Why going camping could be the answer to your lockdown holiday woes



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Carol Southall, Staffordshire University

For many of us, the forced confinement of lockdown has reiterated the importance of being out and about in nature – along with the benefits it can bring.

So as the UK begins to reopen, it’s likely that many people will be craving space away from crowds and busy, built-up areas. And given that, one in eight British households has no garden, there is likely to be a surge in people heading off to enjoy the great outdoors and British countryside.

Indeed, outdoor areas and activities – think gardens, national parks and coastal areas – are likely to be busier than usual. Predominantly indoor activities and venues, meanwhile – such as restaurants, museums and galleries – are likely to face lengthier periods of subdued demand.

As a result, the tourism industry is anticipating a surge in people taking active outdoor breaks close to home. In the US for example, a national marketing campaign from the National Park Foundation will promote lesser-known parks as destinations. While Airbnb’s recent Go Near initiative aims to support the “growing desire for domestic travel”.

In the UK, VisitBritain’s weekly UK COVID-19 Consumer Tracker Report shows that 20% of adults in the UK plan to take a short break or holiday within the UK by September. Coastal areas (both urban and rural) are emerging as top destinations.

Heading outdoors

Spending time outdoors, can improve your blood pressure and digestion and boost the immune system. Spending time in green space, near trees, also means that we take in more oxygen, which in turn leads to release of the feelgood hormone serotonin.

Spending time outdoors can give you that natural boost.
DisobeyArt/Shutterstock

Many families incorporate outdoor activity in green space into their holiday plans as a way of improving wellbeing and mental health. Active pursuits in the outdoors can also bring families together to enjoy themselves.

Camping, more than most forms of holiday, involves family members doing more together and encourages a more active, back-to-nature lifestyle. And, according to research from the University of Plymouth, children who go camping do better at school and are healthier and happier. So it’s a win-win.

The children who took part in the research were asked what they love about camping and the most common themes were making and meeting new friends, having fun, playing outside and learning various camping skills. Children also recognised camping’s value for problem solving and working together – out in the fresh air, away from the TV and computers.

Quality family time

The make-up of family units has changed massively over the past two decades. And many families now live spread out – no longer in one place, town or city. So for many families, holidays offer the offer the chance to spend time and reconnect with different generations of their family – along with quality time together that is so fundamental to family life.

Time outdoors can give families the chance to reconnect.
Shutterstock/Maksym Gorpenyuk

For families with busy lives, where parents are often working long hours, the chance to be together on holiday can feel key to the survival of the family unit. And many working parents – mums in particular – have found that the struggle to balance work and childcare has been exacerbated during lockdown.

But of course, families struggling to spend time together is not a new phenomenon. In 2011 a Thomson Holiday report found that, more than one-quarter of working parents spent less than an hour a day with their children. This is despite wanting more time together.

Time for a break

The benefits of family holidays are numerous. They can give all members of the family time to regain balance, reconnect and restore equilibrium. Holidays are also often an opportunity for people to try new skills, sports or activities – which can help to boost confidence and self-esteem.

So don’t despair if you’re no longer heading abroad this summer. Instead, head for the great outdoors and enjoy some quality family time – away from the house and daily lockdown routine.

This will not only give you a chance to relax and unwind in a new environment but will also encourage children and other family members to try something new – whether it’s toasting marshmallows and singing campfire songs, swimming in rivers, stargazing – or simply just being close to nature.The Conversation

Carol Southall, Course Leader and Senior Lecturer at Staffordshire Business School, Staffordshire University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

After last summer’s fires, the bell tolls for Australia’s endangered mountain bells



Darwinia nubigena also known as the Success Bell or Red Mountain Bell.
A.T Morphet, Author provided

Kingsley Dixon, Curtin University

This article is a preview from Flora, Fauna, Fire, a multimedia project launching on Monday July 13. The project tracks the recovery of Australia’s native plants and animals after last summer’s bushfire tragedy. Sign up to The Conversation’s newsletter for updates.


Hidden in the Stirling Range national park in Western Australia – an area so diverse, so ecologically important, I’ve described it as a “coral reef out of water” – are Australia’s spectacular mountain bells.

When Western botanists encountered these predominantly bird-pollinated plants, they found them so intriguing and so unlike anything they knew (Britain has no bird pollination), they named them Darwinia after Charles Darwin’s grandfather, Erasmus Darwin.

These breathtaking native Australian flowers are now at grave risk from recent fires, with many species listed on the government’s provisional list of plants requiring urgent management intervention. The Stirling Ranges were ravaged by this summer’s fires, and three-quarters of this WA national park now experience fire cycles twice as frequent as species recovery rates.

If it sounds grim, that’s because it is. There’s hope yet for the mountain bell, though, thanks largely to the efforts of concerned community members.

