Incorporation of Practical Measures to Assist Conservation of Biodiversity Within Sustainable Beef Production in Northern Australia

Edited by Sue McIntyre, CSIRO Sustainable Ecosystems
Jointly funded by MLA, CSIRO and Environment Australia, October 2001
ISBN 1 74036 189 X

Appendix 5: Learning Module Pilot Workshop Report and Game Description

The following report was submitted to MLA in January 2000.


A major objective of Project NAP3.222 is to identify practical measures to conserve biodiversity, and to develop simple indicators that producers can use to continue to adapt and improve management. The need to proactively publicise and disseminate results to the industry and others concerned with natural resource management is also recognized in the goals. Milestone #10 of the project requires the completion of a draft learning module by 31/7/2000. At the annual peer review meeting, in October 1999, copies of the draft learning module 'Balancing Conservation and Production: Understanding and Using Landscape Thresholds in Property Planning' were distributed to Peter Loneragan, Judy Lambert, Phil Price and Annemarie Watt. Bringing forward this milestone has been the result of strong positive response to the material produced jointly with the Technical Reference Panel to identify appropriate land management practices for natural resource conservation, including biodiversity conservation.

The material in the module covers some fundamental ecological concepts and the broad property planning and management principles are described in a forthcoming publication produced by the University of Queensland. The manuscript has been widely distributed (in the order of 150-200 copies) and received favourable comment from scientific and extension networks alike. The material has also been piloted extensively amongst producers at six management panel meetings and several other field days and has had a generally positive reception. There has also been particularly strong interest from the extension community, driven by the lack of material on this topic, and the extra demand for it generated by the large number of Natural Heritage Trust projects in southern Queensland.

Evidence of the impact and relevance of the principles to the cattle industry are:

  1. Adoption by other programs of our concept of identifying land-use thresholds, and best-bet practices for landscape design and management. Warren Mason, co-ordinator of the temperate Sustainable Grazing Systems key program in MLA, is planning a one year exercise in which researchers and producers both engage in the process of pulling together and synthesising best-bet information for temperate grazing lands. This exercise has been inspired by the outputs of LWRRDC/EA CTC9 and MLA NAP3.222.
  2. The principles and thresholds (as articulated in the Learning Module and paper1) are currently being used to define the principles of 'Duty of Care' requirements for holders of leasehold land in Queensland under the Land Act 1994. They have been incorporated into the internally distributed State Land Practice Manual of the Department of Natural Resources.

In an environment where there has been a flush of resources for on-ground works (stimulated by the National Heritage Trust) and much debate and activity relating to vegetation clearing legislation, it is not surprising that information of the type generated by this project has attracted so much interest. Because if this, we have directed our priorities to making the information as widely available as possible, but at the same time trying to ensure that the material is delivered in an interactive environment, where there are opportunities to interpret and discuss issues with the potential users of the information.

Learning module scope and rationale

The Learning Module was designed to assist extension officers and others to communicate what is currently understood to be needed to maintain ecosystem health in grazing lands. The Module is intended to work at two levels, firstly as a direct source of visual aids and packaged concepts that are judged to be of relevance to landholders. Second, the Module is intended to speak to the deliverers of this material and provide a context for the delivery. The scientific rationale for the Module is described in McIntyre et al. in press. The technical content in this paper can be used to provide technical back up for users of the Module. At the workshops, the Module was presented in draft form to the participants. It comprised a 33 page black and white booklet and was accompanied by a set of 8 colour overheads depicting some of the key graphics from the draft Module.

The Workshops

Workshop aims

The aims of the one-day workshops were to:

  • Receive feedback on the draft module;
  • Introduce the module in a learning environment;
  • Discuss issues related to the communication of sustainability and biodiversity concepts;
  • Consider future actions and how the project might interact with other groups in the future.

Workshop interest

Interest in the workshops was overwhelming. We mailed out open invitations to 150 people on September 10th. Within three working days we had filled all the 50 planned places. We added a third workshop, and the final schedule was one in Bundaberg (Nov. 3rd) and two in Toowoomba (Nov. 4 and 5th). The third workshop was oversubscribed within a week and by the closing date, there were 117 people seeking 75 places. Workshops were filled strictly on a first-come-first-served basis. We understand the interest was even wider, but the knowledge that the sessions were already filled stopped some people approaching us. The workshop was aimed at extension officers, and others involved in the communication of natural resource management concepts e.g. catchment and landcare coordinators.

Workshop conduct

Participants were sent the Module booklets and feedback sheets for assessment several weeks prior to the meetings. At the workshop, these assessment sheets were collected, the information collated and a summary presented to the group at the end of the day, giving them the chance to further discuss or reinforce points.

The other major aim of the workshop was to present key elements of the module material and provide opportunities for discussion and questions. Material was presented by different members of the CSIRO team. A board game was devised for one session, as a means to illustrate the effects of habitat destruction on landscapes and to demonstrate the thresholds. By simulating the ability of different organisms to move across the landscape, the game is able to illustrate the rationale for setting the various minimum thresholds in the principles e.g. minimum 30% woodland cover, maximum 30% cropping or sown pasture. The results are clear cut, and similar results are obtained consistently within and between sessions.

