25 years of Landcare

A national Landcare movement which began 25 years ago became the catalyst for Kangaroo Island’s established farming community to form 13 Landcare groups, inclusive of local school children, hobby farmers, young farmers, women, scientists and environmentalists.

This story celebrates the vision, energy and enthusiasm of these volunteers who responded to a perceived need by designing and implementing ambitious projects which transformed farming methods and landscapes across the island.

Kangaroo Island’s rate of adoption of Landcare projects was one of the highest across Australia.

In 1989, Lyn Dohle was the first Department of Agriculture Soils Officer on the island and she became vitally involved with the formation of local Landcare groups.

“Landcare became the thing that united the island,” Ms Dohle said.

“It worked initially because the first group was started by some leading farmers, so Landcare was never seen as that ‘greenie movement’.

“It had credibility with the farming community from the start,” she said.

The decade of Landcare was announced late in 1989 by then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke and this year Kangaroo Island celebrates 25 years of local achievements along with communities around the nation.

Standing on the banks of theMurray River in 1989, Bob Hawke pledged $320 million over a decade, which began in 1990.

The funding was to address the soil degradation of more than two thirds of Australia’s arable land and would be “the focus for protecting the fundamental ingredient of our natural environment and our agricultural prosperity - our soil”.

In that era, Kangaroo Island was primarily a wool-growing region and local farmers were facing a rural recession resulting from loss of the floor price of wool.

Landcare became a beacon of hope.

It provided an opportunity for farmers to work together and be pro-active in the rejuvenation of their land supported by federal government funding for works materials as well as projects which would increase their knowledge base.

Each Landcare group was initiated by farmers who volunteered their labor and were supported by local technical and scientific expertise to undertake botanical, fauna and entomological surveys, ground water testing, hydrology, infrared photography, observation wells and soil pits.

Groups which faced similar issues joined together to run wider programs across the island.

Timber Creek and Bugga Bugga Creek groups combined as well as Eleanor River with Middle River and the South-West catchments.

They successfully submitted funding for a joint project to run courses on Property Management Planning (PMP) for a total of 130 farmers.

“When the South Australian Department of Agriculture developed a state wide PMP program, they used some of the project ideas developed on the island,” Lyn Dohle said.

Lake Ada, Timber Creek and Bugga Bugga Creek also combined forces to jointly tackle a common issue of non-wetting sandy soil.

After a combined Field Trip to the south-east of South Australia, trial work was established to look at the effectiveness of applying clay to non-wetting sands. Clay spreading is now a common practice on the island.

In the early days of Landcare, work undertaken by groups reflected both the funding that was available and the key interests/concerns of the committee and group members.

This story profiles three island groups. The first group to form in 1989 - Eleanor River Landcare - won two significant funding grants and eventually attracted support from nearly all landholders in the Eleanor River catchment area.

Another group which formed the following year - Chain of Lagoons Landcare - designed a project to halt the spread of dry land salinity across several properties by constructing a drain to alleviate localised flooding and rejuvenate the natural lagoons of the Cygnet River flood plains.

A third group -Western KI Landcare - formed in 1994 and was originally named South Western Kangaroo Island Landcare.

It is one of only three Landcare groups on the island which are still active (the others being Penneshaw School and Community Landcare and Eco-Action).

Eleanor River Catchment Landcare

This group played a pivotal role in the formation of many other groups on the island.

They undertook a major fencing project spread over six to eight years which excluded stock from native vegetation growing adjacent to the Eleanor River and its tributaries, in a bid to improve soil saline levels by encouraging natural bush regeneration.

Bill Roper was an active member of this group. He recalled that its initiation in 1989 was driven by Ian Howard, the son of a soldier settler who lived close to Parndana.

“Ian fostered interest among a group of about a dozen local landholders who would meet in the newly constructed Parndana Health Care Centre and then later on would have regular pre-dinner farm tours followed by tea and a meeting,” he said.

“Prior to the decade of Landcare, individual land holders didn’t have the funds to correct previously poor farm practice, even though compared to the rest of Australia the island had retained a significant amount of native vegetation.

“This was despite broad brush clearing during the post WW 2 Land Development Scheme.

“Some farmers had spent significant amounts trying to correct inherited problems.

“Our group did a detailed land-mapping exercise before the days of GPS and relevant computer software.

“We made up maps on the floor and then canvassed all the landholders in the catchment and got nearly all 44 to come on board.

“We worked together and addressed problems across boundaries.

“At a meeting we would pick out half a dozen different sites throughout the catchment and then split up into teams to fence these areas off from stock to preserve native vegetation.

“Ian Howard was an agricultural teacher and through him our group had direct contact with Parndana Area School children on a couple of projects,” Mr Roper said.

