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Article << Previous     |     Next >>   Contents Vol 36(1)

Can changes to pasture management reduce runoff and sediment loss to the Great Barrier Reef? The results of a 10-year study in the Burdekin catchment, Australia

Rebecca Bartley A E, Jeff P. Corfield B, Aaron A. Hawdon C, Anne E. Kinsey-Henderson C, Brett N. Abbott C, Scott N. Wilkinson D and Rex J. Keen C

A CSIRO, Brisbane, Qld 4068, Australia.
B Corfield Consultants, Wulgura, Qld 4811, Australia.
C CSIRO, Townsville, Qld 4814, Australia.
D CSIRO, Acton, ACT 2601, Australia.
E Corresponding author. Email: rebecca.bartley@csiro.au

The Rangeland Journal 36(1) 67-84 http://dx.doi.org/10.1071/RJ13013
Submitted: 22 February 2013  Accepted: 15 November 2013   Published: 2 January 2014

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Excess sediments from agricultural areas are having a detrimental impact on the Great Barrier Reef, and threaten the long-term viability of rangeland grazing. Changes to grazing management have been promoted as a mechanism for reducing excess sediment loss from grazed rangelands. This paper summarises the results of a 10-year study (2002–11) on a property in the Burdekin catchment that investigated the role of reduced stocking rates and rotational wet season resting on hill-slope and catchment runoff and sediment yields. Ground cover and pasture biomass were evaluated using on-ground surveys and remote sensing. During this study, average ground cover increased from ~35 to ~80% but pasture biomass was low due to the dominance of Bothriochloa pertusa (77% of composition). The percentage of deep-rooted perennial species increased from ~7% of pasture composition in 2002 to ~15% in 2011. This is still considerably lower than the percentage that occupied this property in 1979 (~78%). The increased ground cover resulted in progressively lower hill-slope runoff coefficients for the first event in each wet season, but annual catchment runoff did not respond significantly to the increasing ground cover during the study. Hill-slope and catchment sediment concentrations did decline with the increased ground cover, yet catchment sediment yields increased proportionally to annual runoff due to the contribution of sub-surface (scald, gully and bank) erosion. This study has demonstrated that changes to grazing management can reduce sediment concentrations leaving B. pertusa-dominated pastures, as B. pertusa is an effective controller of surface erosion. To further reduce the runoff that is fuelling gully and bank erosion, the proportion of deep-rooted native perennial grasses needs to be increased. It is argued that more than 10 years will be required to restore healthy eco-hydrological function to these previously degraded and low productivity rangelands. Even longer timescales will be needed to meet current targets for water quality.

Additional keywords: eco-hydrology, erosion, grazing, Great Barrier Reef, land management, vegetation.


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