and with many contacts in rangeland scientific communities in the northern hemisphere.


John has had extensive editorial experience as an Editor-in-Chief, Deputy Editor, and Associate Editor of scientific journals, is a regular reviewer for several journals and has published over 100 papers in refereed journals and books.  Prior to his appointment he was an Associate Editor of The Rangeland Journal for three years.

John is now Honorary Professor in the School of Biological Sciences, University of Aberdeen, UK and is a Fellow of the Hutton Institute. His main research interest is in plant/animal relations in rangelands and grasslands but he has also contributed to other research areas including rangeland management, biodiversity and rural policy, and acted as a consultant on rangelands issues in many temperate and semi-arid regions of the world.

He was Deputy Director of the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute from 1993 to 2004 and Chairman of the Deer Commission for Scotland, a government agency, from 2004 to 2010. He was awarded an MBE in the 2000 Honours List of the UK for services to agriculture and the environment.

John, and his wife Janet, are visiting Australia this month to meet with the Publications Committee, CSIRO Publishing, Australia-based Associate Editors, as many ARS members as possible and to be involved in the 2011 Rangeland Journal Lecture Series (see the next article for details).  John will be delivering the fourth lecture in Townsville entitled: Plant/animal relationships in the rangelands. Their itinerary and contacts in Australia during November are:

Monday 14 – Friday 18 November – Canberra (Ken Hodgkinson ken.hodgkinson@csiro.au)

Saturday 19 – Wednesday 23 November – Alice Springs (Jocelyn Davies jocelyn.davies@csiro.au)

Thursday 24 – Sunday 27 November – Brisbane (John Taylor john.a.taylor@uq.edu.au and Peter Johnston peter.johnston@deedi.qld.gov.au)

Monday 28 – Wednesday 30 November – Townsville (Tony Grice tony.grice@csiro.au).

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Rangeland scientists reflect on their science and how remote living may be improved and businesses sustained by their science. The Rangeland Journal Lecture Series are talks by eminent scientists during the visit to Australia of Professor John Milne, the new Editor-in-Chief of The Rangeland Journal. These four lectures are free and are open to the public.

Lecture 1.  SUSTAINING THE OUTBACK: from rangelands ecology to a science of desert living

Mark Stafford Smith


Time: 1.30pm
Date: 17 November 
Location: Forestry F102, Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University

Science in the rangelands has moved from a grazing focus to an interdisciplinary view on occupying remote regions. The Rangeland Journal has become an important international journal for this communication .

A ‘science of desert living’ is emerging in Australia. It encompasses natural resource management, settlements, indigenous and western knowledge, governance and regional economies. These are different from their analogues in more densely settled regions. They are common to drylands and remote areas around the world, and increasingly they inform a distinctive research, management and policy agenda. Desert habitation could once exist in splendid isolation, but resource extraction and globalisation has almost destroyed this. A key question is whether there is a new self-sustaining state for the desert system without dysfunction and unreliable subsidy. With the rapid urbanisation of the world, this question is one with wide ramifications for our global future.

About Mark Stafford Smith – Mark joined CSIRO in 1984 as a Research Scientist, and has worked for 18 years in rangelands management and climatic variability. Over the past 10 years, he has undertaken a variety of senior roles including serving as the Chief Executive Officer of the Desert Knowledge Cooperative Research Centre in Alice Springs.  Mark has a significant international presence serving on IGBP’s Scientific Committee and the Earth System Science Partnership’s Global Change and Food System’s Executive Committee. He has contributed to the UN’s Convention to Combat Desertification, and has been a author and reviewer for various IPCC and GEO global assessments. Mark is an Associate Editor of The Rangeland Journal.

Lecture 2.  SEEING THROUGH THE SMOKE: the challenges of fire management in central Australia

Grant Allan


Time: 12.30pm
Date: 22 November 
Location: Corkwood Room, Business & Innovation Centre, Desert Knowledge Precinct, South Stuart Highway

Central Australia is burning following two years of above average rainfall. Many land managers have been overwhelmed by the scale and behaviour of the fires.This seminar will review the 2011 fire season and compare two previous seasons of widespread bushfires in 2001/2002 and the 1970s. Lessons learnt from 2001/2002, as well as the new capacities, skills and knowledge that have been developed in recent years will be evaluated for the coming fire season. These preparations, and also the response to bushfires, have helped improve the collaborative approach required for successful fire management across the major land tenures of pastoralism, conservation and Aboriginal land trusts.

This event will be live-streamed to: www.ustream.tv/channel/seeing-through-the-smoke

About Grant Allan – Grant began his fire research career in central Australia in 1982 with CSIRO. Over the next seven years he helped develop the first fire management strategy for Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, improved understanding of fire ecology & management of spinifex grasslands and developed fire mapping procedures using satellite images.  In 1989 he joined NT Government. He was involved in fire projects within both the Tropical Savannas and Desert Knowledge CRCs. The Desert Fire project, which won the Desert Knowledge Research Award in 2007, established collaboration with Central Land Council. This led to planning and implementation of fire management programs on extensive areas of Aboriginal Land Trust and increased skills and capacity of Aboriginal Ranger groups.