“This group stopped meeting in the late 1990s when the “whole ball game changed from direct funding to local groups, into a grant system which favored individual applicants,” he said.

The future

There is an ongoing commitment to Landcare by the 56 regional Natural Resource Management (NRM) bodies in Australia.

In March they affirmed their commitment to the Landcare Statement of Common Purpose and to continuing to work closely with the National Landcare Network and Landcare Australia Limited to identify new opportunities to support Landcare.

Regional NRM bodies and Landcare have complementary roles. Natural Resources Kangaroo Island (NRKI) will continue to provide technical support, deliver programs and projects under the regional plan.

NRKI links local landowners, industry, all levels of government, nongovernment organisations, Aboriginal people, Landcare and other volunteer groups in regional scale planning, prioritisation of action and building local ownership through action.

Western KI Landcare

The group began by addressing issues in the catchment of South-West and Stunsil Boom Rivers and then joined with people further east in the Harriet River catchment in a total area of about 600 square kilometres.

At its peak, nearly 50 active membersworked to stop erosion by fencing off hundreds of kilometres of creek line in three to five years (to protect almost 3,000 hectares of vegetation) with support from local wholesalers of fencing materials.

This group is one of only three remaining groups on Kangaroo Island, which still sources project funding through South Australia’s Natural ResourceManagement Community Grants and the Federal Caring for our Country Community Grants scheme.

Roni Cohen, who is active in this group said, “even though the principle of working together as a group with money coming from the top directly to the bottom (with not much interference) has been taken over by bureaucracy, we think it’s important to maintain the existence of the group so available grants can be accessed by land carers”.

“That’s the reason we’re still here today and are concerned about working with our neighbours and anybody who lives along the catchments,” Mr Cohen said.

“It means the whole South Coast and its rivers are under Landcare, that somebody is watching those catchments, doing water monitoring and caring for them.

“We have done projects with school children, helping them to plant trees, to learn about water monitoring, looking for bugs and how to use scientifically graded instruments.

“I’m very optimistic and that’s why I want to keep going.

“Farmers are feeding the population and if we’re smart we will work together with nature rather than work against it.

“Our group is inclusive and always welcomes new initiatives.”

Chain of Lagoons Landcare

Rodney Bell is certain that members of this group would have “lost country if landholders across several properties hadn’t banded together instead of relying on piece-meal efforts by individuals.

“The driver for the formation of this group was the ‘Landcare Drain’. Lyn Dohle called the first meeting and Graeme Connell organized a group consisting of school teachers, abattoir workers, farmers and others,” he said.

“Ian Howard, a member of the Eleanor River Landcare group was our guest speaker.

“Chain of Lagoons, and areas west were all dying because salt water was coming from a salt scald near the Birchmore Lagoon.

“A seven kilometre drain was constructed and somehow salt water from this drain had to bypass the lagoons at Birchmore Bowling Club.

“So a deeper drain was cut between the two lagoon networks with the salty water bypassing the lagoon in normal years and being diluted when the Cygnet River flooded in wet years.

“Restrictors were built to control water in flood years.

“A large number of salt resistant plantings were put in near the Birchmore Lagoon on Bomb Alley.

“We did a lot of work ourselves with front-end loaders and trucks and with help from a Council grader driver and other experts. Lyn Dohle was a key part of it.

“We received awards for this project which was recognized as a restoration success, as well as being unique in the way this group of people, who normally didn’t have much in common, were able to work together.”

Eleanor River Catchment

The Eleanor River Landcare group was the very first group to form on KI in 1989.

The group continued to have an impressive series of ‘firsts’: the first group to undertake comprehensive mapping and monitoring of native vegetation, bird and insect life in the catchment; a detailed hydrological study of the catchment, including underground water; direct seeding with their own direct seeding machine; a seed bank/tree nursery at the Parndana school in 1991-92 called the Eleanor Catchment Vegetation Retention Programme (funded through Save our Bush Grants and Australian National Parks and Wildlife Service).

This project included a botanical survey, on-farm inspections to indicate specific areas of strategic vegetation, ornithological and mammal reports, and fencing works.

Chain of Lagoons

In 1990 this was the second group to form on KI.

The driver for the formation of this group was the construction of a large drainage system.

This was a combined effort between farmers in the Landcare group, KI Council, local sponsors and government funding to create the largest man-made drain on KI which solved minor flooding and significant salinity issues.

The group was also the first group to trial saltbush plantings. In 1993 they were finalists in the State Landcare Awards.

Middle River

Formed in 1990 and incorporated in 1998, this group tackled waterlogging and salinity issues in their catchment.

