An Interview Down Under

Jeroen van Veen is our Operations Manager down under in Australia. We chatted to him to dig a little deeper into the work he does over there for Land Life, how he sees the future of Land Life’s presence and why it is pivotal that we act now in restoring Australian land. 

Hi Jeroen, can you tell us a little bit about yourself?

My name is Jeroen, I’m the representative of Land Life in Australia and I am in charge of making sure projects get started and come to completion, planting lots of trees, reconnecting the landscape and restoring the biodiversity values in Australia

What is Land Life doing in Australia?

Land Life is working with local partners to gain access to degraded land, so that we can put the native bush back in. Land Life invests in reforestation projects, bringing in science and technology to our plantings, and our local partners implement the projects. Our local partners are very experienced in this, so we are not going in with a European perspective, but using local knowledge to navigate how we restore. We support our local partners in putting the trees back in the ground and restoring the land so the native species can thrive and move between the different areas of landscape and cope with the onslaught of climate change. 


What impact have our projects in Australia had so far?

We’ve done five projects so far, one smaller, a 50-hectare project to test the water. That’s going really well. Bush Heritage Australia has bought that land to include in their national reserve system to protect it fully. Native bush is growing back and already I have seen some reptiles and birds that weren’t there before, so already the positive impact on the ecosystem restoration is visible. 

In the second project, Morrl Morrl, we increased a public land reserve by about two-thirds. We did this in collaboration with the local rangers in Victoria. The impact we are getting there is that that block of land was leaking a lot of soil into the river systems. Our trees are holding that soil together better already. The erosion of this land has slowed, the sedimentation that comes off that property has decreased significantly and the health of the river has improved somewhat. We’ve already seen quite a number of bird species using that patch of restored vegetation and it is producing nectar already, so the first signs that it functioning as an ecosystem are there. 

Last year we planted out the largest project that we have done so far, Moolangundi in New South Wales, where we have planted 600 hectares of vegetation type that is threatened at a national level; the inland slope grassy woodland type of vegetation. We planted lots of trees, 90 % of which involved putting seed in the ground and the other 10% was planting young trees. These have a listing at the federal level including Grey Box Eucalypt, Yellow Box Eucalypt, Blakeley’s Red Gum and White Box Eucalypt. Among other species, we plant a lot of eucalyptus-type trees. Putting 600 hectares of that back is just fantastic and it has been noticed by our colleagues at other environmental organizations in Australia. We are making a local impact ecologically but also an impact on the environmental community in Australia so doors are opening up for us to do more of this work. 

What are the biggest risks and challenges for Land Life reforestation projects in Australia for 2022?

Well, so far we have only really worked in Victoria and New South Wales. Obviously, there are all these other states that we can expand into; Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania would be the main ones we would like to do projects in. Also, New Zealand has lots of land that need restoration. We haven’t actually yet worked on Aboriginal-controlled land and there are lots of lands that have come under indigenous control where there are restoration needs. So there are a lot of opportunities and lots of land that we can help to restore in both Australia and New Zealand. The need is there, the opportunities are there, and we definitely want projects in all the states I just mentioned, so we are working on new partnerships and looking for new partners in those areas. We like to see increases and upscaling on all fronts and the great thing about this is that the forest type in Australia are all hardwood forests, so they are incredibly carbon-dense systems. We not only score incredible gains at the biodiversity level but also will see a huge impact on the overall CO2 levels in the atmosphere. Every forest we plant is a carbon sink.

Why is it urgent to reforest Australia now?

The impacts of climate change are happening now, the biodiversity levels are declining and it is urgent that we intervene now. If we don’t, we are going to see species that are unique to the world disappear. Australia’s biodiversity is mainly endemic, meaning it exists only in Australia.  Some 8-10% of all plants and animals in the world exist only on this continent. That means if species are lost in Australia, then they are extinct globally. Humanity needs to look after biodiversity values worldwide and this important worldwide move will be greatly assisted by looking after Australia. For all of us that is significant, not only for Australia. That’s why we need to work now and why Land Life is planting more hectares and more trees every year.