The importance of paddock trees

Rebecca Klomp, Land Services Officer.

Paddock trees are those large, old, lonesome trees branching out over the paddock providing shade on a hot day. They are a common feature across the local landscape and are often hundreds of years old, relics of the original woodlands and forests that once covered these landscapes.

Key points:

  • Paddock trees can take hundreds of years to mature to the point where they can provide nesting hollows for wildlife
  • Paddock trees are vital biodiversity links across the landscape
  • Paddock trees are vulnerable to many common farming practices
  • You need to look after your existing paddock trees and plan for future ones.

It is important to maintain and restore paddock trees as they play a very important role in farm productivity and landscape biodiversity. They provide shade and shelter for livestock from the hot sun and cold winds, reducing the amount of stress experienced by livestock. This allows the livestock to dedicate less energy to self-maintenance, this preservation of energy can result in improved farm productivity. Paddock trees also improve soil structure and quality as wind and erosion is reduced and soil fertility improves as leaf litter decomposes. These trees have been shown to increase water infiltration in soils helping to retain moisture in the landscape. Paddock trees are also associated with an increase in the abundance and diversity of insect pollinators and natural pest control agents.

Paddock trees often represent the last remaining remnants of previously widespread vegetation. They are usually very large, old trees, and because of this have valuable habitat features such as tree hollows and large canopies that can take centuries to form. These large ancient trees often have cracks and crevices providing further habitat for small mammals and reptiles. Paddock trees help facilitate the movement of wildlife across the landscape, they act as stepping-stones, increasing the opportunity for wildlife to disperse across the landscape. This increased connectivity encourages biodiversity across the landscape.

Unfortunately, despite being such an important resource and typically the oldest living structures in the landscape, paddock trees are under threat. With lack of regeneration of these trees over the past 200 years, there are few medium to large trees to take their place. The rate of loss of these trees are associated with multiple factors associated with being in a lonely paddock environment, including:

  • Increased nutrient loads from fertilisers and stock camps making the trees more susceptible to insect attack and drought stress
  • Ploughing and stock camping, causing damage to the root zone, weakening the tree
  • Spray drift also weakens the paddock trees over time, inviting insect attack and rot
  • Changes in hydrology and drought can also contribute to the loss of these trees in the landscape.

There are many actions farmers and landholders can take to help maintain and protect paddock trees:

  • Identify the main threats and manage for them. E.g. Avoid herbicide spray drift, fertillisers and ploughing near to paddock trees
  • Think about resting paddocks to allow time for trees to recovery or by setting aside a paddock for longer to promote regeneration of trees
  • Consider reducing or removing stock pressure directly under trees.

We can plant more paddock trees, but they will take hundreds of years to develop to the size and structure of the giant paddock trees we see today. We should protect our existing paddock trees by incorporating them into a tree planting blocks or lanes which will allow a larger buffer when ploughing, spraying and fertillising and give them a change to produce offspring and form natural regeneration.

For more information about how to protect your existing, or plan your future, paddock trees, contact your nearest Local Land Services office on 1300 795 299.

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