Darwinia collina, the yellow mountain bell, is listed as endangered.
A. T. Morphet, Author provided

Why are mountain bells so special?

With an astonishing range of colours, the Stirling Range mountain bells are the glamour plants in WA’s floral bouquet.

Standing up to 60cm tall, these glorious shrubs are a gardener’s dream. They have neat foliage and pendulous, bell-like flowers in colours ranging from yellow, to greens, to striking reds and multicoloured variegated blooms.

Darwinia has just 70 species – a modest number compared with some plant genera in Australia.

They occur in southeastern and southwestern Australia. Darwinia split from their ancestral lineage 16 million years ago with the southwest, including the Stirling Ranges – a cradle of the genus. The chance dispersal of seed to southeastern Australia meant the two nodes of diversity were separated by the Nullarbor and central desert, and evolved in splendid isolation. How these heavy-seeded plants managed such an epic journey across the Australian deserts remains a mystery.




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Nectar-hungry Australian birds found the rewards in the rain-protected, bell-like flowers irresistible.

In what was a blink of evolutionary time, mountain bells capitalised on birds as a better system for pollination than offered by insects, and new species appeared across the peaks of the Stirlings.

Today, there are ten species of mountain bells. All but one are only found in the Stirling Ranges, often on single peaks or in highly restricted locations. And many feature on the provisional list of plants requiring urgent management.

Virtually each peak could have its very own mountain bell. I recall my first encounter with the mountain bells years ago. I’d spotted the delicate cherry-coloured blooms of Wittwer’s bell nestled in a small wooded hollow, midway along the main drive through the Stirlings. I eagerly sought out other mountain bell species and, soon enough, realised I had an untreatable case of “bell fever”.

A _Darwinia macrostegia or Mondurup Bell on Mondurup Peak.
A.T Morphet, Author provided

A biodiversity hotspot at a crossroads

Traditional owners revered the Stirling Ranges as sacred land that had endured countless ice ages and climate ravages. But today, the Stirling Ranges are at a crossroads.

The discovery of dieback disease (Phytophthora cinnamomi) in 1974, as well as fires both prescribed and natural, have taken a heavy toll on the plants and animals in the park.

Last summer’s cataclysmic fires scorched half of the Stirling Ranges national park, and the danger the mountain bells now face is emblematic of the broader problem of biodiversity loss.

Many plants and animal species here may never recover. Yes, many Australian plants evolved to cope with bushfire – but not with how frequently these fires are reoccurring.

The Stirling Ranges national park is like no other, with an astonishing 1,500 plant species, eclipsing the flora of the British Isles.

Threats abound

Contemporary fire is now one of the single greatest threats to what remains of this extraordinary ecosystem.

The mountain bells need more than 15 years or more to rebuild their soil seed bank, as these plants are killed by even the mildest of fire.

We knew this was coming. Dire predictions by conservation scientists as early as 2015 warned the Stirling Ranges faced a biodiversity meltdown, and that mountain bells were particularly at risk of extinction.




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Though the fires have retreated, the once thriving populations of mountain bells are reduced to blackened stems. It is indescribably sad to see.

For some species, the 2020 bushfires came hot on the heels of an out-of-control prescribed burn in 2018, and few species can survive such short interval fire. Scientists are surveying the damage, to see if parts of the soil seed bank survived to grow the next generation of mountain bells. But it may be too late for some species. Time will tell.

The endemic grass tree Kingia australis absorbs ethylene gas from bushfire to initiate flowering within months.
Keith Bradbury, Author provided

Community action

Is there a future for mountain bells? I like to think so. I have grown them in wildflower gardens from cuttings handed down from wildflower gardeners over decades. Through temperamental and often unpredictable to grow, mountain bells are remarkably easy to propagate.

A key part of saving our mountain bells is, I believe, intimately linked to the community of wildflower enthusiasts. These passionate, committed community members stand ready to help save the last bells.

The Stirling Ranges national park in Western Australia.
Trevor Dobson, CC BY-NC-ND

The way we’ve done conservation in the past needs a reboot. For the mountain bells and many other threatened species to have a future, we need to embrace a new way of engaging with community volunteers and particularly our traditional owners.

Everyone I have spoken to is ready to roll up their sleeves and help our plants, and animals struggling to come out of the fires. Such an approach will need trust, training and support – but it may be our only hope.




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The Conversation


Kingsley Dixon, John Curtin Distinguished Professor, Curtin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Intensive farming is eating up the Australian continent – but there’s another way



Sue McIntyre, Author provided

Sue McIntyre, Australian National University

Last week we learned woody vegetation in New South Wales is being cleared at more than double the rate of the previous decade – and agriculture was responsible for more than half the destruction.

Farming now covers 58% of Australia, or 385 million hectares, and accounts for 59% of water extracted.