The board-game session involved a presentation discussing why organisms need to move across landscapes and an explanation of the board-game rules. The participants then played the game, recording the effects of different amounts of habitats on landscape permeability. The results were then collated for the whole group, and discussed.

A further element of the workshop was to consider 'where to from here?' We wanted to determine what kinds of future activities might be most useful to assist the participants develop their understanding of landscape planning.

Workshop costs

The direct costs of running the three workshops (not including the development of the Module) were recorded and these included: the provision of workshop materials, travel for workshop presenters, catering for the three days and the costs of materials for the game. All up, the costs were approximately $8,500. However, about half of this total covered the costs of a professional facilitator, Geoff Watson (Orange Agricultural College, University of Sydney). We did not charge participants for registration, catering or workshop materials. We believe that providing a cost-free day was a major positive factor in encouraging attendance, as budgets are limited for many people, or need to be planned for in previous financial years.

The cost of printing 90 copies of the draft module (including a set of 8 overheads) was $1,685, or $18.70 per copy ($4.50 for booklet and $14.20 for overheads).


The Workshops

Ninety percent of the seventy-five participants filled out feedback sheets. The overall rating they gave the workshops was 8 out of a possible 10 points. Most respondents (86%) thought that there was an appropriate balance of discussions and presentations. There were suggestions for improvements, but few points were consistently iterated. There was some feeling that use of photographs in the presentations and/or a field component might have been useful.

The Game

The board game attracted particular interest and positive response, and was clearly successful in demonstrating some of the dramatic effects that vegetation clearing has on the animals and plants that depend on it for habitat. Participants rated the game, on average, 4.5 out of a possible 5. There were many suggestions that the game be further developed and made accessible to a wider audience, particularly producers, and a number of people have requested borrowing/making games for their own use.

In response to this positive feedback, a week later the game was subsequently introduced by Sue McIntyre to producers at a landcare meeting and was similarly well received. Game boards were also made available to an extension group in DNR to use in a workshop. However, they felt that they misjudged the timing of the information delivery during the session, and that this reduced the impact. Discussions on the outcome of this DNR trial confirmed our view that although the game can present a very powerful message to producers, it needs to be presented in the right context; some of the biology needs to be explained up front to give the rules meaning, and an interpretation session needs to be reasonably carefully facilitated at the end.

The module

Participants were sent a draft of the Module three weeks prior to the meetings and were asked to fill out feedback sheets prior to the workshop. These were collected and collated at the workshops, and summaries were presented to the participants at the end of the day for further discussion.

The aims as expressed on the Module feedback sheets were:

  • To provide a source book of ecological concepts to assist in the planning and preparation of extension activities;
  • To provide key words and concepts that are simply expressed, together with short clear explanations;
  • To provide material for use in extension activities (not as a full technical explanation of the background research)

We obtained 51 completed feedback sheets (70% return rate) and recorded the following results:

Questions relating to the module Respondents in overall agreement (Yes)
Are the module aims useful? 92%
Does the module achieve its aims? 82%
Is the writing style appropriate? 92%
Is the technical level appropriate? 80%

Positive comments on the Module

The following quotes were taken from the feedback sheets:

"The biggest plus is that you have some workable, on-ground guidelines which are gleaned from research based activities."

"The link has been made between extension staff (landholders) and scientists in an understandable form."

"A good concept and a well presented package."

"This is an exceptionally important and timely document. Congratulations and thank you."

"Excellent to have a whole property coverage of relevant ecological concepts and ideas for how to manage for these."

"A well written, easily understood booklet. A useful reference booklet for Resource Centre and for student research."

"A good basic module. Very well covered."

"Has great potential for use in school activities on resource management."

Suggestions for improvement of the Module

Although response to the module was overwhelmingly positive, a consistent request was for economic figures to support the ideas e.g.

'Apart from the legislation pathway, the only way you are going to sell this to the great majority of grazing land owners is to bring economics into the equation, and I don't think you have the figures to convince anyone.'

'Need to incorporate production benefits.'

'More examples on production side of the balance - case study examples.'

In the final version of the module, we intend to strengthen the economic aspects. However, our interpretation is that the type of economic arguments hoped for, are those that do not exist - i.e. that there are clear medium- and short-term financial benefits from implementation of the management thresholds. If this were the case, producers would not be tempted to over-clear and over-graze. The reality is, that the short-term implementation costs are considerable, and some of the benefits are to the broader society, not specifically to producers. Calculations of the long-term benefits are extremely tenuous and based on long chains of dubious assumption. However, it is intended to provide some additional selected examples of both short-term costs and long-term benefits.

Where to from here?

The team feels that immediacy of the issues makes the rapid availability of project outputs a high priority. There are many on-ground National Heritage Trust projects underway, and the imminence of land-clearing legislation will only increase the demand for information in the form of 'explanations'. This has influenced our views relating to the publication of information. Conventionally, we would expect to negotiate formal publication of a booklet as a next step. However, taking into account the demand for information, tempered by the need for it to be discussed in a learning environment, we suggest that the workshop format, with the module materials supplied as 'notes' will be the most effective one. Without the appropriate context, the information can have little, or negative impact, whether the clients are producers or extension personnel.