Andrew Ash


Time: 3.30pm
Date: 25 November 
Location: Foyer Seminar Room, EcoSciences Precinct, 41 Boggo Road, Dutton Park

In this presentation we test the notion that adaptation to climate change in grazed rangelands requires little more effort than current approaches to risk management because the inherent climate variability that characterises rangelands provides a management environment that is preadapted to climate change. We also examine the alternative hypothesis that rangeland ecosystems and the people they support are highly vulnerable to climate change and that past climate is likely to become an increasingly poor predictor of the future so there is a risk in relying on adaptation approaches developed solely in response to existing variability.

We find many of the impacts of climate change will play out gradually with modest levels of climate change, so that incremental adaptation will be sufficient to deal with many of the challenges in the next two decades. However, projections of greater climate change in the future means that the responses required are qualitatively as well as quantitatively different and are beyond the existing suite of adaptation strategies and coping range. The proactive adaptation responses required go well beyond incremental on-farm or local actions as new policies will be needed to deal with transformative changes associated with land tenure issues and challenges of considerable displacement and migration of people in vulnerable parts of rangelands, and many need long development lead times.

A useful framework is to consider adaptation responses in the context of existing challenges, extended challenges and new challenges. Even where appropriate actions can be framed, issues of when to act and how much to act in a proactive and transformative way remain a challenge for research,
management and policy. Whether incremental or transformational, a diversity of adaptation options will be required in different rangeland regions to enhance social and ecological resilience.

About Andrew Ash – Andrew leads the Climate Adaptation National Research Flagship which aims to equip Australia with practical and effective adaptation options to climate change and variability. Andrew has over 20 years experience in understanding how climate and grazing influence the productivity and health of rangelands in northern Australia. His research on sustainable grazing practices in the highly variable climate of the Australian rangelands prompted an interest in the techniques of seasonal climate forecasting. Through this research, Andrew began to work more closely with climate scientists and his most recent work has been on developing ways to more explicitly integrate our understanding of climate science with decision making in broader contexts to foster appropriate adaptation responses. Andrew is an Associate Editor of The Rangeland Journal.


John Milne


Time: 11.00am
Date: 28 November 
Location: ATSIP Seminar Room, Bld 145, James Cook Drive, James Cook University

There are still major limitations to our knowledge on plant/animal relationships. Two poorly understood areas are the prediction of the spatial distribution of large herbivores and the accurate description of temporal changes in plant communities. It will be argued that these two areas need to be addressed for the successful development of site-specific decision-support systems for Scottish rangelands. The delivery of policy in these rangelands is limited by the closed attitudes of rangeland managers and the present European Human Rights legislation.

About John Milne – John is an honorary professor at the University of Aberdeen. His main research interests are in plant/animal relationships; systems of animal production; decision-support tools; biodiversity and land use policy. For nine years he was Deputy Director of the Macaulay Institute. He was Chairman of the Deer Commission for Scotland for six years. Recently he stepped down as Editor-in-Chief of Grass and Forage Science and has now been appointed by the Australian Rangeland Society to be Editor-in-Chief of The Rangeland Journal.



You will be able to access all the lectures on the ARS website as they will be videoed, together with 5 minute conversations with the speakers.

In addition you can view live the lecture by Grant Allan by accessing www.ustream.tv/channel/seeing-through-the-smoke. You need to register (its free) before you can join the live-streaming and this can be done beforehand.



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Each year the Australian Rangeland Society awards grants to help members with either:

  • travel expenses associated with attending a conference or some other activity, or
  • studies related to the rangelands.

Awards are given out on a yearly basis and applications for the current round of travel awards will close on the 30th November 2011.  Any member of the Society interested in either award is invited to apply.

Australian Rangeland Society Travel Grant

This grant is intended to assist eligible persons to attend a meeting, conference or congress related to the rangelands; or to assist eligible persons with travel or transport costs to investigate a topic connected with range management or to implement a program of rangeland investigation not already being undertaken.  The grant is available for overseas travel and/or travel within Australia.  It is not intended for subsistence expenses.

Australian Rangeland Society Scholarship

This scholarship is for assisting eligible members with formal study of a subject or course related to the rangelands and which will further the aims of the Australian Rangeland Society.  The scholarship is available for study assistance either overseas or within Australia.  It is not intended to defray travel expenses.

How to Apply

Members interested in either award should submit a written outline of their proposed activity.  Applications should clearly address how the intended activity (ie. travel or study) meets the aims of the Society.  Applications should be brief (less than 1000 words) and should be submitted to the Secretary, Carolyn Ireland, before 30 November 2011.  An application form can be downloaded from the ARS website at www.austrangesoc.com.au.  For further information contact Carolyn by phone on (08) 8370 9207 or email at cireland@irmpl.com.au.


