Reflections on Landcare:

Bill Pigott April 2018 … … a personal perspective from a Landcare Elder

Landcare is a relationship, a process and a community.

Landcare as a relationship:
• A relationship/partnership which enables and fosters the process of working together, to exercise a duty of care for the space we occupy in the land on which we live, the farm that we farm, with a view to leaving it in a better state, sustaining it for the next generation; practising stewardship on behalf of those who follow us.
• A challenge is to recognise this in awards; not to focus on projects and plantings, although these are activities which occur within that relationship and are part of that process.
• The challenge is to not only measure what matters, but reward what matters.

Landcare as a process:
• a process of community engagement, capacity building, self- support, communication and knowledge sharing, a process that builds social capital, creates community level support and NRM/sustainable farming outcomes.
• A process which depends on communication, networking and knowledge sharing to foster a capacity to support each other
• A process in which Networks support their member groups and vice versa, and Networks support their peak bodies and vice versa.
• Establishing and maintaining a process of effective communication and consultation is a key aspect of this process, which allows the voice of grass roots Landcare to be heard, understood and responded to. It is vital in my view, that this process is seen by grass roots Landcarers to be in place and taken seriously. (In other words, experienced by them.)

Landcare as a community
• The greatest strength of the Landcare movement is its voluntary nature and the way in which, historically, Landcare associations, networks, peak bodies and organisations have been set up to build the capacity of members to be active members of that community and to contribute to the work of the whole Landcare community.
• Another great strength of the Landcare movement is its incredible variability and with this comes a degree of messiness that would not be tolerated in the corporate sector, but which in itself is a real strength in a community setting.
• A favourite quote from Wendell Berry : “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.”
• Another favourite quote: The expanding power of collective achievement: “The capacity for sharing and collaboration that inflate the boundaries of the possible.” -Chris Kutarna

Landcare’s Immense Diversity
Landcare and its achievements over the last 30 years represent a huge diversity of approach and consequence.

This diversity means there is no one model for Landcare – diversity of groups, diversity of effects, diversity of impact, but all characterised by a strongly volunteer and ‘can-do’ approach.

This diversity means that Landcare is essentially a very messy organisation. The challenge therefore is to find ways of seeing this messiness as a virtue, and a strength, and use it to build resilience and vitality. Governments have changed, funding models have changed, circumstances have changed, but Landcare has continued to grow and consolidate.

The Australian Framework for Landcare, created with widespread involvement of the whole Landcare community, was developed to support the resilience and growth of the Landcare movement. It remains valid but seems not to be used as a basic reference point. The Framework sets out the Landcare approach in Australia and the achievements to date. It also provides a vision as aspirations for the future.  

“The Landcare approach comprises:
 a philosophy, influencing the way people live in the landscape while caring for the land – the Landcare ethic
 local community action putting the philosophy into practice – the Landcare movement founded on stewardship and volunteers
 a range of knowledge generation, sharing and support mechanisms including groups, networks from district to national levels, facilitators and coordinators, government and non-government programs and partnerships – the Landcare model.”

• It is important that all members of that Landcare community to uphold the values inherent in the approach.

Supporting Landcare
• Who cares? – who comes? – who covers costs? – who supports? – who tells the story? – who leads? – who benefits? A huge number of individuals, groups and organisations, work together to support each other.
• The Landcarers do things, and the Landcare entities, the associations, the networks and other bodies, enable them to do so, playing a most important role in building capacity within the Landcare community.
• Over the last 30 years, a number of entities have come into being to support and nurture, both the relationship and the process. Such Landcare entities were not set up to replace the activities of grass roots Landcarers, but to support and strengthen them.
• The challenge for these entities is to avoid doing what the community itself should be doing. They, Landcare Australia Limited, the National Landcare Network, State and Regional Landcare Networks and Regional NRM Bodies should not be doing the things that they have been created to support Landcarers to do. At least they should try to avoid doing so where possible.
• Another challenge is to avoid competing with each other, and to work together with the grassroots community, which is where the strength of Landcare lies, providing leadership and supporting cooperation, collaboration, teamwork, mutual support and reciprocity.
• Carrying out a support function or facilitation role can itself be a real challenge. It is often easier, quicker, tidier and more efficient, for staffers or their Landcare organisations, to do the work, to run the activity. However, in doing so, they run the risk of disenfranchising their members, the very people for whom they have been created as Landcare entities/organisations to support.
• Some basic documents remain valid, such as the Australian Framework for Landcare, and the GDH Report “The Multiple Benefits of Landcare and Natural Resource Management“ (released in 2013, still not widely or generally recognised or appreciated)
• I believe we need to do some “skill mapping”, to identify what people are good at , their talents and strengths. This would enable us to get people to do what they do best. This would be helped by adopting the Asset Based Community Development (ABCD) model in which the focus is on what you have, the assets and the strengths, rather than on what is missing.
o For the Landcare Community, by far the greatest asset is the community itself, the people, the groups, the networks and the support entities.

Lessons I have learned: I look back on my own 15 or so years of active participation in the Landcare community and observe a number of significant lessons.

o the consequences of withdrawing support
o the high economic value of volunteer input and the opportunity costs of any failure to support and invest in the volunteer sector
o health benefits of contact with nature
o the value of social support in times of drought and other hardship
o ageing volunteers provide an opportunity for creating mentoring and utilising the role of elders within the Landcare community.
o importance of networks.

• volunteers significantly contribute to the achievement of biodiversity outcomes and to maintaining and enhancing support for the volunteers will be good for those outcomes.
• activities that are beginning to flourish, such as community nurseries, corridor/connectivity conservation, private conservation, “paper roads” projects, all represent changes in the Landcare agenda.
• Landcare groups do broker partnerships to address biodiversity issues.

Landcare as capacity building:
• importance of capacity building and nurturing.
• maintaining the capacity:
o to be self sustaining at each level
o to be mutually supportive- supporting each other
o for renewal and succession planning
o for leading each other by example and inclusion
o to maintain perspective when things change, when facing adversity.

Landcare exemplifying inclusiveness:
• Inclusiveness, practiced proactively at all levels, by all entities.
• some people only joined to do weeding and we should accept that.

The Voluntary/Not for Profit Nature of Landcare, a “Third Sector” entity
• I believe there should be more attention to “talking up” the volunteer and ‘Not-for-Profit’ aspect of Landcare, including the enormity of the asset that volunteer numbers, volunteer hours and the economic value of such input represents.

What I have learnt is that Landcare is a Community, with a unique voice, a can-do approach and amazing diversity.

I share with you a wonderful definition by American conservationist and writer Wendell Berry, an ‘elder’ : “A community is the mental and spiritual condition of knowing that the place is shared, and that the people who share the place define and limit the possibilities of each other’s lives. It is the knowledge that people have of each other, their concern for each other, their trust in each other, the freedom with which they come and go among themselves.” ― Wendell Berry , from The Long-Legged House (1969), “The Loss of the Future”.

The other thing I have learned is that Landcare represents “Collective Achievement”. A quote from Chris Kutarna and Ian Goldin reflects this: “humanity’s expanding powers of collective achievement: our new, disruptive capacity for sharing and collaboration that inflates the boundaries of the possible” —- Age of Discovery: Navigating the Risks and Rewards of Our New Renaissance By: Ian Goldin and Chris Kutarna.

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