From landscape architecture to conservation agriculture | Thomas Woltz | TEDxCharlottesvilleMay 31, 2021
agriculturestudio at nelson bird waltz
landscapearchitects is a highly collaborative design methodology that seeks to lend the skill set of
architectureto the land in need we seek to rebuild compromised ecological infrastructure depleted in ruins systems on a large scale within farmland active farming when i finished my graduate studies studying with warren byrd i realized that
agriculturewas the largest contributor of nonpoint source pollution in the united states how the way we eat can end up killing us the set of tools i had just of acquiring and was in the process of development showed me that landscape
architectureis a profession that sits at the intersection of restoration, ecology, soil science, horticulture, civil engineering, could it also be in the middle of agriculture, these tools could lend themselves to this very land in a way that rebuilds this infrastructure? you can dream all you want and it's still theory until a very enlightened person a ened client comes along and says i'm willing to let you experiment with my land that highly enlightened
conservationist is here in albemarle county and we started a project that has lasted for years The last 18 years he allowed us to experiment with his land to do things we didn't really know how to do, like restore warm-season grass meadows.
We started with a year of master planning. Something I believe in today. This document along with subsequent hundreds of pages from schematic design drawings to design development construction documents, but this document this master plan has guided the construction of this property for 18 years we started with the waterways we reconstructed creeks and drainage ways severely eroded reforesting with marginal species to create habitat for amphibians and reptiles we started managing the larger open ground we replaced the fescue the non-native thatch grass with deep rooted warm season grasses we reforested the edges and then said can we establish it? your farm is on fire and he absolutely said every three years a big puff of dark smoke rises in albemarle county and the ground plane resets burning invasive plants invasive weeds you have this kind of sublime result of this blackened landscape that then comes quickly coming back to life with incredible biodiversity this is the composition at the end of summer this rich habitat for birds habitat for small mammals and reptiles so while working on this project we realized that maybe we hadn't been rigorous enough in documenting about measuring who our scientific partners might be who could help us collect data that could eventually be shared with people who couldn't hire us or hire scientists information that could be shared with extension agents across the country study work began to grow in many different states and even abroad, one of the ramifications funny things about this was that the neighbors began to look and another very enlightened neighbor, a writer, a poet, an actress, near the nearby town. she said whatever you're doing to them i want you to come do it to me so this is her running her own burn of her native grass paddock very exciting positive radiant influence now on over 2200 acres albemarle county have been managed with this method, we started a much more rigorous relationship with scientists, this has been a game changer for us, working with conservation biologists to give us the data of what systems are compromised within a property, so what I love is putting together a team of scientists and a team of designers from our office get them camping on the site for a week to learn what the dynamics of the site are what's compromised you can't tell a designer from a scientist and that is a dream come true this is a white leaf that attracts moths at night and we count all the insects amphibians native plants and plants non-natives gives us this baseline data and then we start designing with it at this point another very enlightened client came in and had purchased a 3,000 acre sheep station in New Zealand and that's what I want to focus my comments on today , it's on the east coast of the north island, a three thousand acre citrus farm and sheep cattle farm that had been um like almost all farmland in new zealand has been badly compromised over generations of farming practices this this is the site for those of you who love the bahamian islands this is sublime for someone who knows new zealand ecology this is borderline disaster the native ecology of the north island is temperate rainforest you can see a tree the erosion was horrible the lack of biodiversity um saddening so we set ourselves a mission of could we remove the most fragile areas of this farm that should never have been cultivated?
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from landscape architecture to conservation agriculture thomas woltz tedxcharlottesville...
