Exploring NGT restored wetlands – School holiday adventures

A lot of ecological restoration, management and science involves sitting at a desk, but I have a strong belief that ecologists should regularly spend time in the ecosystems on which they work. Not just focused work time, with specific tasks to achieve, but leisure time as well. Just relaxing and playing around nature improves ecological knowledge and can lead to interesting discoveries and insights. Of course, this applies to everyone, not just ecologists, hence the growing popularity of activities loosely described as “nature play”, something that promotes physical and mental well-being, and not just for kids. There have been a lot of nature play areas constructed in recent years, particularly in cities, but there is no substitute for the real thing. So it was an absolute thrill to spend six nights over the new year period camped at NGT’s Walker Swamp Restoration Reserve, along with a bunch of other families, surrounded by three NGT-restored wetlands, Walker Swamp, Gooseneck Swamp and Brady Swamp.

Gooseneck Swamp, within Grampians National Park, was restored by NGT in stages from temporary to permanent works from 2013 to 2015. In January 2021 this wetland, while not full, was 20 – 40 cm deep and looking fantastic with diverse aquatic vegetation. With the lush wetland habitat and the backdrop of the Grampians, it looked a bit like Kakadu – without the humidity or crocodiles. We were so enchanted, we all took off our boots and went for a barefoot stroll through the wetland, conjuring up the life of the Traditional Owners in our imaginations. There were only minor encounters with leeches and everyone was still smiling at the end!

Advanced nature play: a barefoot exploration of Gooseneck Swamp (photo: Michelle Forte, EyeDropper Designs).

With Walker Swamp filling for the first time in about 60 years in October 2020, thanks to NGT restoration works in 2018, in early January 2021 this wetland resembled a lake, with a huge area of open water. This provided great opportunities for kayaking and swimming. There were plenty of waterbirds to get up close to, particularly hoary-headed grebes, which spend a lot of time under water and sometimes resurfaced a few metres away from the kayaks. In particular, the northern end of Walker Swamp, where wetland vegetation is more established, was a pleasure to kayak through, with the calls of growling grass frogs emanating all around. The serenity was only broken when a loud crack of thunder gave us a bit of a fright and we scurried off to find shelter.

Kayaks and canoes are a great way to explore the recently restored Walker Swamp – but as wetland vegetation becomes more established over the years ahead there will be less open water and more habitat for wildlife (photo: Ben Taylor).

And then down came the rain!

We were actually blessed with perfect, mild sunny weather for most of our stay, but it was punctuated with two intense thunderstorms. NGT has a meteorological station at Walker Swamp, so we were able to compare our experience with some real data. On the afternoon of January 1st we received 14 mm in about 30 minutes, and then on the 2nd we copped 28.6 mm in about 40 minutes! Although the campsite at Walkers is quite elevated and sandy, there was very quickly 5 – 10 cm of water all over the ground. Contrary to the typical NGT philosophy, shovels had to be deployed to create some (very minor) drains around tents to keep the bedding dry! But the kids were thrilled with the temporary flooding of the management track near the campsite.

A torrential downpour at Walker Swamp tested the camping gear! (photo: Ben Taylor)
The torrential summer rain briefly flooded this track and the kids took full advantage (photo: Michelle Forte, EyeDropper Designs).

Brady Swamp, another NGT-restored wetland, was, like Gooseneck Swamp, not full but with enough water to kayak on and waterbirds in abundance. This is a particularly spectacular wetland; big (360 hectares), well vegetated and with Mount Abrupt providing an incredible backdrop. Its a great place to simply sit back and soak up the scenery.

Soaking in the scene – Brady Swamp and Mount Abrupt (photo: Michelle Forte, EyeDropper Designs).

NGT supporters can visit most of our reserves by prior arrangement, and we encourage you to do so. Please contact the Mount Gambier office on 08 8797 8596 for more information.

Ben Taylor