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Wheatbelt bushland protected forever

A patch of bush near the central Wheatbelt town of Cunderdin is the latest area of land in WA being protected under a conservation covenant.
It’s a similar story being played out across the region, as more and more landholders recognise the importance of preserving their native vegetation.
As a teenager in the late 1940’s, Rex Kennedy could see the value of this piece of bush, as more land continued to be opened up for farming.
“During this time about 15 per cent of the land on this farm was still considered arable, and hence was open to clearing,” he said.
“Many farmers had bought ex-army tanks that were going cheap after World War II and also used bull dozers to clear the bush.
“We also had the problem of rabbits decimating crops, so land holders were keen to see the bush cleared and their burrows destroyed.”
By the 1950’s Rex Kennedy began to witness the problem of soil erosion and salinity starting to encroach on surrounding farmland.
“I thought clearing this bush was only going to add to the problem,” he said.
His decision to sell his farm but retain this patch of native vegetation has delighted ecologists and conservationists alike.
“It continually changes from grass trees, to Salmon gums, York gum, White gum, mallee, jam trees and sheoak and many other varieties of plants and bushes,” Rex Kennedy said.
“In 1989 I got a letter from an ecologist who was driving past and noted at least 77 different species of plants, but I’m sure there’s even more than that.”
WWF- Australia’s Mike Griffiths has been working under a Wheatbelt NRM project with Rex and his wife Wendy Kennedy, to have the 32 hectares protected under a Department of Environment and Conservation covenant.
This bushland is one of very few in WA protected by two covenants, as it has been under a Department of Agriculture and Food covenant since 2003.
“This area, now known as Kennedy Reserve, has remained virtually untouched and is home to several rare species of flora,” Mike Griffiths said.
“These include the spiny column hakea, a species of wattle and a small spindly plant known only from a couple of Wheatbelt breakways.
“Wildlife is also abundant and includes dunnarts (carnivorous mouse-like marsupial) and the highly secretive painted button-quail.”
Mike Griffiths said while a conservation covenant protected the land from development, it also highlights the value of the bushland.
“Having high-quality protected bushland on a property is now seen more as an asset to potential buyers than a limitation, as was often the case in the past,” he said.
“People now understand more about the importance of sustainable farming and looking after the landscapes.
“When Rex and Wendy agreed to the covenant, they automatically qualified for assistance through Wheatbelt NRM and the Australian government’s Caring for our Country program.
“This included grants for fencing and the rehabilitation of a dirt track back to native vegetation.”
Conservation covenants were growing in popularity, with more than 16,000 hectares now protected from development in WA through this mechanism.
Sophie Moller is the nature conservation covenant coordinator with the Department of Environment and Conservation.
“I’ve been involved in the program since 2002 but it started in 1998,” Sophie Moller said.
“In that time we’ve gone from having no covenants to 135 registered, which involves 150 landholders or 186 separate land titles.
“Every covenant involves negotiation with the landholder, so the issues are different each time from a heavy weed burden through to concern over development.
“We have another 30 covenants in the pipeline, and there are more people out there who have looked after their bush land and want to see it protected in the future, and they’re looking for an ally or assistance to help them do that.”
In the meantime, at 78-years of age Rex Kennedy said he still had a bit more work to do on the block, including fencing.
“This has all been a bit accidental, but now I’m just happy that future generations will have an idea what this part of the Wheatbelt used to look like before it was cleared,” he said.