This issue SL interviews two environmental managers:
Peter Wellings , Assistant
Secretary, Parks Australia North and Mark
Ritchie , Property Planning & Environmental Officer, North
Australian Pastoral Company (NAP). Both oversee extensive areas of
land, one working with indigenous Australians and the other with
In his job as Property Planning & Environmental Officer, NAP,
Mark Ritchie visits 11 cattle stations covering about 60,000 square
kilometres, or 14 million acres of north Australia. The area he
covers extends from Barkly down through Diamantina channel country
to Cloncurry and Winton. Interview: Peter Jacklyn
SL: What do you do?
MR: My overriding position is to write management plans for all of
our stations. It’s complete documentation of all our property
resources. Land resource mapping plays a big part in determining
what we actually have as far as natural resource go, this then
allows us to set a number of management objectives at a paddock
level and at a broader property level. Putting in place a number of
strategies that deal with woody weed management, pasture and
grazing management, soil conservation, cultural heritage, climate
variability and biodiversity. We have a fairly pragmatic and
flexible approach to these areas as the environment will dictate
what will happen. Things like pasture quality and woody weeds are
monitored annually. But wildlife ecology issues such as kangaroos
and bilbies are monitored less frequently.
SL: Is that an important part of your job going around monitoring
properties and their condition?
MR: Certainly is, it is definitely something we are trying to get
our managers more involved in. The managers within the group are
very good but I get involved in the more technical aspects of
pastures. With my expertise and providing background information we
work together in implementing our objectives. We generally do
monitoring together and information from this is used to make some
important decisions—particularly on stocking rates. We
usually monitor after the wet to get a better feel for pasture
growth in particular areas and look at what particular paddocks
might carry through the dry until it rains again.
SL: Do you also monitor things like wildlife?
MR: Certainly flora and fauna conservation is covered in our
Management Plans. We’ve identified areas that have important
conservation values including mound springs, wetlands and
endangered species within our grasslands. We are in the process of
compiling species lists for our birds and animals so we can
implement some management objectives for important species Also, we
are trying to take a holistic view of the property then progress
that right back through the organization in terms of QA and
SL: From your monitoring of pasture condition, wildlife, etc.,
what’s your impression on how your stations are travelling?
Can you make any general comments?
MR: We have certainly seen some increases in pasture condition, or
range condition, for the time that I have been there (six years).
You have to remember that six years is a relatively short time to
see any major changes in our environment. SL: What about the
MR: Determining changes within fauna species is a bit more
difficult. No, we haven’t seen any real decline, especially
not in our bilby populations. We only monitor them intermittently
but it’s pretty hard to get a relationship with bilbies
because they are nocturnal. I can monitor bilby holes as active or
inactive but as to how a bilby relates to its hole is still a bit
of a trick. One animal may use three to four holes in a night.
SL: You must need a lot of information
MR: Certainly. We use government agencies extensively and we have a
degree of information sharing between the pastoral companies that
we find useful. We are all tackling the same issues at the same
time. However, much of the information we need and use we derive
ourselves. I spend time in libraries and on the Internet and
networking and talking to other people.
SL: Is there enough information out there for your needs?
MR: There’s never enough information. There’s lots of
information about specific issues, but it’s mostly in a
scientific format. It’s drawing the principles out of the
science and putting it into a practical sense and being able to
SL: What kind of information do you need more of?
MR: Land resource information is lacking in some places:
information on land systems and productive capabilities of
individual land systems. I find a lot of the land resource
information I need to use is out of date. Much of the land resource
information we need we are putting together ourselves. In south
west Queensland, the Western Arid Region Land-Use Study was done by
DPI in the 1970s and 1980s. That provides quite accurate land
systems data. But in the Gulf Country, there is only the Gilbert
Leichhardt study, conducted in 1949. In the Barkly Tablelands,
there is a 1948 CSIRO study. Times change and people are managing
their lands a lot more critically. That broader landscape scale
information is not really there; at least not accurately.
Click here to go to the interview with
Peter Wellings, Assistant Secretary, Parks Australia North.