NATIVE GRASSES

Introduction

Australia is an ancient landscape with fragile ecosystems. Prior to European settlement Aboriginal people cared for our country over thousands of years in a range of different environments, managing them sustainably. They used fire for a range of purposes, but the result was a mosaic pattern of vegetation, principally of grassland and open woodland. Explorers like Thomas Mitchell frequently commented on the richness of the grass and its luxuriant growth where, amongst others, Kangaroo grass was waist high. Since European settlement, the Australian environment has been irrevocably altered. As settlers moved from the coast towards the interior with their large flocks of sheep and herds of cattle, the land was overgrazed. With their European perceptions, settlers did not understand the value of, nor how to manage native grasslands. So robust perennial grasslands were replaced with introduced pasture grasses or annual cropping systems. Sheep, cattle, horses, camels, goats and rabbits were introduced into many regions and soils and plants that were adapted to soft-footed animals were trampled causing increased run-off and erosion. Native grasslands were subject to intensive grazing. The result was a substantial loss of biodiversity, soil fertility and depth. Today, only remnants of native grassland vegetation remain and the loss continues.

In South Australia less than two percent of original grassland remains, while in Victoria less than one percent remains. Between 1994 and 2004 in Victoria at least 40,000 hectares of native vegetation was lost of which 32,000 hectares was native grassland. The Darling Downs region of Queensland originally had more than 390,000 hectares of native grassland. Now just over one percent remains. Similar loss of grasslands has occurred in New South Wales and Tasmania. Much of the surviving remnant native grasslands are on road or railway reserves or on private property. These remnant patches are fragmented leaving a whole range of plants and animals endangered, while some are already extinct.

Our environment is under significant threat. Australia and Antarctica are the two continents where the impact of climate change is already evident. There is prolonged drought in the south–west and north-east of the continent and frequent flooding in the north. Urban expansion continues in our southern cities, which is placing significant pressure on limited water resources and vegetation. There is an urgent need to preserve the remnants of native vegetation. To allow the environment the best chance of adapting to climate change, degraded habitats need to be restored with native vegetation.

Significant quantities of grass seed are needed to revegetate and restore degraded grasslands on a large scale. Previously, the small supply of seed has come from harvesting wild stands of native grasses. Unfortunately, this seed may be contaminated with weeds and germination can be uncertain. There is a need for high quality seed available in commercial quantities to assist in the revegetation of Australia. This is what Native Seeds is doing. Native Seeds specializes in producing high quality seed of native grasses under cropping conditions where weed control can be greater, where irrigation can be applied if needed and where soil fertility can be maintained to produce highly vigorous seed.

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