When Robyn Watson came to settle on a farm in the Boggabri district in north-west New South Wales in the 1960s she noticed floods were eroding the banks of the Namoi River.
Native vegetation and habitat for wildlife were just swept away.
“We thought, ‘We’ve just got to do something about this,'” Ms Watson said.
So began tree planting alongside the river banks to provide stability, but more benefits flowed.
“Over the years they grew up and the banks became quite stable, so then we planted trees in rows along the top of the banks, fenced it off … we started find it was bringing lots of birds and animals and insects to that area,” she said.
Bringing farm and environment together
The biodiversity benefits Ms Watson began to observe all those years ago have continued to grow alongside the family’s cropping operation.
“Later once when we started growing cotton, we started planting more trees around fields to stop spray drift on the cotton and then in later years we’ve been joining up patches of vegetation so now we have rows of trees and grasslands around our fields,” she said.
During the past 12 months, a partnership between Landcare Australia, Country Road and the cotton industry has seen more than 34 hectares of biodiversity improvements made on local properties around the Namoi region.
Ms Watson said it was heartening to see more farmers planting trees and increasing their biodiversity.
“Just driving around, I visited some cotton farms just this week and they’ve got all their trees planted,” she said.
“It’s showing other valleys have started doing it.”
A family affair
While Ms Watson began the tree planting initiative on her farm, her family have followed in her footsteps.
Her husband John, son Andrew, daughter-in-law Heike and grandchildren Xanthia and Doug all pitch in.
Heike Watson began tree planting when she came to the farm 16 years ago.
“I can plant a tree or two now, I’ve been taught well,” Heike laughed.
“To see, hear and learn how they have been helping with very different things over the years.”
She said improving biodiversity had also helped her and husband Andrew become better farmers, with an increase in beneficial insects helping to reduce insecticide use.
“The wildlife that’s attracted into those areas helps which helps us to fight pest insects in the crops which helps us to cut down our insecticide sprays immensely,” Ms Watson said.
“It helps us to be environmentally friendly.”
The next generation
Xanthia, 9, and Doug, 6, are two of the most important tree planters on the farm.
They have been carrying on their grandmother’s work, planting trees by her side.
For Xanthia, she says it teaches her a lot about the environment.
“I’ve learnt that once the trees grow up, their roots are going to prevent erosion,” she said.
Xanthia’s little brother Doug has also been a big help.
Heike Watson says her son’s worm farm plays a role in the growth of the trees they plant.
“He’s been harvesting and we take two, three or four milk bottles up [of fertiliser] and he’s been a great help as well.”
For Robyn Watson, it means a great deal to see her family carrying on her work.
“It’s a wonderful thing to see the interest they have in growing trees and plants,” she said.
“I think each generation should leave something for the next and I think that’s one thing that we have done.”