Owners buy land for agriculture and conservation at Fernleigh

With its rich black basalt soil and extensive groundwater resources, the Liverpool Plains on Gamilaroi Country in north-west NSW is home to some of the most productive agricultural land in Australia and some of the most vulnerable ecological communities.   


Fernleigh, owned by Malcolm Coleman, is 1165 hectares of productive grazing land and critically endangered box gum woodland at the foothills of Coolah Tops where the Liverpool Plains opens out.  

When the family bought the property two years ago it came with an established NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust (BCT) conservation agreement and annual payments to manage critically endangered white box grassy woodlands alongside the property’s agricultural production. 

Mr Coleman said a long-held interest in regenerative farming was foremost in his mind when he bought Fernleigh through the BCT’s Revolving Fund program. The Revolving Fund allows the BCT to buy a a property with important habitat and protect it with a conservation agreement; selling the property on to interested landholders willing to manage the vegetation for its biodiversity. Proceeds from property sales are used to purchase more properties with high conservation value. 

"Having the biodiversity conservation agreement attached to the property was something that fascinated me because we could carry out our regenerative farming practices on the 1000 acres of good pasture country here at Fernleigh and also be more involved in understanding the biodiversity,” Mr Coleman said.   

“The clever thing about having a conservation agreement is it will allow you to graze your agricultural land at certain times of the year. That means it's not a complete lockup and yet you also get recompensed for when you can't do it.” 

Mr Coleman said their biggest task in the first year of the agreement was to set up the boundary fence between the conservation agreement and the pasture.  

“In terms of the grazing side of things, it's not too onerous,” he said.  

“Under our specific agreement we need to keep a diary of when animals go in and when animals go out.  

“At Fernleigh we have a 10-week grazing period over winter. In addition to that, should the biomass support it, we can seek to graze it at other times.” 

NSW Landcare ecologist David Carr said the conservation agreement at Fernleigh protected a large area of white box grassy woodland, a critically endangered ecological community. 

"The regent honeyeater is a bird that used to live here in flocks of tens of thousands and it depended on these grassy woodlands,” Mr Carr said.  

“Those regent honeyeaters are almost extinct because of the extent of clearing of the grassy woodlands throughout the region,” he said.   

"It’s important this conservation work is being done by a farmer in a production system. It's a really exciting thing and the only way we are going get a lot of these areas protected.”   

Mr Coleman and his family enjoy seeing their land recovering from years of clearing and grazing and said they looked forward to balancing agricultural production with conservation outcomes. 


This video was created in partnership with Landcare NSW and North West Landcarers group, under the Partnering in Private Land Conservation Program.