Applications for the Travel Grant should include details of the costs and describe how the grant is to be spent.  Applications for the Scholarship should include details of the program of study or course being undertaken and the institution under which it will be conducted, and information on how the scholarship money will be spent.  For both awards details of any other sources of funding should be given.

Applications for either award should include the names of two referees.

Finally, on completing the travel or study, recipients are required to fully acquit their award.  They are also expected to write an article on their activities suitable for publication in the Range Management Newsletter or The Rangeland Journal as appropriate, and for the Australian Rangeland Society website, within six months of completion of their travel or study.


No formal qualifications are required for either award.  There are no age restrictions and all members of the Society are eligible to apply.  Applications are encouraged from persons who do not have organisational support.

There is a restriction on both awards for overseas travel or study assistance in that the applicants must have been members of the Society for at least 12 months.  The awards can be for Australian members to travel to or study overseas or for overseas members to travel to or study in Australia.

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The Organizing Committee of the 17th Biennial Conference of the Australian Rangeland Society is pleased to announce that the 2012 Conference will be held in Kununurra, in the Kimberley Region of Western Australia from Sunday 23rd to Thursday 27th September 2012. Kununurra provides a fitting location for a conference on the theme of Celebrating diversity: people, place and purpose.

We hope to attract a broad and lively mix of natural resource professionals, those who manage rangeland for grazing, tourism, conservation and cultural purposes, scientists and students to discuss rangeland use and management.

With a base population of around 5,000 which swells during the dry season, Kununurra’s people include traditional owners, farmers, pastoralists, miners, service industry workers and visitors. The town is a focus for economic and social activities throughout the Ord River Catchment. In and around Kununurra one can discover ancient and diverse landscapes, rivers and waterways, a diversified irrigated agriculture, the urban life of a regional town, biodiversity in abundance, one of the world’s biggest diamond mines and outback pastoral stations, with uses including pastoralism and agriculture, traditional use and tourism, conservation and resource development.  Tours are planned to reflect this range of interests and activities, while the conference program will cover a wide range of topics including Global Trends and Impacts, Land use planning for multiple users and uses; Impacts of climate, fire and grazing pressure on livestock production systems, Understanding and assessing ecosystems and impacts, Rangeland policy development and a Land Users Q & A forum.

Like similar conferences, the 2012 Conference will include spoken presentations, case studies on multiple land use planning and implementation and on innovative livestock production systems and structured poster viewing.  Expressions of interest for the presentation of a paper, case study or a poster should be prepared by mid March 2012 (details are in the brochure). Abstracts should be sent to enquiry@meetingmasters.com.au.  Authors will be advised of acceptance shortly after this date. Completed papers and abstracts will be due in May 2012.  The Organizing Committee encourages and will assist landholders and tertiary students to participate.

All bookings for accommodation at the Conference should be made through our conference partner, the Kununurra Visitor Centre (freecall 1800 586 868, or email info@visitkununurra.com), with delegate registration available online on the ARS website from May 2012.

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John Taylor 
ARS President and Director, Rangelands Australia/Professor of Rangeland Management 
The University of Queensland
Gatton   QLD  4343
Email:  john.a.taylor@uq.edu.au

A collaboration involving members of the Western Rangelands Partnership (University of Arizona, University of California-Davis, and University of Idaho), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), and Rangelands Australia (RA), was established in late 2010 to develop the case for a comprehensive Global Knowledge System to support research, teaching and extension. This collaboration builds on the RangelandsWest partnership, which has been operating successfully for about 12 years in Western USA, and includes scientists, extension officers, librarians/ information specialists and IT experts from 18 Western Land Grant Universities.

The two-year, USDA-NIFA funded project will provide access to international resources on sustainable rangeland management, including those relevant to climate change and food security issues, through redesign and expansion of the RangelandsWest portal (rangelandswest.arid.arizona.edu/rangelandswest/), and, to a lesser extent, the eXtension Rangelands website (www.extension.org/) .

These goals will be accomplished by:

  1. enhancing the technical architecture of RangelandsWest to host a fully searchable international repository of articles, documents, images, and teaching and outreach materials on rangeland management topics;
  2. establishing and strengthening a partnership of key institutions, organizations, and associations as the first phase for a broader international collaboration including the Grassland Society of South Africa (GSSA) and the Australian Rangeland Society (ARS);
  3. uploading full-text content/metadata to the repository and providing customized applications to facilitate expanded knowledge of international work in rangeland research, teaching, and extension;
  4. creating and providing access to two multi-media learning modules on global rangelands, (viz. ‘Rangelands of the world’, and ‘Australian rangelands’ as a country/region prototype;
  5. identifying, creating, and disseminating synthesis documents on aspects of international outreach practices relevant to rangeland management that will provide opportunities for enhanced extension programming in the US; and
  6. creating a customized search interface that improves access to critical information and encourages direct user engagement in the development of the Global Knowledge System.

