Picturesque paddock trees, providing shade and shelter for stock and wildlife alike, are an iconic image of rural Australia. We’ve all seen sheep and cattle seeking protection from the baking summer sun, under the spreading boughs of a lone gum tree. Such old-growth giants can be centuries old, the last survivors of long-vanished forests. They will not last forever though. Thousands have been lost recently in Victoria’s Wimmera, for example. It’s important to properly appreciate their value, so we can protect those we have, and replace those we’ve lost.
Paddock trees are much more than a shady spot for stock to camp under. They provide vital information about what existed prior to massive landscape change – genes, local provenance, microbial communities, soil fungi etc. They act as wildlife corridors, and help to preserve biodiversity and ecosystems. They form a leaf-litter layer for insects to live in. They provide forage, roosts and hollows for bats, birds, possums and koalas.
Buloke trees, for example, are the preferred food tree for endangered south-eastern Red-tailed Black Cockatoos, but less than two percent of this important food species remains. It takes a hundred years for a Buloke (a type of casuarina) to provide a decent feed, and they are not being replaced at a high enough rate to support Red-tailed Black-Cockatoos into the future. Click here to find out more about a wonderful recovery project aimed at protecting these magnificent birds.
Paddock trees also reduce erosion and salinity, enrich soils and provide a seed source for regeneration – the benefit list goes on and on. If these trees continue to disappear, future generations will inherit a vastly different landscape. Landholders, governments … all of us who own or care for paddocks, must rise to the challenge of reversing tree loss in grazing and cropping landscapes, whether the result of active clearing or simple neglect. Old growth paddock trees have taken hundreds of years to grow. They cannot be replaced in a person’s lifetime – we need to protect what remains while we can.