Wetlands are the Kidneys of the Landscape

It’s been raining!

As the water runs off the land and into the creeks running into the wetlands, it picks up sediment and the water becomes turbid (muddy). We measure this turbidity with the NTU scale – 1 is a clear water sample and 100 is quite muddy but it can go higher (Lake Mokoan at its worst was up to over 200 NTU).

At our recent water quality testing run, Restoration Scientist, Dr Lisa Farnsworth, discovered first-hand the value of wetlands filtering out sediment and contaminants from water. Water runs into part of the wetlands at 11 Mile Creek and the turbidity was 60 NTU (image 1).

11 Mile Creek turbidity was 60 NTU.

The water then travels through the series of shallow wetlands and into Boggy Bridge Swamp. Lisa measured the turbidity at the point where the water flowed from Boggy Bridge and into Green’s Swamp.  At this point, after being ‘filtered’ by the wetlands, the water was 5 NTU (image 2), the cleanest we have recorded for some time!

This is a great example of the wetlands performing a vital “ecosystem service” of water quality treatment. The wetlands essentially act as the ‘kidneys of the landscape’, filtering and capturing sediment, and helping settle it to the bed of the wetland and the plants use these nutrients to grow which supports the whole ecosystem.

The water then travels through the series of shallow wetlands and into Boggy Bridge Swamp. The water was 5 NTU, the cleanest we have recorded for some time!
The 5 NTU water from Boggy Bridge Swamp.

Just Add Water

Ephemeral wetlands, like Winton Wetlands, dry and fill in a natural cycle following rainfall in the catchments of the creeks which feed the wetlands. The drying phase, now passed, was very important to the wetland ecosystem which resulted in:

  • organisms laying desiccation-resistant stages or eggs, or plants setting seeds as the water dried out;
  • plants being stimulated to colonise the edge and the wetland bed; and
  • nutrients being transformed and preparing the system for next refilling phase.

Now, as the catchment has become soaked, it seems every rain event even high in the catchment away from the wetlands, is sending pulses of water into our smaller wetlands (such as the Ashmeads Swamp, 7 Mile Creek Wetland and 11 Mile Creek Wetland, and others). They are now spilling over into the larger wetlands of Boggy Bridge Swamp and Winton Swamp, even if this isn’t that obvious from the Hub or the main roads.

The much-needed inflows will create new habitat for the wetland by releasing nutrients that stimulate the growth of aquatic flora and fauna. As the water inundates the wetland bed, the eggs of zooplankton and algal spores hatch, and this creates great feeding opportunities for many bird and fish species. The filling wetlands also trigger native fish and waterbird breeding.

It really is the boom time for wetlands and hopefully rain keeps falling to enable a new cycle of life for many wetland creatures across the whole reserve. This is an exciting time for wetland observers to see what plants and animals use the wetlands. It is also an important time for species to become established or abundant within a wetland system. All you need is to “just add water”.

7 Mile Creek Wetland, August 2020 – just after flooding, the terrestrial plants are drowned and will be soon replaced by the aquatic plants flourishing in the centre of the wetland in the photo. Photo credit: John Spencer
Winton Swamp near Lunette, August 2020. Many plants, such as dock shown in the foreground of the image, have underground tubers which will sprout when inundated, providing rapid cover. As flooding gets deeper, true aquatic plants will take over. Photo credit: Chloe Trevena, Winton Wetlands.

Increasing Biodiversity

Media Release | 23 May 2019

World Biodiversity Day was recently celebrated and is in perfect timing with the recent discovery of evidence of increasing biodiversity at Winton Wetlands.

The team of staff and volunteers at Winton Wetlands and the Friends of Winton Wetlands have been working towards natural habitat renewal and recently, two major species, the Squirrel Glider and the Rakali, have been sighted at Winton Wetlands proving the continuing success of the team’s restoration efforts.

The Rakali (Australian water-rat) is an attractive and large aquatic mammal that resembles a small otter and they have just been discovered onsite at the Mokoan Ponds! This sighting is the first at the Wetlands for almost 40 years. It is thought that water-rat numbers have declined in many places in south eastern Australia, particularly since the mid-1990s, and our sighting is evidence of conditions improving for these species.