Contributions to strategies 1 and 2 (above) include the Society for Rangeland Management (SRM) providing full articles for all Rangeland Ecology and Management journal articles that are three or more years old, and abstracts only for articles less than three years old. FAO is providing support from their Information Unit, technical support for the IT infrastructure to ensure that the system complies with standards for international interoperability, as well as their networks’ full-text rangeland documents. The Grassland Society of Southern Africa is contributing abstracts from the AJRFS back to 1966, all congress abstracts, and all editions of their newsletter ‘Grassroots’. The ARS is supporting this initiative by contributing abstracts of TRJ papers, the whole content of Conference Proceedings, and relevant Newsletter articles. The University of Arizona Library is assisting the ARS by scanning the 5000 pages of ARS Conference Proceedings at a very competitive rate, and these will also be uploaded onto the ARS website. Rangelands Australia’s involvement is in two areas: i) the development of the first international multi-media learning module, and ii) leading a trip to capture imagery (stills and gigapan) and interviews with land managers and researchers for use in the Australian Rangelands module of ‘Global Rangelands: A Virtual Tour’. This road trip was actually conducted in eastern Australian Rangelands in July 2011, with Cody Sheehy from the University of California-Davis capturing gigapan images at 13 major range types from Wentworth to Charters Towers. If you would like to know more about gigapans, visit http://gigapan.org/, and, for a range-specific example, visit http://autonomyproductions.com/blog2/oak_woodland/. The latter site contains imagery taken by Cody, and demonstrates some of the features that make this technology a potentially incredible teaching tool.

A Range Science Information System (RSIS), developed by the Universities of Idaho and Montana, will help sift through the growing amount of published literature and identify the reputable and ‘venerable’ resources. This database is based on the curated reading lists of leading US range specialists, and has domain experts annotate these lists with comments on the strengths and value of each of the papers. An early example is available at: http://arc.lib.montana.edu/range-science/. The intent is to decrease the time required to identify relevant published research and increase access to good published research. All RSIS annotated references will be included in the GRI database.

A demonstration of the Global Rangelands site occurred in May 2011, with the portal to go live in late 2011. Partners will be able to add original content once the system is live. Watch for it at the following address: globalrangelands.org/ .

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Peter O’Reagain
Principal Scientist, Primary Industries & Fisheries, DEEDI
PO Box 976, Charters Towers  QLD  4820.  
Email:  peter.o’reagain@deedi.qld.gov.au

In September this year I was lucky enough to attend the 8th International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores (ISNH) held in Aberystwyth, Wales.  To make the most of a long trip I went a week early so that I could visit two of the best known research groups on ecology and landscape management in Europe.

Resource Ecology Group, Wageningen University

My first visit was to the Resource Ecology Group REG at Wageningen University (WU) in the Netherlands.  My host was Ignas Heitkonig whom I met in South Africa while we were both doing our PhDs.  Ignas and his lovely family generously put me up in their home in the village of Zetten, about 20 minutes drive from WU.

Wageningen is an impressive university with great modern facilities and has a long and proud history in agricultural and ecological research.  The Resource Ecology Group is headed by Herbert Prins and does research and education on the community ecology of herbivores with a particular focus on large herbivores in Africa.  Their two main research areas are firstly in rangeland ecology – in particular how soil resources, fire and vegetation interact to affect herbivore foraging behaviour.  A second but key emerging research area involves zoonoses and how the spread and transmission of diseases in wild animals in influenced by their patterns of spatial movement.  Here a range of diseases and species are studied ranging from tuberculosis in African buffalo to Lyme disease in field mice.  In both rangeland and disease ecology they have a number of projects, PhD students and post docs working in a wide variety of environments, but particularly in Africa.

On my first day, Jan Bokdam took me to ‘Wolfhezerheide’ nature reserve just east of Wageningen where the decline of the high biodiversity heather (Calluna vulgaris) heathlands was being investigated.  The heather heathlands have declined firstly due to atmospheric nutrient deposition from pollution with potential inputs as high as 40 kg/N/ha, 1.5 kg P, and 5 kg K/ha per annum.  And secondly, due to the loss of traditional grazing systems which involved relatively heavy grazing of the pasture and stabling of stock at night; the latter effectively moved about 45 % of manure away for later spreading on arable lands.  This management maintained these heathlands and kept the grass under control.  The Wolfhezerheide work is investigating whether cattle grazing can be used to restore the heather and has been going 28 years.  Stocking rates are about 5 ha/AE and the aim is utilise about 30 % of annual biomass production.

