Cattleman Richard Ogilvie is a native vegetation plan pioneer, and there's some hope as the first landholder to clinch a clearing and set aside plan he'll lead the way to a new more 'sensible' era.
It's already had the effect of boosting the value of his property by 148 per cent with 81 hectares of native vegetation removed and replaced with new improved pasture for grazing, as well as mosaic thinning over about another 200ha, and in the set aside area 83ha of New England Peppermint woodland is preserved.
If he'd done the same thing in South Australia he might have been run out of town. "In South Australia you couldn't even look at a tree without getting a flogging," he says. The Ogilvies moved to the Northern Tablelands near Wongwibinda five years ago and run Poll Hereford cattle, trading as Te-Angie Poll Hereford Stud, on four properties covering 653ha.
Westwood is one of four properties run by Mr Ogilvie, his wife and two sons with 600 breeding cows, 1500 trade cattle and some sheep.
In NSW he says there is a win-win situation for farmers and the environment, without the hysteria over clearing.
"We were the first people to be given a plan through the Local Land Services in Inverell and it's been very beneficial," Mr Ogilvie said. "The value of the property has gone up 148 per cent. We put land into production that's never been in production before. We had to get set asides which wasn't hard to find as there is a lot of steep country that was just not feasible for ploughing or seeding. We've helped preserve the New England Peppermint woodland in the set asides.
"We're pretty happy with the legislation The laws in NSW are well and truly fair." He admits to some jealousy among his neighbours as he started clearing.
"The LLS looked after us from the start and showed us exactly where we could and couldn't clear. We've cleared 116ha so far. We have 100 cattle on that." He locked the gate to the property during the clearing process for security.
The Ogilvies have sown the new pasture with chicory, plantain, fescue (Tower), cocksfoot, phalaris, and red and white clover. The mixture will give them good late autumn to winter growth. He said this regime worked far better than native grasses on the Tablelands, where stocking rates have had to be reduced dramatically on native grass. The Ogilvies did the pasture improvements themselves but spent nearly $300,000 on fencing and timber clearing contractors.
He says he has a permit to do what he has done and if there was a change to the law he'd be very disappointed. "We have a permit and it's been held in good faith," he said. "We are very pleased with the Department and how it has all gone."
In South Australia you couldn't do any of this without getting a flogging. The laws in NSW are well and truly fair.Richard Ogilvie, cattle farmer and native vegetation plan manager
Under the previous NSW legislation, Mr Ogilvie would only have been able to undertake minor thinning of timbered areas and a small amount of clearing in areas that had a history of rotational vegetation management activities.
Local Land Services said by "implementing vegetation management under the Pasture expansion, Continuing Use and Equity parts of the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code 2017, approximately 385ha of Westwood will be managed for increased agricultural production and biodiversity outcomes".
"Mosaic thinning of woodland areas will occur on 200ha of the property to improve the grazing capacity of 133ha, with 67ha maintained as retention patches within the treatment area. Clearing 21ha of native vegetation for the purpose of continued rotational management of grazing land. To establish additional land for cropping and/or grazing, 81ha of native vegetation will be removed with 83ha of strategic landscape scale importance vegetation set aside for biodiversity."
A spokesperson from Local Land Services said landholders were taking advantage of the new opportunities since the Land Management Framework was introduced in August 2017.
"This includes land management options under the Land Management Code and private land conservation agreements under the Biodiversity Conservation Trust," the spokesperson said. "Local Land Services has helped nearly 900 landholders to use the Land Management Code, helping them progress long-held plans for their properties, employing more people in rural areas and making their future more sustainable.
"This has allowed landholders to better manage more than 45,000ha of land, set aside more than 23,000ha for conservation and manage more than 227,000ha to control invasive native species, bringing environments back to a more natural state. Local Land Services has also taken enquiries and provided advice to more than 4,100 landholders."
NSW Agriculture Minister Adam Marshall said that the development of the Land Management (Native Vegetation) Code was informed by a comprehensive consultation program involving over 1000 stakeholders.
"Despite some initial teething issues I'm delighted to see many landholders are now successfully advancing vegetation plans," Mr Marshall said.
"I'm deeply concerned by changes being proposed by Bill Shorten and Federal Labor. In my view these changes pose a direct threat to the agricultural sector in NSW. If enacted they could ultimately lock up swathes of previous and productive agricultural land and hurt our hard working farmers."