Never has there been a greater need for passionate, tireless Landcarers. As the country faced drought, devastating bushfires, floods and the impacts of a global pandemic, volunteers have continued to deliver support, care and comfort to Australian communities and local environments.
At a moment in time when many among us have dealt with increased isolation, mental health and financial stress, evidence has long indicated volunteering and 'giving back' helps us to reconnect with each other and with the land that sustains us.
Landcare's 'caring hands' logo and brand is well recognised and known throughout Australia and there are few journeys on roads anywhere in Australia where that brand cannot be seen or the touch of Landcarers is not felt; be it in restoration of land and communities through current bushfire recovery activity, fencing, establishing nest boxes or removing weeds and feral animals, to name but a few tasks.
For decades, those involved in Landcare have testified to a greater sense of self, both physically and mentally, resulting from an enhanced link with their local environment. This in turn has boosted community wellbeing.
It has long been the desire of the Landcare network to quantify the significance of these tangible benefits. Thanks to a partnership between KPMG Australia and Landcare Australia, new figures indicate Landcare volunteers benefit from a significant increase in mental and physical wellbeing - and a significant decrease to their healthcare costs.
According to the report produced by KPMG Australia, 'Building resilience in local communities: The wellbeing benefits of participating in Landcare', Landcare volunteers avoid $57 million in healthcare costs due to boost in mental and physical wellbeing.
To break it down further, these improvements lead to an approximate saving from avoided healthcare costs of $403 per individual per year, and for the Landcare movement which exceeds 140,000 individuals, that number equates to $57 million nationally. Those numbers are astonishing.
With more than 1000 Landcare volunteers and coordinators from Landcare groups across the country surveyed, KPMG Australia also interviewed people involved in different Landcare activities from across the country. In the report, almost half of all participants surveyed, 46 per cent reported clear improvements in their mental wellbeing.
On an individual basis, one respondent said they had three people who came to their Landcare group for Centrelink obligations who have bipolar disorder, and they were pleased to see how these individuals became more relaxed and confident working with others over time.
With a connection to the land felt by almost all of those surveyed at 93 per cent, and 90 per cent experiencing a stronger connection to the community, 19 per cent reported a reduced use of physical health services, contributing to avoided healthcare costs.
Elsewhere, the study found that the majority of people not in full-time employment enjoyed an improvement in their mental wellbeing associated with participation in Landcare activities, more so than those in full-time employment.
There is a powerful, symbiotic connection to community, as well as the landscape and environment, at the heart of the Landcare movement.
The study also demonstrates that while Landcare respondents to the survey were drawn consistent with Australia's overall population, the reach of Landcare can be broadened - particularly to youth and Indigenous Australians; and it is the intent of the Landcare movement to further enable this. It is also noteworthy that the survey again demonstrates the high level of trust in Landcare and its contribution to rural economies as well as communities; volunteer work done by many in the Landcare movement, like volunteer work everywhere, so frequently goes under recognised and under supported.
However, not everyone always feels positive from their connection with Landcare and the corollary of a powerful volunteer movement are limitations in full-time employment opportunities and pathways to employment. Government has a role to play in ensuring commitment to building employment contributing to healing our nation's land and water, and our rich cultural heritage.
When the late Bob Hawke delivered his Statement of the Environment address launching the Decade of Landcare more than thirty years ago, he spoke passionately about Australian communities 'working together' to restore and protect our landscapes for future generations. He spoke to the enduring and unique spirit of Landcare volunteers across the nation.
Today, our powerful movement continues to grow, with Landcarers all over Australia working together for the greater good of the environment and their communities, forging a solid connection to the landscape and each other. Healthy, productive landscapes and resilient communities represent the toil and heart of the Landcare effort.
At a personal level I have seen the level of support, comfort and connection brought to Landcare activities which together with knowledge gained and work performed on land and water, has benefitted individuals, groups, along with the community more widely, in good times and hard times.
Supporting Landcare volunteers has never been more important than it is now. This report clearly demonstrates how Landcare's role goes well beyond environmental benefits and the strong justification for the continuing and extended support for Landcare.
These findings will prove highly beneficial to that development and support and the recruitment of new generations eager to join the thousands of existing Landcare groups and networks; from Traditional Owner land and sea managers, sustainable farmers, to Bushcare and 'Friends of' groups, Coastcare, Dunecare and Rivercare groups, Junior Landcare, Intrepid Landcare and other community groups determined and committed in restoring and protecting their local environment for all Australians and the future of Australia.
- Doug Humann is chairman of Landcare Australia.