I'll show you some of the erosion problems some of the some of this land that should never have been farmed could we take that out of agricultural production? Could we rebuild the infrastructure for wildlife? encourage the rebuilding of biodiversity? d parts of rainforest this customer said yes i believe in this and for the last 12 years we have been building a model farm for the country of new zealand demonstrating best farm management practice with highly researched conservation biology rebuilding these systems and re-weaving them together this map shows another layer of this project that has been a real game changer for us at nelson bird wolves this is the layer of cultural history the cultural landscape is such a critical thing that it often remains invisible the footprints of people who have been on land before you arrived in this case the great maori migration came to this property in 1300. in 1769 captain james cook came to this property his first landing in new zealand was just to the north from the bay, not on this exact land, so what? what you are looking at are three maps the cultural landscape the agricultural landscape and then the green lines are the reforested landscape rebuilding wildlife connectivity but we are using t The fragile and erodible hillsides rebuilding wetlands places that really should never have been farmed this was my first trip to a piece of new zealand rainforest the scale of the plants is absolutely phenomenal we created a partnership with the maori leaders who have become dear personal and tremendous friends the supporters of this work really get it they see all the earth as an interconnected living body and i would say my view of the earth is more connected to its cosmology than perhaps to those i have grown up with zealand did you build railways directly into the rainforest? you put up the trees and retained them this is what the formwork looks like today highly erodible volcanic soils dissipate into the ocean this is the scale of the trees we are reclaiming part one of our partnerships with the Maori the local Maori tribe has been collecting seeds in the native forests, propagating them locally, they have a small nursery, and then we buy the trees back. or plant on the farm so these come in and I want you to look at this cabbage palm that's still in the ground each one of those white pegs represents a tree it's a steak for one of our trees to date we've planted 600,000 cabbage trees the rainforest on this property so I'm going to retire you might want to grab the armrests to start to get an idea of the scale of these plantings we are reforesting the entire waterfront so this property looks like it did when James Cook landed in 1769.
The wetlands had been drained to maximize grazing land, so we thought we'd rebuild them, but let's not pretend and naturalize, let's build them as a living visible painting, let's be artists here, but let's be work closely with the biologists and conservation scientists to know exactly what we are putting back so that ecological services remain, but that this is a construct Visible designed uction, a kind of living painting, so to speak, these are the leveling planes, uh, two kilometers. s of deep-water river and then 14 islands of varying slopes planted with different native species to become home to many of the flightless birds native only to new zealand we were inspired by the paintings of roberto burleigh marcas a brazilian landscape architect from the 1960s who is also a great painter these are natural forms but they are abstracted so this was our inspiration this was the construction site that lasted almost three years 75 acres of built up wetlands where the wetlands once stood 100 years ago and this is the result that we have this vast and spectacular landscape of freshwater wetlands and salt marshes these are pre-treatment marshes that collect hundreds of acres of fresh water they filter it with plants and then retain it in this wetland which is now teeming with native birds as well we reorganize the agricultural lands of the farm this is a citrus production and you will see that we have reforested or the border again with small trees used instead of nylon screens used trees cut into shelterbelts to protect citrus from freezing and then again honoring this cultural landscape to the Maori footprints in the distance in this image they are looking at mount taranaki a very sacred site for the natomanuhiri the local tribe that we have been working for so long this bridge is on axis with the top of that mountain so every day the farmers, the workers, when crossing this bridge, they have this kind of moment of homage to a sacred place for Maori.
The Maori have a long tradition of earth mounds and earth building fortifications settlement sites food storage these are some of the traces that remain this is a hole kumara kumara was a vegetable cultivated by the Maori from 1300 to today these holes are dug in the clay lined with leaves full of food and then arches of branches and leaves to cover it from the wet weather we wanted to honor these traces honor these traditions in the midst of farmlands while rebuilding ecologies let's rebuild a respect for these precious cultures that are almost invisible in this slide we have oriented the units between citrus production and these tall hedges cut as a tribute to a 300 year old burial site this is a burial ground in the middle of the farm we wanted to honor the Maori actually commissioned us to do this job to be a white person from abroad, since working with n them it was a deeply emotional connection we had with this tribe, you can see that this axial relationship with this mound has now been put into practice honoring rather than behind the house, then we worked with them to ask how we can respectfully honor this tradition and to demonstrate this tradition amidst the gardens around the lodge and so this developed as a tribute to the Maori culture of the land. mounting this terraced and abstract landscape, this was not a quote from their traditions, it's more how we work with them and be inspired by this and honor it in a new way for a new generation in the future, perhaps the most ambitious part of working on this farm was a project with many aspirations.
