TREND delivers science for land-use planning

Delivering relevant and meaningful science for policy and decision-makers is vital to ensure effective land management in Australia. This can be a challenge, as scientific initiatives are not always driven by policy needs or clearly connected with policy-related priorities.

The Transects for Environmental Decision Making (TREND) Program, a member of the Transects sub-facility in TERN’s Multi-Scale Plot Network, is addressing this challenge head-on with its strong focus on delivering policy-relevant science for state and regional agencies in South Australia. TREND was established to integrate research into big scientific questions in South Australia’s terrestrial and marine ecosystems, agricultural areas and regional communities with policy translation to ensure research is able to inform community and government decision-making. TREND includes a number of transects across South Australia that traverse a range of land uses. By using space as a proxy for time, researchers can use the transects to investigate the effects of possible future climate scenarios on the South Australian landscape.

From its inception, TREND has worked closely with local stakeholders including local natural resource management boards, the Department of Environment, Water and Natural Resources (DEWNR), Primary Industries and Regions SA (PIRSA) and farmer groups. At workshops with researchers, stakeholders identified issues of critical importance that the TREND teams have used to inform the structure of their research and monitoring projects.

One of the programs arising from this process is TREND’s Terrestrial Primary Production theme, which is considering the impacts of future climate scenarios on dryland grain and irrigated wine grape production in South Australia. TREND is investigating the vulnerability of agricultural production across regions and industries, and the vulnerability of regions and industries to environmental degradation risks such as wind and water erosion. This work connects directly with policy issues around land-use planning across a range of economically important regions in SA, including the Adelaide Hills, Barossa Valley, and Eyre Peninsula.  

Dr Peter Hayman, the Principal Scientist in Climate Applications with the South Australian Research and Development Institute (SARDI) and the leader of the Primary Production Theme, commented that both farmers and policy makers were concerned about the drier edge of the grains belt, which in SA is associated with Goyder’s Line.

‘In any system that is changing, the edges are interesting. In South Australia, Goyder’s Line has long been recognised as the “edge” or boundary for agricultural regions, dating back to the 1860s,’ Peter says.

Outputs from TREND, including measurements of crop development, modelling of production risk under different climate scenarios, and modelling on shifts of Goyder’s Line, are already in the hands of state agencies, which can now use this information in the development of land-use policy. This is being combined with work undertaken by the TREND Human Dimensions group on the vulnerability of rural communities, to provide a synthesis to planners on the environmental, economic and social issues facing regional areas for the first time.

In addition to assessing impacts of future climates, TREND is seen as a valuable opportunity to explore possible adaptations to future climates: it is investigating approaches already in use in warmer, drier regions. As Peter says, ‘As we look at the effects of future changes, one of the complexities we have to consider is that in managed systems like agriculture, farmers can use technology to adapt to aspects of climate change. This means that a changing climate presents both challenges and opportunities. The TREND project is investigating both impacts but also adaptation options.’

The TREND program incorporates a number of transects across South Australia that traverse a range of land uses including bushland, farmland, social and marine environments.

Published in TERN e-Newsletter August 2012

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