It’s painfully clear nature is buckling under the weight of farming’s demands. In the past decade, the federal government has listed ten ecological communities as endangered, or critically endangered, as a result of farming development and practices.

So how can we accommodate the needs of both farming and nature? Research shows us how – but it means accepting land as a finite resource, and operating within its limits. In doing so, farmers will also reap benefits.

Grassy eucalypt woodlands used for cattle farming in subtropical Queensland.
Tara Martin. Author provided.

Healthy grazing landscapes

In the 1990s, I worked as a research ecologist in the cattle country of sub-tropical Queensland. The prevailing culture valued agricultural development over conservation. Yet many of these producers lived on viable farms that supported a wealth of native plants and animals.

They made a living from the native grassy eucalypt woodlands, an ecosystem that extends from Cape York to Tasmania. In these healthy landscapes, vigorous pastures of tall perennial grasses protected the soil, enriched it with carbon and fed the cattle.




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NSW and Victoria have similar eucalypt grassy vegetation, but farming here has taken a very different path.

Fertilised legumes and grasses grown for livestock fodder have replaced hundreds of native grassland plants. Over time, native trees and shrubs stopped regenerating and remaining trees became unhealthy, destroying wildlife habitat. The transformation was hastened by aerial applications of fertiliser and herbicide.

By 2006, 4.5 million hectares of box-gum grassy woodland – or 90% – in temperate Australia had been destroyed.

Aerial delivery of fertiliser, seed and herbicide transformed grassy woodlands in NSW.
F. G. Swain. Author provided.

A template for sustainability

Back in Queensland in the 1990s, my colleagues and I devised a template for sustainable land use. Funded by the livestock industry and a now-defunct federal corporation, we worked with producers and government agencies to find the right balance between farm production and conserving natural resources.

Our research concluded that for farming to be sustainable, intensive land uses must be limited. Such intensive uses include crops and non-native pastures. They are “high input”, typically requiring fertilisers, herbicides and pesticides, and some form of cultivation. They return greater yields but kill native plants, and are prone to soil and nutrient runoff into waterways.

But our template was not adopted as conventional farming practice. In the past 20 years, Australia’s cropping area has increased by 18,200 square kilometres.

By 2019, 38,000 square kilometres of poplar box grassy woodland in Australia had been cleared – more than half the size of Tasmania. The ecosystem was listed as endangered in 2019. Until that point, it had been considered invasive native scrub in NSW – exempting it from clearing regulations – and was systematically cleared for agriculture in Queensland.

Farmers should conserve sufficient areas of landscape to support native plants and animals.
Sue McIntyre, Author provided

Regenerating the land

Hearteningly, our research was recently revived in a multidisciplinary study of regenerative grazing on the grassy woodlands of NSW. The template was used to assess the ecological condition of participating farms.

The study examined differences in profitability between graziers who had adopted regenerative techniques such as low-input pasture management, and all other sheep, sheep-beef and mixed cropping-grazing farmers in their region.




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It found regenerative grazing was often more profitable than other types of farming, especially in dry years. Regenerative farmers also experienced significantly higher than average well-being compared with other NSW farmers.

So what does our template involve? First, it identifies four types of land use relevant to farmed grassy woodland regions.

Second, it specifies the proportion of land that should be allocated to each use, in order to achieve landscape health (see pie chart below). The proportions can be applied to single farm, or entire districts or regions.

How to sustain production, natural resources and native flora and fauna on a landscape or farm.
Sue McIntyre

Intensive land use involves activities that replace nearly all native species. If these activities occupy more than 30% of the landscape, there’s insufficient habitat to maintain many native species, especially plants.

At least 10% of land must be devoted to nature conservation. The remaining 60% of the land should involve low-intensity activity such as grazed native pasture and timber production. If managed well, these land uses can support human livelihoods and a diversity of native species.

Within that split of land use, total native woodland should be no less than 30%. This guarantees connected habitats for native plants and animals, enabling movement and breeding opportunities.

Retaining grassy woodland ensures habitat for native animals.
Duncan McCaskill/Flickr

Respect the land’s limits

Australians ask a lot of our land. It must make space for our houses, businesses, and roads. It should support all species to prevent extinctions. And it must produce our food and fibre.

Global population growth demands a rapid rise in food production. But relying on intensive agriculture to achieve this is unsustainable. Aside from damaging the land, it increases greenhouse gas emissions though mechanisation, fertilisation, chemical use and tree clearing.




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To meet the challenges of the future we must ensure farmed landscapes retain their ecological functions. In particular, maintaining biodiversity is key to climate adaptation. And as many of Australia’s plants and animals march towards extinction, the need to reverse biodiversity loss has never been greater.

Farmers can be profitable while maintaining and improving the ecological health of their land. It’s time to look harder at farming models that respect the limits of nature, and recognise that less can be more.The Conversation

Sue McIntyre, Honorary Professor, Australian National University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.