Pastoral farming makes a major contribution to Australia’s economy. Around two thirds of Australia’s land is used for agriculture, and 90% of this land is used for grazing stock on native pastures.
Since European settlement, the introduction of domestic stock and feral herbivores, and in some cases increased kangaroo populations, have greatly increased the level of grazing on native vegetation. This has been a major cause of habitat degradation in native ecosystems, particularly in grassland and grassy woodland ecosystems.
Overgrazing by stock can have a number of major impacts, including:
- damage to plants, e.g. ringbarking;
- abnormally high loss of leaves and leaf litter;
- severe reduction in, or even loss of species that are palatable to stock, including regenerating seedlings;
- reduction in understory and ground cover, leading to increased soil erosion;
- soil compaction, trampling and erosion by hard-hoofed animals;
- introduction of additional nutrients to soils, making conditions less suitable for native plants;
- loss of important slow-growing mosses and lichens on the soil surface, which provide habitat and food for invertebrates;
- damage to sensitive riparian areas and changes to stream flow; and
- introduction of weeds.
Grazing in the GER corridor
In many areas, the Great Eastern Ranges provide a reliable water source for pastoralists. Historically, the Australian Alps region was regarded as ‘drought insurance’ for much of southern NSW. There are also significant areas with fertile alluvial or volcanic soils within the GER corridor, which are prime agricultural land. As a result, there is a long history of grazing in and around parts of the Great Eastern Ranges, both on private lands and on some public lands such as Travelling Stock Routes and Reserves. Grazing of native forests, woodlands and grasslands remains one of the most extensive land uses along the length of the GER corridor today.
In some parts of the GER corridor, overgrazing has led to degradation of native vegetation such as the endangered Southern Highlands Shale Woodlands ecological community. However, on a number of properties in the Great Eastern Ranges, areas that have been grazed retain most, if not all, of the species one might expect to find in an undisturbed ecosystem. This demonstrates that sustainable levels of grazing can be achieved with good, strategic management. Controlled grazing regimes may even have benefits for biodiversity by suppressing weeds and allowing a variety of native plant species to re-establish. GER works with landholders to manage grazing in a way that maintains or improves biodiversity on properties, whilst still ensuring a high return on investment.