However, demand for the booklet far outstrips the number of places available in workshops, and will continue to do so. We feel that we cannot restrict its availability only to workshop participants, but that the cost of supplying unlimited numbers of printed copies for free could become a problem. The same issues apply to the provision of overheads.

We believe that we have tested the module sufficiently to justify the development of a final version. The feedback indicated that the module was about the right length and that the overheads supplied were of considerable value. In addition to the economic issues discussed in the previous section, there were specific editing changes provided by participants that will be responded to on a case by case basis. We plan to provide a list of references for background and further reading, at the end of the module. People were happy with the black-and white format, and we hope to improve photo quality through the use of grey-scale images.

There is still a un-met demand for workshops, as many people were turned away from the first round of workshops. Among the groups that did attend workshops, there was interest in follow-up workshops, and the team agrees that reinforcement of the concepts covered will be critical to getting effective outcomes.

1.1.1 Proposed actions

1. The learning module booklet be edited to a final version in January-March 2000 (ahead of our current timeline of July 2000).

2. A fourth and fifth workshop be conducted in March 2000 for participants who missed out in 1999. These workshops would be substantially the same, but using the final module rather than the draft.

3. The module and overheads be made available as a pdf file for people not attending the workshops.

4. A second round of workshops be held in November 2000, drawing from the group who attended the previous round, and further developing learning activities and communication issues.

5. Documentation of the board game, describing biological context, instructions for playing and instructions for making. This would be used as workshop notes and submitted for publication.

6. Further exploration of development possibilities for the board game.

The Landscape Game - How it works, what it means

"Tell me and I'll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I'll understand"

  • Adults have a relatively short attention span to a given activity when they are only receiving information. They need to be actively engaged in learning.
  • For these reasons the Landscape Game was devised as part of a workshop developed by members of the Grazed Landscape Management Project at CSIRO Tropical Agriculture to assist extension officers and others to communicate current understanding of what is required to maintain ecosystem health in grazing lands.
  • The game is about seeing the world from the point of view of the native plants and animals - how are they affected when their habitats are progressively cleared? If plants and animals cannot move across the landscape, they face very serious problems of survival; for them, the key issue is the degree to which habitat is connected.
  • The survival of native fauna and the health of native vegetation are linked. The health of native vegetation and the continued productivity of our rural lands are also linked. The issue of landscape connectivity is highly relevant to producers and land managers.

The game demonstrates:

  • Whether different organisms can move across the landscape with different amounts of habitat retention. Remember habitat is not always trees, it can be shrubs or grass tussocks. Every plant and animal varies in its ability to cross 'hostile' or cleared environments.
  • There are some simple geometrical features of landscapes. Most importantly, with 70% habitat cover, all organisms from that habitat type can cross the landscape without having to move through cleared land.
  • As habitat is progressively lost, plants and animals find it increasingly difficult to move through the landscape, especially those incapable of moving across cleared land.
  • There are thresholds, or critical amounts of habitat below which ecological function is seriously impaired for most plants and animals. There are reasons for setting landscape and property limits to various activities e.g. minimum 30% woodland cover, maximum 30% cropping or sown pasture.
  • That whole of landscape planning is important.

The game illustrates one source of evidence that we need to retain minimum amounts of native vegetation on landscapes. There are other sources of evidence, mostly derived from our observations of human effects on landscapes in 'real life' experiments. This knowledge has been brought together by the CSIRO Tropical Agriculture team to develop a package of landscape design principles and management thresholds.

Rules for Connectivity Game

The aim of the game is to see whether different organisms can move from any side of the board to beyond the opposite side.

  1. Start with 10 counters. Generate 10 random co-ordinates using the two dice and place one counter on each co-ordinate.
  2. Now ask:
Game illustration (i) Can a restricted organism move from any side of the board to its opposing side? restricted organisms cannot jump spaces and cannot move diagonally. An example of a restricted organism is Thesium a parasitic plant which needs to move from one plant to another.
Game illustration (ii) Can an intermediate organism move from any side of the board to its opposing side?
Intermediate organisms can not jump spaces but can move in any direction.
An example of an intermediate organism is Lycosa a wolf spider which needs to move from one grass tussock to another.
  (iii) Can a mobile organism move from any side of the board to its opposing side?
Mobile organisms can jump one space only in a cardinal direction (i.e. N, S, E, W) but can move in any direction.
An example of a mobile organism is the grey crowned babbler a woodland bird which can fly a short distance in open spaces.
  1. Enter result in table supplied. Use TICK for a successful crossing, and CROSS if unsuccessful.
  2. Add another 10 counters and repeat Step 1 from '...Generate 10 random numbers...'.
  3. Continue adding 10 counters and placing on 'dice-generated' co-ordinates until all (70) counters are on the board OR until all organisms can move across the board.

Make sure to enter results of each increase of 10 into the table.

If co-ordinate already has a counter in place, roll the dice again to choose a new co-ordinate.
Be consistent in which axis you use. You will have 2 coloured dice. Select one colour to use for the same axis throughout the game.