Big NGT news ahead of World Wetlands Day 2020! – Announcing… Green Swamp Restoration Reserve
To mark the upcoming occasion of World Wetlands Day on the 2nd of February 2020, we have some wonderful news to share publicly for the first time!
We’ve worked to restore some pretty amazing wetlands over the past 8 years (for some examples, see the second half of this blog), and it is fair to say that every now and then a site that really stands out comes along.
NGT’s new Restoration Reserve – Green Swamp – is definitely one of those sites, and it also has a fascinating back story …
Pollockdale was the original pastoral run established around present day Glenthompson in 1845. This 16,000 acre run was named after the first – but it also seems brief – unlicenced occupier (i.e. squatter), Captain Pollock.
As the 1800s continued, the original pastoral runs across Victoria were progressively resumed by the State Government, subdivided into smaller allotments and sold – to both raise revenue and facilitate development. As with all the original pastoral runs in this area, this process of closer settlement triggered a gradual conversion in land use from pastoral (grazing the native vegetation on the land in its natural condition) to agricultural (clearing and sowing introduced pasture and crops, associated with higher stocking rates and fencing the land into smaller paddocks). Being naturally a very wet run, the closer settlement of Pollockdale eventually led to a whole series of comprehensive drainage works – already visible in the earliest aerial photography in the 1940s – which continue to influence the area today. While the current Pollockdale property is smaller than the original pastoral run of the same name, it has a direct link to this fascinating past, being at the heart of the former pastoral run. Not surprisingly, water continues to be a key consideration in property management, and that is where NGT’s involvement comes in.
Restoration Plans Emerge
Back in late 2012, when we were approached by Warrembool Pastoral Co, the current owners of Pollockdale, the goal was to have a fresh look at the property through a water management “lens”, and suggest options for them to consider at the same time that they were actively investing in the renewal of farm infrastructure. The ‘blank slate’ that this provided us with was a unique opportunity to investigate the possibilities for the property with a more open mind and less constraints than is usually the case. As a result of that exercise, which was led by NGT’s Lachlan Farrington, a whole series of recommendations were made and – although not all the possibilities we discussed were economically viable for the owners to adopt – it did result in improved protection and management of a number of the important wetlands across the property, across a range of wetland types.
As a result of that process, the absolute stand-out wetland that both parties immediately agreed needed to be at the top of the list for restoration was Green Swamp, which is something of a centrepiece for the property as a whole. But Green Swamp was not the wetland it used to be…
When it comes to drainage impacts, every site is different and in this case, historic drainage activities had actually increased the run-off available to Green Swamp (through upstream drainage into the wetland), while also simultaneously decreasing its capacity to hold water (as a result of modification to its outlet sill level – i.e. maximum retention height). Additionally, in the early 2000s, the outlet from Green Swamp was significantly deepened again, further reducing its ability to hold water, and increasing downstream flooding risk.
After carefully assessing the options, and weighing up the implications of those options with the owner, we agreed to a compromise solution for Green Swamp, whereby the original full-supply level of the wetland would be reinstated, but only by regulating the Green Swamp outlet drain at the most convenient location for farm management. This necessitated the inclusion of a minor levee bank into our design, which included a fixed-level concrete spillway to enable management of outflows once the swamp was full. Crucially, by adopting this approach, we were still able to achieve our preferred wetland restoration design criteria of building a ‘set and forget’ solution, where maintaining minimum water levels in the wetland does not require any further ongoing management intervention after works. Along with other wetland restoration activities on the property, this outlet regulation work was completed by NGT in 2014 via grant funding we received from the Australian Government (i.e. NGT’s Wetland Restoration Program 2012-2017).
The rains arrived and the site responded!
Although it took a couple of years for it to happen, when the September 2016 flood event did eventually hit, we finally got to see what this country looks like when it gets properly wet – and it was worth the wait! As well as the image below, this previous blog shows what a lasting impact that event had on water levels in the wetland.
It wasn’t long, and the ecological impacts of restoration started – and still continue today – to emerge. Detection of key populations of Growling Grass Frog and Western Swamp Crayfish, as well as increasing records of a number significant waterbird species, including regular use of the site by Brolga, were all the evidence we needed to know that this was an outstanding example of wetland restoration in practice. Even now we are still detecting new species of birds utilising the recovering wetland.