Similarly, Squirrel Gliders were discovered again at Winton Wetlands late last year, which is another first in 40 years. While the Squirrel Glider is widespread on the east coast of Australia, it is uncommon, and it is very exciting to have a population calling Winton Wetlands home!

In the woodlands, nest boxes are benefiting the population of Squirrel Gliders. ‘The discovery of Gliders points to the very strong value of corridors to allow species to recolonise the site and therefore increase the area’s biodiversity’, said Lance Lloyd, restoration scientist at Winton Wetlands.

‘Likewise, the improvement of habitats at the Mokoan Ponds in terms of aquatic vegetation, carp control and woody debris has meant Murray Cod can thrive’, said Lance.

Murray Cod, a native freshwater fish listed as vulnerable, have declined significantly in numbers across the Murray-Darling basin due to overfishing, river regulation, and habitat degradation. Despite the near absence of water, Murray Cod are present in our permanent water bodies and this shows the obvious importance of habitat improvements as a restoration process. Having rediscovered the species at the Wetlands in the past few years, we are proud to have evidence of prolific breeding and a healthy juvenile survival rate.

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Wildlife Rescue with Winton Wetlands

Media Release | 15 April 2019

The Friends of Winton Wetlands recently organised a ‘Wildlife Rescue info with Clean Up Day’ event which delivered information and knowledge on how to help injured wildlife, presented by Shirley Steegstra from Benalla Wildlife Rescue. An active effort to clean up the Winton Wetlands site was also a part of the day.

Winton Wetlands and the Friends would like to thank all those who attended the event and Shirley for her time and the wonderful work she does. Shirley has provided some basic information about what to do if you come across injured wildlife.

What to do if you find injured wildlife

If you find an injured native animal or bird, pick the animal up using a towel or blanket and place it in a cardboard box that is also line with a towel. Ensure you have put some ventilation holes in the box first. Place the box securely in your car, not in the boot as exhaust fumes can kill the animal. If you do not have access to immediate assistance, keep the animal in a warm, dark place and keep noise to a minimum to avoid stressing the animal. Please do not offer the animal any food and water as native animals have very specialised diets and feeding an animal that is in shock can be fatal. Take the animal to your nearest vet or contact your local wildlife rescue organisation. Vet clinics and rescue organisations do not charge to accept wildlife.

Please remember that some animals do not require rescuing. For example, some baby birds are left for a short time while the parents forage for food.

If you find a kangaroo, wallaby, possum or koala that has been injured be sure to check the pouch for young. If ever in doubt, ring your local wildlife organisation for assistance.

Becoming a wildlife rescuer

Wildlife Shelter Operator Authorisations are for experienced wildlife carers who have the expertise and facilities to house a range of wildlife in need of care, including those with complex requirements.

Foster Carer Authorisations are for those who wish to learn wildlife rehabilitation. Foster Carers are authorised under the Wildlife Shelter Operators so that people new to wildlife rehabilitation can gain experience and guidance in the care and treatments of native wildlife.

Wildlife rehabilitation is rewarding but is time demanding and can be physically and emotionally demanding. It requires a range of skills such as safely capturing and handling distressed wildlife, administering first-aid (sometimes performing euthanasia) and providing appropriate food and enclosures.  All this must be done in a way that doesn’t stress the animals and maintains their natural behaviours to allow a successful life in the wild after release.

If you are interested, DEWLP recommends that you volunteer with an experienced authorised shelter prior to applying for a Foster Carer Authorisation.

Find more information at www.wildlife.vic.gov.au


Download this media release in PDF format

Science Forum

5th Annual Restoration Science Forum

15th and 16th August 2019

 

The theme for the 2019 event is ‘Connecting People with Nature’. This theme emphasises the role of nature in both ecosystem health and human health.

We are interested in both the restoration stories and how these have helped connect people with nature.

We are planning to feature talks and workshops examining the role of nature and ecosystem restoration in providing opportunities for connection with nature, such as walking, canoeing or cycling in nature, volunteering in restoration projects and citizen science and the impacts these can have on wellbeing, health and mental health of participants.

