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Burrima – a case study in sound ecological management

The purchase and subsequent management of a property in central NSW illustrates the potential and advantage of complementary environmental measures in managing water and land.

In 2005 a group of landholders in the Macquarie Valley banded together to form the Macquarie Marshes Environmental Trust (MMET), with the purpose of buying a small, 259ha property outside Warren in central NSW.

The MMET named the property 'Burrima', which means 'black swan' in the language of the Wailwan People, the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Macquarie Marshes.

More than 150 years of settlement and farming had taken its toll on Burrima, and the Macquarie Marshes in general. European settlement in the 1840s brought animals with it, and this intrusion significantly affected the district. In some areas, overgrazing by sheep, cattle and rabbits had removed all vegetation, exposing the topsoil which then blew away to reveal bare claypans.

In dry years cattle lived in the reed beds, eating vegetation and trampling pathways which then eroded into channels during the next wet spell. Water travelling down these channels no longer flooded into the reed beds, which then died. By 1963, an estimated 60% of the reed beds of the South Marsh – close to 2200ha - had been lost. Significantly, this occurred before the construction of the Burrendong Dam, which had been blamed for the loss.

In the 1970s, huge areas of the Macquarie Marshes were cleared for pasture and cropping. In addition, since the 1980s farmers actions to block waterways or add levees to increasing flooding of their land had inadvertently reduced flooding of downstream wetlands.

However, things changed after 2005 when the MMET implemented a plan to de-stock Burrima and return the land to sound environmental health.

The remediation of Burrima is important because, although small in area, the property exemplifies the diverse range of vegetation to be found in the Macquarie Marshes, and how landholders working to a sound ecological plan can help restore the land to health.

Reed beds on the boundary of Burrima in 2005, clearly showing the damage caused by grazing.
The same location at Burrima in 2008 – vegetation had recovered significantly, the ecological plan was a success.

There are four main terrain-and-vegetation types at Burrima, and the MMET applied different strategies to remediate each:

Terrain Issues before remediation How remediation helped
Chenopod Shrubland This ground rarely floods, and is characterised by 'scalding' where cover vegetation has been removed by a combination of rabbits, sheep and/or drought. The topsoil blows away, and little grows on the bare claypan that remains. Rip lines were applied across many scalds and saltbush planted. This was followed four years later with the completion of a water ponding project – a series of low banks scattered with saltbush and native grasses. When it rains, runoff water is briefly trapped in the ponds, helping to establish vegetation.
Coolibah Woodlands The understorey of these woodlands were affected by prolonged cattle grazing, allowing the introduction of Noogoora Burr and Roly Poly weeds. Cattle were removed from the terrain, allowing native understorey plants to consolidate and reclaim the woodlands. Native grasses were also reintroduced.
River Red Gums Found in more frequently flooded terrains, River Redgums can survive both prolonged flooding and dry conditions. Understorey reeds had been grazed right to the ground. With the removal of cattle, reeds re-grew dramatically, forming dense thickets that conserve and filter water. When dry, they form a thick mulch covering the soil. The revived reeds protect against erosion, trap and spread water, and reduce evaporation.
North Marsh Reed Bed

In a far corner of Burrima lies a small slice of the vast North Marsh reed bed, the largest of its type in southern Australian.

When first purchased, the dividing fenceline between Burrima and the reed bed was clearly visible, as the reeds had been heavily grazed by cattle. With the cattle’s removal, the reeds made a strong recovery, and recolonised the area.

By implementing these measures, among others, the MMET was able to return the natural wet-and-dry cycle to Burrima, improving the flora and fauna health of the property.

The MMET continues to manage Burrima for conservation outcomes, and hopes to expand its landholding to remediate and preserve more marshlands into the future.

Article by Chris Hogendyk, Member of NFF water taskforce

Photographs from Macquarie Marshes Environmental Trust website

Northern Basin community members are being urged to complete a quick and easy online submission to let the Government know that enough is enough when it comes to water recovery. Click here to make your submission #MoreThanFlow

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