My visit coincided with the heather being in full flower so despite the dreary weather the masses of pink heather across the landscape were incredibly picturesque.  But what really intrigued me was the long and varied land use history of the area and its ongoing effects, hidden or otherwise, on the system.  At Wolfhezerheide there were Bronze Age burial mounds, the ruins of a church and village destroyed by the Spanish in 1573 as well as its long abandoned fields.  An ancient road still exists that formerly linked the village to the nearby Rhine.  More recent activities like a grove of oak trees planted in the late 1800s and a recent sugar beet field were also evident.  Amazingly, the residual fertility in the 400 year old abandoned lands from the village were still affecting the heather: grass dynamics at the site.

Results from the first 10 years (1983-93) of the work at Wolfhezerheide were somewhat  equivocal with grazing effects depending upon soils and previous land use i.e. cattle grazing did not increase heather on better fertility soils like the medieval arable lands, but did induce recovery on the poorer soils (podzolics).  Cattle grazing did not stop invasion by Scots pine or birch, but does appear to control these trees until it they grow above the browse line.  Grazing also created nutrient rich grass patches in the nearby woodland that would naturally resort to grassland when the existing trees died i.e. free range cattle grazing would lead to a woodland-heather-grassland mosaic, significantly different to the former heathland.  Management recommendations to maintain the grass: heather balance were thus to maintain grazing plus to possibly implement tree cutting.  Alternatively herding plus burning and turf stripping (a traditional practice) might also be required to maintain open heathlands.  Jan Bokdam is now largely retired from WU but is planning on resurveying his original quadrats again in 2013 to complete his 30th year of data collection.

Photo 1:  Heather regeneration project near Wageningen showing resting cattle and heather in flower.


The same afternoon I was also privileged to have a quick visit with Rob Geerts to the 57 year old Ossenkampen pasture fertilisation trial.  This began in 1953, in recognition of the importance of long term data sets and follows the example of the famous Park Grass experiment in the UK.  The Ossenkampen work looks at the long term effects of various fertilisation rates and combinations (+/- lime, N, P & K).  Results show that the highest pasture productivity occurred under NPK with an average yield of 9.6 t/ha vs. 5 t/ha for unfertilised plots (1996-2005 data).  However, species richness was lowest in the NPK plots: 14 versus 39 species in the lime only plots.

The really interesting trends were how species richness changed over 50 years – as expected, species richness declined in all fertilised plots for first 25 years with the greatest decline in the NPK plots.  However, species richness then recovered with continuing fertilisation, even at the highest fertilisation levels.  Despite this recovery, species richness in heavier fertilised plots was still far less than in unfertilised plots and the new species were not necessarily those that had previously disappeared.  The fact that recovery in species richness occurred in all treatments suggests external factors were playing a role e.g. reduced nitrous oxide emissions in Europe, but no conclusion has really been reached as to the factors involved.  The Ossenkampen work stresses the importance of long term studies to identify and unravel factors playing a role in community assembly.  Unfortunately, its existence is now threatened by encroaching housing developments from Wageningen.

Another particularly interesting project I encountered at WU was the Global Experiment on Tree Savanna Seedlings (GEST).  Recognising that recruitment is a critical phase in savanna tree dynamics the global project is investigating how climate and resources effect recruitment.  Dr Kyle Tomlinson, one of the two postdocs, in the team showed me an impressive greenhouse experiment with seedlings from savanna species from across the world.  Here seedlings from different species groups like acacias and eucalypts were growing in 1m tubes of sand under controlled conditions and the rates of growth and root: shoot partitioning of different species groups compared.  Aside from the actual experiment, I was particularly impressed by the massive automated greenhouse complex at WU that was being used for a variety of other detailed agronomic and ecological research.

Photo 2:  Savanna tree seedlings grown as part of the GEST project.


While at WU I also presented a seminar to the REG on my own grazing management research at Charters Towers.  This was an excellent experience and it was a privilege to get input and comments from people with a real diversity of backgrounds that shared a passionate interest in savanna management.

On my second morning at Wageningen, I also had a chance to visit the famous steel bridge at Arnhem on the Rhine, made famous when British paratroopers tried to seize it during operation ‘Market Garden’ in WW2.  This was of special significance to me as my father was in the British Airborne: although he (luckily!) missed Arnhem, he did jump a few months later in 1945 during ‘Operation Varsity’ only about 60 km from Arnhem inside Germany.

Upland grazing in Scotland

Leaving Holland I then made a quick trip to Aberdeen in NW Scotland to visit Nick Littlewood of the James Hutton Institute (formerly the Macaulay Land Use Research Institute).  Nick drove me about 2.5 hours out of Aberdeen to the very scenic uplands around Dunblaine.  Here we visited a grazing trial located on ‘Glen Finglas’, a former estate owned by the Woodland Trust of Scotland.

With changes to the European farm subsidies from one based on livestock numbers to the ‘Single Farm Payment’ there have been big declines in sheep and cattle numbers and even grazing abandonment in some upland grasslands.  These changes will obviously impact upon the vegetation and potentially, biodiversity.  The Grazing and Upland Birds (GRUB) project at Glen Finglas began in 2002 to investigate how different levels and types of grazing (low and high intensity sheep grazing, low intensity sheep and cattle grazing, no grazing) are impacting upon biodiversity, specifically birds and insects.  There are 4 grazing sites in the hills around Glen Finglas with the treatments replicated twice at each site.

