Sixth-generation Southern Tablelands farmer transforms property after planting 80,000 trees

By the time Vinnie Heffernan took over his family’s sheep farm, the sixth generation, almost all of the native vegetation had been cleared for farming.

A few decades later, Heffernan has planted nearly 80,000 trees and shrubs on his sheep property near Yass in the Southern Tablelands of New South Wales to restore the environment to its pre-colonial state.

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“This landscape has changed since before 1788 and we can’t turn back the clock and do that, but what we can do is build biodiversity,” he said.

Mr Heffernan said he hoped by planting trees he would leave the land in better condition than he found it.

“I’ve heard people say that before and they think putting up a new fence or a set of stockyards or a shearing shed will leave it in better shape,” he said.

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“This is the land that is mine, but I have a responsibility to look after the land and if you own something, you must see that it is well looked after.”

A child planting a tree in the ground
More than 1,500 trees were planted on Mr Heffernan’s property by 70 volunteers.(ABC Rural: Hamish Cole)

By planting native vegetation, his farm is better positioned to deal with the challenges of climate change, Mr Heffernan said.

“If I have better biodiversity, I have an ecosystem that is more resilient. It will handle whatever climate change throws at it,” he said.

“It will handle fires, floods and droughts much better than an ecosystem that could collapse.”

Future generations involved

Since taking over the farm, Mr. Heffernan and his family have done most of the tree planting.

Two small children with shovels in a field
Ana Callaghan (left), 9, and her friend Nora were among a dozen children born to French Cub Scouts from Canberra.(ABC Rural: Hamish Cole)

That all changed recently, however, when more than 70 people traveled from Canberra to help him plant more than 1,500 trees.

Nine-year-old Ana Callaghan of the French Cub Scouts said she wanted to get involved to help wildlife affected by the 2019-20 bushfires.

“We wanted to plant more trees for koalas because the bushfires burned down a lot of them,” she said.

“Koalas are native and unique and if they go extinct in Australia they will be gone forever.”

Tips for protecting wildlife

Ecologist Danielle Binder said it would take decades for the trees to reach full size, but their impact on habitat would be immediate.

“It will be a long time before our entire fauna benefits from it, but there are studies that suggest it’s already having some benefits for birds and reptiles,” she said.

“Protecting quality habitats is a really important part of ensuring we continue to protect biodiversity in the future.”

A young woman in an akubra stands in front of some trees
Ecologist Danielle Binder says planting trees supports a variety of native species.(ABC Rural: Hamish Cole)

Ms Binder said there are a number of strategies farmers could employ when planting trees to increase their effectiveness in protecting native wildlife.

“If you’re planting near established trees that already exist, if you’re planting in an environment where there are waterways and building from there, that’s a really good way to encourage biodiversity,” she said.

“The bigger the better. The more trees you plant, the more benefits there will be for the animals around.”

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