They worked hard to get most of the entire length of Middle River and its tributaries fenced to protect remnant vegetation. This included the catchment for the Middle River Reservoir, the main water supply for Kingscote and Parndana.

They were pioneers, doing trial work with perennial pastures long before they became ‘trendy’.

Penneshaw School and Community

Although earlier groups worked with their local schools (for example, Eleanor River with Parndana school and Chain Lagoons with Kingscote school), 1992 marked the first time a group formed to link a school with a local farming community.

Over the years, many school children have been involved in coastal protection projects such as penguin habitat protection and restoration, seed collection, propagation and tree planting.

The group has also undertaken fencing and revegetation projects along the Willson River. This group continues to source project funding.

Timber Creek

This group began in 1990 as the Lower Timber Creek Landcare Group. The majority of their early projects focused on controlling salinity and fencing remnant vegetation.

They led the way in developing ‘whole of catchment plans’. This group, in conjunction with Bugga Bugga Creek, became a pilot group for the very first roll out of what we now know as the ‘on ground works program’ (long before the NRM board was even a twinkle in someone’s eye).

North Coast Country

Only short lived, this group eventually became the Middle River and Stokes Bay Landcare group. Many meetings were held at Belinda Hannaford’s, so the catering was always top class.

The group focused on revegetation projects, including trials to manage wildlife browsing on planted trees.

Emu Bay

This group was formed in 1995 by Emu Bay rate payers (including some who lived off-island) who joined with farmers in the surrounding district.

Work focused on coastal management, erosion and weed control and the impact of large numbers of visitors to the area during summer months.

An early innovation was the development of an Emu Bay Management Plan that contained useful ‘fact sheets’ for local residents about how to tackle key land management issues.

The group became the Emu Bay Progress Association.

Lake Ada

A group formed to manage the catchment area draining into Lake Ada. It incorporated in 1999.

While it was one of the smaller Landcare groups on KI, it achieved a lot including fencing a significant number of creeks and tributaries that drain into Lake Ada.

Other work focused on salt land agronomy, property planning and revegetation. In 2001, member, Malcolm Schaefer, won the Primary Producer Award at the National Landcare Awards.

Cygnet River

Two Landcare groups called the Lower and Upper Cygnet River were formed in 1992 and 1994 respectively to cover the entire length of the Cygnet River.

Work primarily focused on fencing remnant vegetation, revegetation works and salinity management.

The Lower Cygnet group did significant work to successfully reclaim a lagoon formed by river flood waters by installing a drainage system to re-create natural water flows.

The Upper Cygnet group led the way in surveying and constructing contour banks to manage erosion and waterlogging, even running training courses for local farmers so they could survey river banks on their properties.

Bugga Bugga Creek

Formed in 1992, the group took its name from a non-Aboriginal word for the local creek (but a name not found on any official map).

The group was officially recognised as the 200th group to form in South Australia. Salinity was the key driver and they conducted many on-farm projects and trials looking at salinity management from salt land agronomy to clay spreading and agroforestry.

Stokes Bay

This was a small group formed in 1992 to tackle the unique issues of their catchment and were active until 1997. Projects involved fencing off remnant vegetation, Property Management Planning, direct seeding and tree planting to slow erosion on the creek and hill sides.

They worked closely with local experts to help preserve the Glossy Black Cockatoo by planting she-oaks, counting nests and installing tree collars to prevent possums accessing the nests.

A group participant also worked over four years to establish a seed bank funded by Greening Australia and based at Parndana school to provide seed collection and advice to land care groups and involve students.

Western KI Landcare

This group was originally known as the South Western Landcare Group which formed in 1994 and then in 2000 changed its name to Western KI Landcare.

In 2012 Lake Ada, Middle River and Eleanor River Catchment Landcare groups amalgamated into Western KI Landcare.

It is one of only three groups which remain active on the island. Projects have included management of remnant vegetation, salinity, acidity, water monitoring over 10 years, weed control, clay spreading, field trials, micro-invertebrate surveys with National Parks, feral cat and pig control.


Eco-Action was formed in 1991 and registered as a Landcare Group in April 1994. The membership of the group is spread across the island and on the mainland.

The group has been involved in a broad range of conservation and Landcare projects and continues to source funding.

Projects include seed collection and direct seeding of native vegetation, public education and information on biodiversity, Pennington Bay project, KI Art Feast and lobbying to ensure development proposals are environmentally sustainable.

This article produced for The Islander by Catherine Murphy with support from Lyn Dohle (Rural Solutions SA and a member of the Natural Resources Kangaroo Island Sustainable Production team) as well as Kate Buck (Regional Landcare Facilitator based at DEWNR).