The landscape around Glen Finglas is stunning with a beautiful lake, steep grassy hills and rushing burns.  After a good walk up a long steep hill we reached the first small paddocks: with bursting lungs and leaden legs I learnt our purpose: we had to separate out a few sheep that had wandered into the wrong paddocks.  Then followed an exhausting attempt at trying to outwit a mob of extremely cunning Scottish blackface sheep on a 45 degree slope, littered with rocks, holes and little rushing streams.  After much running and manoeuvring this was somehow achieved largely through the ‘sheep whispering’ of Nick.  I claim little credit for this success – rather than bounding around like a human Border Collie my performance was closer to that of an under-exercised, over-fed family Labrador.  However, my joy at our success was short lived: Nick casually announced we ‘only’ had three more sites to do – i.e. Mount Everest style ascents followed by strenuous sheep chasing.

Photo 3:  Lovely Glen Finglas – the tiny speck at the bottom of the hill is our car!


Photo 4:  Cunning Scottish blackface sheep at Glen Finglas


Photo 5: My host Nick Littlewood at Glen Finglas


Somehow this was eventually accomplished through a wettish, windy day without lasting pulmonary trauma.  While not recommending upland sheep herding as a leisure activity, I had a fantastic day and was absolutely intrigued by the scenery and the diversity of plants and the life that I saw.  It was also a revelation being in the field with an entomologist to point out all the hidden life that I would normally never notice.  I was also really impressed with the detailed, high quality ecological research being conducted.  As an example, results from the site show that the density of breeding meadow pipits is greatest on sites with an intermediate grazing pressure.  This probably arises from the impacts of grazing on the different insect groups and on their accessibility to the foraging pipits.  Ironically, the decline in grazing may be behind the reported 20% drop in meadow pipit population in the United Kingdom.

Other upland work which I didn’t get to see, involved the use of winter burning at the Glen Saugh research farm to reinvigorate heather.  As in the Netherlands, heather is an important component of the vegetation and provides both cover and food for grouse and a number of other species.

8th ISNH Aberystwyth

From Scotland I travelled to Wales to attend the 8th International Symposium on the Nutrition of Herbivores at the University town of Aberystwyth, located on the coast.  The conference was attended by about 300 people with delegates from all over the world.  There were a wide range of presentations and posters covering many different aspects of herbivore nutrition, production, greenhouse gas emissions and genomics.  All of the plenary papers will be published in a special edition of the international journal Animal, early in 2012.

I will briefly highlight those presentations which I thought were of most interest.

  • Mario Herrero (International Livestock Research Institute, Nairobi) – ‘The role of herbivores in developing countries’ highlighted the fact that globally about 600 million people (many of them woman) depend on livestock systems.  The demand for animal products will double by 2050, due in part to the massive increase in world population but also due to the far more rapid increase in protein demand.  In developed countries livestock are major producers of greenhouse gases (GHG).  Nevertheless if the major production and feeding inefficiencies can be overcome, big opportunities exist to reduce GHG production.
  • Rene Schils (Wageningen University) – ‘Strategies to mitigate nitrous oxide emissions from production systems’; highlighted the fact that while agricultural soils account for 87% of N2O, there were big differences between soil types.  Mitigation strategies that could be applied included restricted grazing, feeding more concentrates e.g. maize, dietary amendments such as hippuric acid and tannins and the use of fertiliser amendments such as nitrification inhibitors to reduce nitrate leaching.  Care was needed however to ensure that reducing N2O emissions in one place didn’t simply transfer the problem elsewhere.
  • Harry Clarke (AgResearch, New Zealand) – ‘Nutritional and host effects on methanogenesis in the ruminant’ highlighted ways of reducing methanogenesis in ruminants.  This included dietary manipulation such as increased concentrate feeding, or dietary additives such as lipids or essential oils.  Forage quality could also be improved through forage breeding or genetic modification to increase lipids or tannin levels, or increase sugar content.  Of particular interest was work currently being done in New Zealand selecting for animals that were low methane emitters and the use of vaccinations to block methanogenesis in the rumen.  These options nevertheless require far more research and development before they will be viable options for management.

I gave my invited presentation entitled ‘Sustainable management in a variable environment – evidence and learnings from northern Australia’ on the 3 rd day of the ISNH.  In my talk, I highlighted the problems of managing sustainably and profitably given the inherent variability of the Australian climate; in particular I emphasised the issues of spatial heterogeneity and scale and the challenges and opportunities these provide for managers.  The main part of the presentation focused on larger scale grazing research in Northern Australia and the recent simulation modelling conducted by my co-author Joe Scanlan in the Northern Grazing Systems project.  I believe the presentation went very well with the audience impressed by the scale and magnitude of the grazing operations in Australia.

