A new environmental board game created by CSIRO turns learning into fun - especially for primary producers challenged by issues of tree clearing and land development in regional Queensland.
The prototype game quickly and dramatically illustrates the effects that clearing vegetation has on the animals and plants living there. The game also shows the value of restoring vegetation in rural landscapes.
According to CSIRO researcher, Dr Sue McIntyre, sustainable land management is all about finding the balance between the immediate needs of farm production and what is necessary to keep ecosystems functioning.
"We all need to work at maintaining this balance - not just for wildlife survival, but for our own long-term survival," says Dr McIntyre, one of the members of the team who developed the new game.
Human activities can be imposed on the environment to a certain point without triggering undesirable environmental outcomes. If we develop beyond critical levels, it can cause damage to our natural resources - the land use limits have been exceeded, and the landscape suffers.
"As the total level of clearing of both native trees and grasslands increases across the landscape, there can be serious results in terms of loss of wildlife as well as increased salinity and tree dieback," says Dr McIntyre.
The game shows that when 70 percent of the natural habitat is kept, all plants and animals can move and function in the landscape. When 30 percent of the habitat is kept, only the more mobile creatures can get about.
Dr McIntyre stressed that the game looks at the total landscape, and that native pastures could be just as important as trees to the animals that live there."The game helps us understand the world from a non-human perspective," she says.
"All wildlife, including the insects and spiders, plays an essential role in keeping the balance in our environment. Maintaining a variety of plants also helps ensure production into an uncertain future.
"We have recorded around 400 types of plants in native pasture, on just two properties in southern Queensland. All these species contributed to pasture production and helped the cattle industry to survive the massive drought of the 1990s," she says.
Participants rated the game highly when it was introduced at recent workshops for producers and extension officers. Participants were impressed that the game illustrated a potentially confronting concept in an effective and eye-opening way.
"It was brilliant - you could see the lights going on in people’s eyes as they played the game. They were having fun and learning at the same time," says scientist, Geoffrey Smith of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources.
"After playing, all our game results were graphed on the whiteboard. If it hadn’t clicked already, the implications of clearing vegetation were right there in front of you," he says.
According to workshop participant Claire Rodgers, the game is an excellent way of showing the effects of tree clearing."Playing the game showed me how animals that need to move around a lot find it difficult to survive when too much of the area is cleared," she says.
"The game would be an enormously useful tool when producers sit down to deliberate on clearing guidelines at a regional level."
The game is a valuable learning tool for all members of the community, from children to adults and is being developed for wider use in workshops and classrooms.
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The above story is based on materials provided by Csiro Australia. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.
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