Australia’s erosion control landscape is very broad although factors that contribute to erosion in an Australian context are not dissimilar to those experienced in other parts of the world. Globally, erosion is known as one of the major land degradation challenges with different schools of thought and approaches having revived interest on its effects on sustainability. The United Nations has come out strongly to state that soil erosion must be stopped ‘to save our future’ with the World Bank supporting more no-till agriculture amongst its many initiatives to spread the message of soil erosion control and prevention. About a decade ago a report commissioned by the Australian Government Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (DAFF) prescribed the need to monitor soil resources over the long term in order to assess soil condition, prioritize government investments, and demonstrate the synergy between improved land management practices and soil erosion. This article will address erosion control in Australia from a historical to current perspective giving the different erosion control policies that have been implemented and consolidated with how Global Road Technology as an Australian company has actively participated in the erosion control space through its cutting-edge solutions. 

An agricultural context

Our discussion will take an agricultural context in Australia where much of the topsoil layer is thin and crop productivity is considered much more sensitive. Research has shown that increased sediment delivery to sensitive aquatic ecosystems results in soil loss with examples of the increased sediment input to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon having caused disastrous effects. Globally, agriculture has contributed to increased contemporary erosion rates by one or two orders of magnitude. Another factor to consider with erosion control in the Australian context is vegetative cover, it is envisaged that loss of vegetation associated with the introduction of livestock grazing and agricultural land use has been the main cause of excessive erosion rates in post-European time. Gully erosion and riverbank erosion have been attributed to loss of vegetation cover with statistics showing that contemporary rates of hillslope soil erosion have been forecasted to contribute close to 40% of the total sediment delivered to Australian river systems. 

Policy evolution

The critical question then becomes how have Australian policies evolved over time to mitigate the effects of soil erosion especially in an era were the effects of climate changes have become much clearer than ever. There is no escaping from climate change and in order to understand how policy could adapt and be ready for the futuristic picture of erosion control it is also critical to embrace the timeline of reforms that happened historically. In the 1930s concerns about soil erosion and its impact on agricultural land was key to the first Australian initiatives in soil conversation and since then almost 90 years on there have been a number of land management programs focused on erosion control and other land degradation mitigatory measures. Currently, the “Caring for our Country” initiative is the Australian governments flagship program for funding better management of the natural environment and productive agricultural lands across the continent. The design, implementation and evaluation of the “Caring for our Country” programs is based on the following critical questions:

Are environmental regulations, health and safety concerns or potential profit loss a concern right now?

  • Where should we invest to have maximum impact?
  • How can we assess return on investment?

The intended outcomes of the initiative do highlight the importance of focusing on outcomes for terrestrial and coastal environments and aquatic habitats which include medium term 5 year period and long term 20 year period with the intention to:

  • Reverse the impact of threats from sediments and nutrients 
  • Improve water quality and aquatic health of the Great Barrier Reef lagoon and Ramsar wetlands 
  • Facilitate the uptake of sustainable farming and land management practices that deliver improved ecosystem services by at least 30% of the farmers in Australia 

A finite resource

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The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Post-2015 Development Agenda reiterate land and soils as constitutive of the sustainable agricultural development, essential ecosystem functions and food security. Soil is non-renewable and its loss is non recoverable within a human life span yet unfortunately it is the most overlooked natural resource. As part of the sustainable development goals the approach to soil degradation has adopted an honest view of considering it as a real and escalating threat stemming from unsustainable land uses and management practices and climate extremes resulting from various social, economic and governance drivers. The state of affairs given the current rate of soil degradation poses a great threat to future generations and only maximum effort to implement sustainable management can reverse the trend as all soils are at risk which worsens the crisis in agriculture, food security and provision for ecosystem services. 

Australia is not exempt from this threat and already the unfortunate post millennium drought and recurring bushfires have accelerated the need for erosion control. Hence sustainability has emerged as a central point in the environmental policy in Australia and in the Australian State of the Environment report, water-borne hillslope erosion rates have now been adopted as indicators of agricultural sustainability. Erosion control in Australia has also been driven by parallel initiatives associated with environmental risk assessments which have been drafted into frameworks for managing natural and man-made hazards and risks. The requirement has been identification and quantification of hazards and risks and their consequences which is meant to narrow down policy choices for interventions whilst prioritizing and focusing on investment. Environmental risk assessment approach identifies areas vulnerable to erosion which helps target regions and territories that require investment in land management practices or waterway rehabilitation. The choice becomes opting for more cost-effective measures to prevent erosion in vulnerable areas as opposed to rehabilitation in already eroded areas. Ultimately both approaches help in choice of mitigatory measures and determining what is tolerable soil erosion from an erosion control perspective.  

Australian solutions for global issues

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Global Road Technology offers erosion and sediment control solutions that cater for parameters such as vegetation cover, rainfall, evaporation, pedology, soil moisture and surface crusting. The proudly Australian company provides innovative solutions for erosion and sediment control through applications of polymer technology and the products that are non-toxic and environmentally friendly. GRT Enviro-Binder provides immediate protection from erosion and also allows proliferation of greater vegetative cover that translates to lower erodibility, its waterproof nature allows for soil moisture to be maintained which is important for plant growth as exposure to evaporation rates higher than precipitation rates result in soil erosion. Similarly, although from a different chemical basis, GRT: Soil-Loc provides the ability to penetrate and form a top layer of interconnected polymeric and soil units, allowing for soil cohesiveness with benefits of increased hygroscopic water in the soil which makes soil greater interparticle attraction therefore increasing soil resistance to erosion. This product has great potential to protect vulnerable soils, worldwide. Overall, the onus is on government, major stakeholders such as GRT and the Australian people at large to learn and build from what was done in the past, what is being done presently in preparation for what is to be done in the future for the success of erosion control in Australia. 

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REFERENCES 

  • Beavis, S.G. 2000. Structural controls on the orientation of erosion gullies in mid-western New South Wales, Australia. Geomorphology. 33. 59-72. 
  • Bull, E.N., Hancock, G.J., and Wilkinson, S.N. 2011. Tolerable hillslope erosion rates in Australia: Linking science and policy. Agriculture, Ecosystems and Environment. 144. 136-149.  
  • Food an Agricultural Organization. 2020. FAO and the Post-2015 Development Agenda. Retrieved 22/11/20. 
  • Kennedy, A., Gillen, J., Keetch, B., Creaser, C., and the Mutitjulu Community. 2001. Gully erosion control at Kantju Gorge, Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, central Australia. Ecological Management & Restoration. 2:1. 1-11. 
  • Teng, H., Rossel, R.A.V., Shi, Z., Behrens, T., Chappell, A., and Bui, E. 2016. Assimilating satellite imagery and visible-near infrared spectroscopy to model and map soil loss by water erosion in Australia. Environmental Modelling & Software. 77. 156-167.
  • Truong, P.N.V., and Loch, R. 2004. Vetiver System for Erosion and Sediment Control. 13th International Soil Conservation Organization Conference- Brisbane. 1-6. 
  • Webb, N.P., McGowan, H.A., Phinn, S.R., and McTainsh, G.H. 2006. AUSLEM (AUStralian Land Erodibility Model): A tool for identifying wind erosion hazard in Australia. Geomorphology. 78. 179-200.
  • Yang, X. 2020. State and trends of hillslope erosion across New South Wales, Australia. Catena. 186:104361. 1-9.