ISNH Mid-congress tour

As in many conferences, the mid-congress tour was one of the highlights of the ISNH.  My tour visited ‘Fron’ a 200 ha hill farm owned by Gareth Owen and his wife about 30 miles from Aberystwyth.  The Owens run 1200 ewes, with mating in September-October, and achieve lambing rates of 180-200% with lambs born indoors from December to March.  The lambs are grown out on pasture and then progressively sold as they reach 40 kg with the last sold before Christmas.  All the animals are grazed on improved pasture with grass silage and other feed provided when the animals are indoors.

Photo 6:  Beautiful hillside farm near Aberystwyth, Wales.


The Owen family also run about 150 store cattle – these are bought each year at the age of 12 to 14 months and after a few months of grazing are fattened indoors on grass silage and bought concentrate.  What was particularly interesting about the cattle side was that the Owens are involved in the ‘Celtic Pride’ value chain.  This aims to deliver a high quality product to customers and involves farmers, the retail company and a feed company.  The brand has a protected geographic indicator (PGI) from the European Union (similar to that for Champagne or Bordeaux wines).  Overall the Celtic Pride alliance seeks to deliver high quality, tender beef to a range of outlets and at the same time reward participating farmers with a higher price for their animals.

The Celtic Pride scheme is not breed specific but animals must have at least 50 % content of a recognised beef breed and meet set specifications to ensure eating quality.  These include an ADG of more than 1.6 kg/day in the last sixty days, travel of no more than 40-50 miles to slaughter and an age of 14 to 30 months at slaughter.  Importantly, cattle also have to be finished on the specific Celtic Pride concentrate ration that includes high levels of carbohydrate as well as vitamin E.  After slaughter, hindquarters are aged for 3 weeks; forequarters are not aged and boned within 3 to 4 days.

The prescribed concentrate ration before slaughter allegedly prevents the meat losing the bright red colour during aging that is favoured by consumers.  The Celtic Pride ration is slightly more expensive than others but assuming the carcass achieves the target meatworks grades, producers get an extra premium worth about £44/head.  The scheme promises prompt payment to farmers who also receive free nutritional and breeding advice.

Interestingly, while the environment in Wales was vastly different from Australia the Owen family face similar issues to those faced by our own producers: succession, a fortune tied up in capital items and land that is too expensive (£20 000/ha) to purchase for farming purposes.


In summary, the ISNH was well run and had some exceptional presentations.  An aspect that was particularly pleasing was the effort made to integrate shorter presentations by young up-and-coming researchers in amongst the plenary papers.  The enduring message from the conference was that agriculture faces a major challenge in meeting the protein demands of an exploding population while satisfying the requirements to reduce green house gas emissions by livestock.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the Australian Rangelands Society and the organising committee of the ISNH for meeting my travel and accommodation expenses for this trip.  I particularly thank Ignas Heitkonig and Nick Littlewood for making my trip so enjoyable. 

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Andrew White
AusPlots-Rangelands Coordinator
TERN (Terrestrial Ecosystems Research Network) Adelaide
University of Adelaide  SA  5005
Email:  andrew.white@adelaide.edu.au

AusPlots-Rangelands is part of the TERN, LAMPS facility (Terrestrial Ecosystem Research Network, Long-term Australian Multi-scale Plot System) based at Adelaide University (www.tern.org.au/AusPlots-pg17871.html).  The objectives of AusPlots-Rangelands includes establishing a network of around 1,000 permanent ecosystem surveillance and vegetation and soil monitoring plots throughout the Australian rangelands and undertaking an initial survey to collect baseline biodiversity data.

The Rangelands team has been operational for over 12 months during which time many meetings have been held with their Reference Groups and other interested parties.  This has resulted in an agreed and consistent survey methodology to be rolled out across all the rangelands jurisdictions (NSW, Qld, SA, WA and NT).  It will provide coherent and compatible ecologically relevant data collected in a consistent manner that will contribute a wealth of information to the ecological, remote sensing and modelling research communities for many of Australia’s most widespread and under-sampled ecological communities.  It will also provide local, state and federal management agencies with enhanced biodiversity information to assist them in making better management decisions to produce better outcomes for their areas.

The plot based surveillance has recently commenced in the Northern Territory and South Australia with negotiations continuing with the other jurisdictions.