Our keynote speakers include:

Professor Pierre Horwitz from Edith Cowan University, who is currently a Professor in the School of Natural Sciences. With research interests in wetland ecosystems, health and sustainability, he is involved in research on environmental management projects in Australia, the South Pacific and South-East Asia, aiming to better understand, and address, the social and environmental determinants of human health and well-being. Pierre was a member of the Ramsar International Convention on Wetlands’ Scientific and Technical Review Panel (2009-2015), where he is providing detailed input and coordination for the Convention’s theme on Wetlands and Human Health. As an example of Pierre’s work, a recent article published by The Conversation illustrates “how urban bushland improves our health and why planners need to listen”.

Yvonne Taura (Ngāiterangi, Ngāti Ranginui, Ngāti Tūwharetoa, Ngāti Uenuku, Ngāti Hauā) is a Māori researcher for Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research (crown research institute), in Hamilton, NZ. Her research interests are working collaboratively with iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes) on various projects that implement kaupapa Māori (Māori methodological) approaches and processes. Yvonne is a co-editor of Te Reo o Te Repo, a wetland handbook that focuses on Māori values and aspirations for wetland restoration. Yvonne is a PhD candidate at the University of Waikato (Hamilton, NZ), her topic explores empowering iwi and hapū to utilise mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) based science tools and frameworks in restoration and monitoring, in order to enact their kaitiakitanga (guardianship) responsibilities.

Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman is a descendant of three iwi (tribes) affiliated with the Whanganui River on her mum’s side – Te Atihaunui-a-Pāpārangi, Ngāti Apa and Ngāti Rangi. Thanks to her Dad, she also descends from Breda in the Netherlands.
She is freelance contractor/advisor working mainly with iwi (tribes) and hapū (sub-tribes) in the areas of restoration science and environmental planning. More recently, she has finally been able to do her dream job of working for her own river and her people. She has interests in environmental science – particularly ethnobotany, wetland restoration and mātauranga taiao (cultural environmental-ecological knowledge), biosecurity and the training and development of tribal members working at the ‘flaxroots’. Her most recent work has focused on wetlands and the sharing of narratives from the indigenous people who give these spaces their unique voices. Cheri’s presentation at this year’s Forum is titled ‘When the River can’t find her happy place – why wetlands are more that just ‘wetlands’ for a truly healthy Te Awa Tupua.’

Jennie Schopfer-Bons studied Biological Sciences in the 1980s in a variety of Science related jobs both in Australia and overseas. (Zoology – Latrobe University & Zurich Univeristy). Jennie is currently an Early Childhood teachers in a stand alone community kindergarten. Her Science studies, nature pedgogy training and personal history influence her teaching and pedagogy. Jennie recently complete a Master thesis research project that was titled: ‘What are early childhood educators pedagogical beliefs for including a Bush Kinder element to their program?’

Dr Rebecca Patrick, the Senior Lecturer in Public Health, Co-lead of the Health Nature Sustainability Research Group at Deakin University and Vice President of the Climate and Health Alliance. In this talk, Dr Rebecca Patrick (Co-lead of the research group) will take you on a guided tour of some of the evidence they, along with partner organisations, have generated. Highlights will include research on: improving natural environments and human health by enhancing the delivery of environmental volunteering programs; the health benefits and associated economic value of parks and park use; evaluating community health interventions that promote human health and sustainability; and mental and spiritual health benefits of contact with nature. The talk will land on ‘what does this evidence mean for wetlands initiatives?’.

Mark Bachmann, Nature Glenelg Trust

Nature Glenelg Trust has now engaged community volunteer help in wetland restoration works at many sites in south-eastern Australia on public and private land. Beyond the obvious practical assistance provided for the construction of geo-fabric sandbag weirs, which was our main initial intention, we have since discovered and observed a range of other benefits and incidental spin-offs as a result of this approach to wetland restoration – for both the participants and the communities they represent. This presentation will explore a range of situations where volunteers have assisted Nature Glenelg Trust with wetland restoration works in Victoria and South Australia, and examine the ecological and sociological outcomes of this hands-on and inclusive approach to wetland restoration project delivery.

