Lyn Heenan’s involvement with Landcare began almost 40 years ago, when her late father, Paul, joined the new movement in the 1980s to get rid of rabbits that had been eating their way through the Pyrenees region in western Victoria.

It was shortly after then conservation minister Joan Kirner had launched the initiative alongside the Victorian Farmers Federation at the tiny locality of Winjallock in 1986.

Paul Heenan soon moved from controlling rabbits to planting a tree corridor and took up a role as a local environmental steward.

“It was many years of working together in partnership and on each other’s farms,” Lyn Heenan says.

“Landcare has always been a part of our lives.”

Signage on the front gate of Lyn Heenan’s property at Stoneleigh. Photograph: Steve Womersley/The Guardian

Six months ago, Heenan continued that work by taking up the role as facilitator at the Upper Mount Emu Creek Landcare Network. Her Stoneleigh property is now a “haven” where the brolgas nest amid their natural habitat.

“Dad could see the benefits of protecting animals and the environment and he continued that for 30-odd years,” Heenan says. “I’m trying to keep that alive.”

But the future of facilitators like Heenan is uncertain. Landcare Victoria is pushing for long-term investment in its facilitator program after receiving a series of short-term extensions out to 2026.

There are 80 part-time Victorian Landcare facilitators working across the state, funded through a state government initiative that advances conservation, creates regional jobs and contributes to sustainability and biodiversity targets. The facilitators are employed directly by local Landcare networks. Landcare Victoria does not directly employ facilitators but is the peak body for local Landcare groups, representing more than 600 groups and 60,000 volunteers. It is led by a volunteer board.

The chair of that board, Jane Carney, says facilitators play a critical role in supporting environmental volunteering across the state. A recent review said facilitators were “the glue that holds [Landcare] groups together”.

“Landcare Victoria will continue to advocate for our groups and networks, who employ facilitators locally,” Carney says. “This program has never been more vital, given the importance of the next decade in limiting biodiversity decline and the role of community Landcare and Landcare Facilitators in shaping Victoria’s environmental outcomes.”

Lyn Heenan: ‘I feel we are the generation to see the greatest decline both in community and the environment.’ Photograph: Steve Womersley/The Guardian

The Victorian government has committed $55.8m to the facilitator program since its inception 13 years ago, including an $8.2m extension of funding last June, which will provide funding out to June 2025, and a further $3.6m promised by the environment minister, Steve Dimopoulos, at a recent Victorian Landcare program – after the program was initially left out of the state budget.

But beyond that, the funding is uncertain. The most recent funding extension, out to March 2026, only applies to facilitators, not coordinators, and Landcare says it does not ease concerns about the long-term viability of the program.

“Having funding extended bit-by-bit, year-by-year does not provide the certainty we need for long-term planning and skilled staff retention,” Carney says.

According to the Landcare Victoria 2023 annual report, the facilitator program generated at least $7 in public value for every dollar of government investment.

Amherst’s Chris Pollock has been involved in Landcare for 29 years and works as a facilitator at the Upper Loddon and Avoca Landcare Network. She says the job is flexible and rewarding, but not well compensated.

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Spiny rice flower on the roadside near Lyn Heenan’s land. Photograph: Steve Womersley/The Guardian
‘Dad could see the benefits of protecting animals and the environment,’ Heenan says. ‘I’m trying to keep that alive.’ Photograph: Steve Womersley/The Guardian

“I love the job,” she says. “I’m contracted 20 hours a week, but it can be anything up to 35 hours. It’s just what you do.

“It’s harder for younger people who have families because then they can’t commit to other jobs. We have to be available.”

Pollock says Landcare’s work was more than just planting trees. “It’s pretty much everything – applications for funding, researching, setting up plants for projects, administration, visiting properties,” she says. “We’ve always worked on the premise that we won’t be there next financial year.”

Carney says there are not enough facilitators to support the growing number of groups and volunteers across the state. The salary offered to facilitators also doesn’t cover enough hours, causing facilitators to seek work elsewhere.

She says Victoria is falling behind other states, with the New South Wales government spending $33m on Landcare grants over the past five years and committing a further $59m over the next four years.

A Victorian government spokesperson says the government has invested over $100m to support Landcare and help protect and enhance the natural environment over the past 10 years.

Heenan says Landcare is more needed than ever.

“I feel we are the generation to see the greatest decline both in community and the environment. We are seeking comradeship, especially after Covid, floods and fire.”

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