A novel approach to permanent protection as an NGT Reserve
Over the subsequent couple of years, as well as sharing the exciting new records coming in from surveys at Green Swamp, our conversation with the property owners started to take a bigger picture view. Anyone who works across Victoria in water management will be aware that there are many challenges of working in this space, and rural drainage activities are especially complex. The one thing that emerged from our conversations at that time was that the owners knew that they didn’t want to see their good work easily undone – now that Green Swamp had once again become the centrepiece of Pollockdale. But no-one lasts forever, and property ownership of farm land will always inevitably change at some point, so we needed to determine how best to set the site up to be permanently protected and actively managed for conservation purposes in the very long term. At the same time, we were also conscious of removing the ability and /or incentive (of, for example, any future owner of the Pollockdale farm who may not be conservation minded) to interfere with the restored wetland down the track. In this context, it is worth considering that the informal loss of wetlands across rural Victoria through new artificial drainage activities and modification to wetlands is a very real threat and is ongoing.
Over several years, we’d built a really strong relationship to fix Green Swamp, so we agreed to work towards a solution that we felt was the best fit in this particular situation, and would enable us to keep our partnership going.
At that point, we agreed in principle to the private portion of Green Swamp becoming an NGT Reserve, to ensure the site would be permanently protected and to guarantee that the newly restored sill level on the outlet (which is on private land) can never be interfered with again in the future.
At the same time, NGT had recently committed to the purchase of Walker Swamp as a new NGT reserve nearby, so fortunately it also fit into our long-term plans to be a land manager in the local area – noting that establishing one of our permanent private reserves is a decision we don’t take lightly.
In agreeing to go down this path, we were very lucky that all of the private portions of Green Swamp were under a single ownership. This was important because it turned out that the restored private portion of the wetland actually straddled six parcels of land, on separate titles, that bore no resemblance to the physical shape of the wetland feature (see map right). Hence, we found ourselves in the unique and fortunate position of being able to seek to consolidate the boundaries of the private land around Green Swamp, to actually match the landform around the full extent of the wetland. In other places where we work, we have found that fragmented ownership of wetlands can be major obstacle to their effective conservation and management.
However, this process was not straightforward, because the wetland also actually straddles two council areas!
Hence, we are especially grateful to Mark Teakle from Alexander Symonds (surveyor) and planning staff at both Southern Grampians Shire and Ararat Rural City for their very timely and professional assistance with helping us to navigate this complicated planning process.
The future… announcing the Green Swamp Restoration Reserve!
Fast forward to today and Lot 2, the private portion of the wetland which includes the restoration infrastructure that controls water levels across the entire site, is now owned by Nature Glenelg Trust – making Green Swamp our newest Restoration Reserve.
Best of all, in terms of our working relationship with the owners of Pollockdale, nothing has really changed. The wetland has not gone anywhere, so it is still a magnificent in-lying centrepiece of their property. The only difference is that now the wetland will be permanently protected as an NGT Reserve, and benefit from dedicated conservation management and monitoring. Needless to say, we will continue to work cooperatively to ensure that conservation of this wetland operates seamlessly alongside the management of their surrounding farm, as this project would never have happened without their foresight and dedication to this fantastic outcome.
Additionally – now that it is an NGT Reserve – if you are interested in the project at Green Swamp and you are a birdwatcher, you can get involved!
How to access Green Swamp
Given the unusual (landlocked) configuration of the site, access to Green Swamp is only available by contacting Nature Glenelg Trust to obtain our formal consent. We can arrange the relevant permissions, notify our neighbours prior to your visit, and provide instructions with detailed directions for our approved access point and how to reach the best monitoring vantage points.
We are especially inviting birdwatchers (individuals or groups) who are willing to visit the site with binoculars and quietly observe the bird populations at the wetland, to record and share their observations with us. This will help us track its ecological recovery, as it has very quickly become an important summer refuge habitat since restoration works were completed. You can also get in touch and provide us with your details if you wish to be notified when we have occasional volunteer activities occurring on site.
To avoid disappointment, please note that access for other purposes will not be granted.
Finally, some acknowledgements. The project at Green Swamp has benefitted from the support of a range of different federal and state grant programs over the past eight years, which have contributed in various ways to this outcome, including the original restoration works.