The survey plots are based on an area of 100 x 100 m with survey methods and sample collections being a modular design, giving the possibility to implement one or more of the different components.  The current focus of the methodology is to provide an inventory of vegetation and soils.  The methods include (see Photos 1-3 below):

  • current traditional descriptive and analytical components e.g. collection and barcoding of plant voucher specimens for herbarium identification and curation, using the point intercept method at 1000 points across the plot to provide measures of vegetation cover and species details, using soil cores or samples to describe soil attributes,
  • matching the data and samples collected to more progressive survey methods e.g. remote sensing for plant cover, collection of Leaf Area Index data, MIR (mid infrared spectrometry) analysis of soil samples to describe soil attributes, leaf collections for DNA and isotope analysis, surface soil collections for metagenomic analysis; and
  • developing new methods specifically for AusPlots-Rangelands but with broader applications e.g. creating field data capture software for use on tablet and PDA devices (in collaboration with the Atlas of Living Australia and Gaia Resources); establishing a straightforward method to produce 3D photographic panoramas which can provide plant community information (in association with the Australian Centre for Video Technology at the University of Adelaide).  The field data capture software will be a significant advance in field data capture allowing rapid collection of uniquely geo-coded data which can be readily uploaded for use and distribution through the TERN Eco-Informatics facility.  It will streamline the whole data collection process and once the software is fully tested, it can be made readily available to interested parties.

Photo 1:  Plant collections include pressed specimens for herbarium identification and curation, and leaf samples for DNA barcoding and isotope analysis, here being collected in a ‘teabag’.


Photo 2:  The point intercept method involves recording plant species and cover details at 1000 points within a 1 ha area on a PDA or tablet device using purpose-built field data collection software.


Photo 3:  Plot photographs will be based on 360 degree panoramas at the apices of an equilateral triangle and will provide 3D images of plants and information on plant community structure.


Interest in the method has been increasing.  Other TERN facilities and sub-facilities have agreed to implement different survey modules, while some conservation and Indigenous groups, private contractors and mining companies have indicated benefits in adopting a number of the modules.

Training in the methodology is to be provided at Renmark in South Australia during December 5-9, 2011.  Due to limitations in the number of positions please register your interest by e-mailing tern.adelaide@adelaide.edu.au.

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On the 15th of July former Canberra members of CSIRO’s division of Wildlife and Rangeland Research (which then became Wildlife and Ecology and then Sustainable Ecosystems and then Ecosystem Sciences), gathered to reminisce and farewell the site. The gathering was large but there were enough ‘rangelanders’ there to form a sizeable group to photograph. Many of these are widely known so I thought the photograph should be placed in the Newsletter along with names of the people and some of their contributions to rangeland knowledge.



Front row (left to right); Margaret Hindley (Librarian at Deniliquin and Canberra), Allan Reid (conservation biology), Robert Palmer (Lake Mere sheep and kangaroo production in relation to stocking rate), Steve Marsden (simulation modeller of semi-arid systems), David Tongway (conceptual development of landscape function and analysis), Norm Hindley (co-developer of landscape function analysis with David).

Back row (left to right); Brian Walker (former Chief of Division, co-developer of State and Transition models and resilience of systems), Craig James (grazing effects on biodiversity and functioning of desert systems), Jim Noble (fire management of woodlands and integrated management of woody weeds), Barney Foran (range condition assessment and integrated rabbit management), Ken Hodgkinson (prescribed fire for woody weed management and tactical grazing), David Freudenberger (sheep production and kangaroo management), Art Langston (mental models of rangeland people), Jacqui Stol (grazing effects on biodiversity), Alex Drew (grazing effects on biodiversity), David Spratt (event organiser and parasitologist), Nick Abel (mental models of rangeland people and rangeland futures).

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The Rangeland Management Postgraduate Coursework Program at UQ Gatton has won an Australian Learning and Teaching Council Award for ‘Programs that Enhance Learning’. The award, worth $25000, was presented during a ceremony at the Sydney Opera House in August 2011. The award recognizes ‘outstanding contributions to the quality of student learning and the quality of the student experience of higher education’, and notes that the Rangeland Management Program has set new benchmarks for similar activities in other institutions. Indeed, Rangelands Australia has recently been acknowledged by the US Range Science Education Council as the “inspiration, catalyst and model” for a USDA Higher Education Challenge Grant for ‘Repositioning Rangeland Education for a Changing World’. The outputs of this grant will revamp the Range Science and Management programs at almost 30 US universities and influence US Government hiring standards for ‘Range Specialists’. The Rangeland Management Postgraduate Coursework Program also won the 2009 Australian Rural Education Award for excellence in rural education.

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Jillian Alexander, Dalby Qld

Lloyd Cioleman, Mudgee, NSW

Don Heylen,Aldgate, SA

Simone Lawson, Blackwood, SA

Megan Munchenberg, Mount Isa, Qld

Western CMA, Dubbo, NSW

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The 2012 Subscription Rates will remain as for 2011, except that the Range Management Newsletter will be available electronically to financial members who have current membership, i.e. payment has been made for 2012.  For members who wish to receive a printed copy of the RMN, an additional $15 membership subscription will be required, except for members who do not have an email address, who will continue to receive a printed copy as part of their standard membership fee.  The new system will be implemented as from the publication of the second RMN for 2012. Any enquiries relating to this should be directed to Graeme Tupper, Subscription Manager, grmtupper@yahoo.com.au

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