Could we rebuild an ecology so stable, so rich and so secure that we could reintroduce the tuatara, which is one of the most endangered animals on the planet? He is the last descendant. from the family of sphenodontes which, for the scientists in the room which is the family of dinosaurs, these animals are very compromised, it takes a year to hatch an egg and we thought nine months was bad, they are very vulnerable to pests that have been introduced to new zealand new zealand has no native mammals think about it there are no lions bears tigers stoats weasels cats dogs or people so this amazing land mass evolved without humans and without mammals so birds diversified to fill the niches they lost too the ability to fly they didn't need predators so we figured with this massive team not only do I have 40 creative, dedicated, passionate people in nelsonburg waltz working with me, but we also have hundreds of ornithologists, biologists, conservation biologists, they're our partners so deeply, but we also have these cultural geographers, archaeologists, anthropologists, so with this huge team With a group led mainly by Steve Sawyer, a conservation biologist in New Zealand, we said about this ambitious goal, could we reintroduce the tuatara again and again? without an enlightened client this wouldn't have happened so the first step is to build a predator proof enclosure so weasels, stoats, possums don't eat the eggs. you get to the barrier and you dig and dig and dig maybe you should back up a bit go under luckily they don't know that don't tell any mammals you know that trick it seems these gentlemen are just rightin front of me you can see that there is water in the distance, but this is where they are working, so you can draw it on paper, but these guys are the ones who build it, so I say that the credit belongs to others in all this work, so with the predator-proof enclosure, as you can see, we reforested within eighty,000 trees to rebuild the rainforest within this enclosure.
We had to prove to the conservation department that we had a safe place and stable habitat now the tuatara lives in a symbiotic relationship with grey-faced oil tankers and fluttering shearwaters seabirds that have not been seen on this coast in 100 years how we started how we rebuilt this ecology we had to show that we had three cycles of these of these seabirds nesting on the peninsula before the department of conservation and the maori would release tuatara into our care this fence was inspired by christo i have to say this we call it our ecochrist the project fence that runs that it did in sonoma but it is in the service of greater ecology so again trying to be resourceful with these ecological measures these are the heroes also of this project these are the conservation biologists that come and measure c The data collected they are ink pad traps where creatures can walk around and you can see his footprints, if there are any, fortunately we have clean papers and we are free of predators within the enclosure.
This is our target species and that is a gasoline in their burrow that they dig. these eight inch deep burrows plaster is what turns a tuatara on to lay an egg so we needed some burrows steve sawyer our ornithologist and conservation biologist had this brilliant idea the first time it's ever been done using solar collectors to power speakers outdoor speakers that's what you're seeing in the distance there and he made a cd of gannets, gasoline, um, fluttering cutting water, if you ever need to gaslight someone and drive them completely crazy, I'll give you a copy of the cd so that every night , at cocktail hour, the cd starts playing thanks to the solar collector. and these seabirds far out over the pacific are beginning to circle and have begun to land he has achieved the world's first use of these devices to attract seabirds we now have the first new organic colony established in the world we have uh I repeat pairs of fluttering shears their numbers are down to a thousand worldwide this is Steve with a gasoline that landed in his lap um not scared no wonder they're extinct um and this is the moment that grabs your heart where you're looking at the barren, eroded land that I showed you in the first few slides covered with rainforest species and these beautiful seabirds arriving for the night of a night's sleep sure I'm happy to report that last year 62 tuatara were delivered from the department of conservation and Maori tribes in the enclosure and they are absolutely thriving this has been a 12 year journey of rebuilding this very fragile ecology really from scratch i end with this picture because i feel like it's a way of saying this picture of the ocean where we now have blue penguins nesting in boxes to the right is the tuatara um enclosure in the distance is the constructed wetlands and along the shoreline is the replanted edge in the distance back to see sheep grazing land rotational grazing which has greatly reduced the impact on this land this is where landscape architecture comes into play located at the intersection of civil engineering horticulture conservation biology and agriculture thank you for your time
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