I expect that like me, you have been enjoying the enhanced kaleidoscope of colours on our trees this autumn, brought about by unusually warm days and cooler nights. This has led me to reflect on trees in our countryside. When you really look, you will notice that they are all of a similar age cohort – they are elderly, and they are disappearing.
There was obviously a bit of a flurry of tree planting to ameliorate the early depredations of bush clearances and to bring a bit of colour into the landscape using deciduous trees and shrubs, but not much since. Hence our landscape and farmland trees, some of which may have survived the bush clearances, are now reaching senescence (deterioration) and are being inexorably removed from the landscape. This also applies to the big macrocarpas and eucalypts that were popular countryside trees of early settler days.
This continued loss of shade and shelter for livestock on our rural lands is of concern, especially at a time when the climate is becoming more intemperate, with wider temperature ranges, more unpredictability and volatility, meaning hotter and stormier. It is well documented that livestock require a moderate temperate range for animal welfare and productivity and that outside of these ranges, thermal stress has major impacts on their health and wellbeing. Anyone who works with livestock, or who is observant, will notice that on hot sunny days, stock will already be under the shade by early morning, and only choose to come out to graze during cooler times of the day, or often at night. Both Beef+Lamb NZ and DairyNZ have excellent factsheets available on their websites about trees for shade and other uses, and about the why, what and how of planting.
Certainly as farmers we’re all flat out doing our long daily routines to just keep afloat and keep everything ticking over. But we do need to try to find the headspace to also keep an eye to the future for infrastructure like our trees, which are equally important for productivity, but which require some planning and forward thinking to make sure they’re not lost as crucial landscape elements before we’ve even noticed. They take a while to grow to contribute to the pastoral programme, so a rolling planting plan is a great way to make sure they’re still there when we need them. With winter coming on, now is a great time to start and doing a little bit each year won’t break the bank. One useful tip to maximise the effectiveness of your planting is to target the north-western boundaries of your paddocks, especially corners and areas easier to fence off. This means shade and shelter will become available to stock for the hottest parts of the day as the sun circles east to west in a northerly arc.
A recent study has shown that because sheep and beef farms contain about 25 per cent of the remaining native vegetation in New Zealand, and cover 40 per cent of our land area, they make a major contribution to our remaining natural biodiversity. Therefore, all of our contributions have an important role to play.