The old men provide a remnant link to the pre-cleared past and continue
to provide ecological functions of one sort or another ...
The end is nigh for old men in a sea of wheat
By James Woodford, Environment Reporter
The solitary paddock tree - the giant eucalypt providing shelter for a
huddled mob of sheep or surrounded by field of wheat - is a familiar
sight on a drive through the bush.
But it could one day be a mere memory, with a NSW National Parks and
Wildlife Service project officer, Phil Gibbons, warning that, unless
action is taken, these survivors of two centuries of land clearing will
die of old age, disease and neglect.
Because nearly every seedling that grows at their bases is grazed by
cattle and sheep or ploughed under for monocultures, the trees will not
It is predicted that all these elderly specimens will be gone in 40 to
Dr Gibbons and his colleague, Miles Boak, also found that in parts of
NSW more than 50 per cent of some vegetation groups comprised remnant
patches of trees covering less than a hectare.
"These trees are the relics of what was left after European settlement,"
Dr Gibbons said. "But a lot of these trees are reaching the end of their
life span and this process is being accelerated by increasing rates of
The parks service, Greening Australia and the Department of Land and
Water Conservation have launched a program to raise awareness of the
importance of paddock trees and to encourage farmers to fence remnants
from stock so that seeds can grow.
To survive grazing pressure, juvenile gum trees need to be protected
from stock until they are at least two metres tall.
Farmers are also being asked to allow debris from paddock trees to
remain on the ground as habitat for birds, bats and lizards, to control
the spread of weeds and to avoid fertilisers and herbicides near
"Paddock trees are quintessentially Australian," Dr Gibbons said,
although the values of isolated trees in paddocks were more than simply
Because many were so old, they were riddled with hollows that made them
perfect as nest sites for birds, mammals and reptiles. They provided
stepping stones between one remnant tree and other patches of bush, and
helped reduce salinity by absorbing large volumes of water.
The vertebrates that lived in a big old gum tree could also help control
pest species that plagued farmers.
And paddock trees were vital for stock, Dr Gibbons said, helping to
protect grazing animals from extremes of hot and cold.
"They are a bunch of old trees and they look fantastic, but where are
the young ones to replace them?"
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