 

 

Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation Welcome to Country
Dr Dennis O’Brien, Chair, Winton Wetlands Welcome & Introduction to Winton Wetlands
Prof Pierre Horwitz, Edith Cowan University The multifaceted relationships between wetlands, conservation action, and human health
Michael Johnson, Moonlit Sanctuary Moonlit Sanctuary: Connecting People to Nature
Yvonne Taura & Cheri van Schravendijk-Goodman Te Reo o Te Repo –The Voice of the Wetland, a cultural wetland handbook
Friends of Winton Wetlands Friends of Winton Wetlands connecting people to nature – Past, Present & Future
Winton Wetlands Staff and Committee Restoration Update – Winton Wetlands Reserve
Jennie Schopfer Role of nature play in early childhood learning
Pat Feehan, Birdlife Murray-Goulburn BLMG Winton Wetlands Bird Monitoring Review
Martin Potts, Greening Australia The Cultural Story of Lake Wellington
Mark Bachmann,Nature Glenelg Trust Exploring the immense value of community volunteer involvement in wetland restoration trials

 

The 2019 Forum will offer an excellent opportunity to hear speakers from a range of organisations and provide a platform for people to speak about their own projects, nominate their own selection of speakers and get involved in new activities as part of the Forum. There will also be opportunities to view other activities happening on-site such as the indigenous cultural trail, landscape art installations and cycling trails to name a few.

 

Download a PDF version of the Science Forum Program here.

These Drying Times

In these drying times it can be difficult to see that wetland sites, like Winton Wetlands, provide vital, productive environments.

Cradling biological diversity, the wetlands provide the perfect setting for countless species of plants and animals to survive and thrive. Drying wetlands are a natural phenomenon. In fact, in those wetlands that do regularly dry out, it is an essential process. Australian wetlands have evolved to exploit the boom and bust of our seasons.

Drying also ensures the wetlands spring back into life at the next filling event by:

  • supporting large numbers of water birds
  • allowing the nutrients that have built up in the wet phase to be processed and reduced
  • guaranteeing the mudflat plants to sprout and become established on the floor of the wetlands, binding the soil
  • providing habitat for many animals and insects, including water bugs (invertebrates) who lay dormant eggs in preparation for the next wet.

But it is what happens below the surface that goes unnoticed.

“Winton Wetlands currently has water held in the Mokoan Ponds along the Dam Wall, which are supporting many water plants, water birds, fish and yabbies all year ’round” said Lance Lloyd, Aquatic Ecologist at Winton Wetlands.

Under the water, the native fish are growing with the warm conditions and the waterbirds are feeding on the yabbies, invertebrates and water plants. Small mammals and reptiles are flourishing under the grass cover – feeding and growing, out of the hot sun, and the insects are burrowing and aerating the soil, creating a balanced and diverse ecosystem.

“Wetlands are biological supermarkets, providing great volumes of food for many animal species. These animals use places like Winton Wetlands in their life-cycles.”

“Plant leaves and stems breakdown as water subsides, creating small particles of organic material called detritus. This enriched material feeds waterbugs, shellfish and small fish that are food for larger predatory fish, reptiles, amphibians, birds and mammals”

During this dry period, Winton Wetlands are:

  • unwavering in their efforts to reduce European Carp populations
  • revegetating the wetlands to replace the woodlands, grasslands and reed beds to provide shade and habitat
  • undertaking works on the wetlands that we can only do in the dry, like managing drainage and maintaining tracks and
  • preparing the site for when the next wet period arrives

Wetlands also provide a blend of shallow water, high levels of nutrients and primary productivity – ideal for the development of organisms that form the base of the food web and carbon cycle.

“Wetlands store carbon within their plant communities and soil instead of releasing it to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide. Thus, wetlands help to moderate global climate conditions.”

Functioning as natural sponges, wetlands trap and slowly release surface water, rain and flood waters. Trees, root mats and other wetland vegetation also slow the speed of flood waters and distribute them more slowly over the wetlands. This combined water storage and braking action reduces erosion and lowers flood heights, albeit hard to imagine significant and prolonged rainfall in current conditions.

Image: Lesley Ricker

One giant leap…

An important aspect of the restoration of Winton Wetlands is the re-establishment of native species local to the Wetlands. The availability of hollows as shelter and nesting sites for threatened tree-dwelling mammal species is vital to their persistence and movement through the landscape.

Through the ‘That’s One Giant Leap’ project, funded by the Victorian State Government, the Friends of Winton Wetlands have been able to involve the community in very meaningful and innovative restoration activities at Winton Wetlands. Since 2014, over 100 nest boxes have been installed to provide supplementary habitat for tree-dwelling mammals, including the Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) and the Brush-tailed Phascogale (Phascogale tapoatafa.)

Since then, various activity of a range of species has been recorded within the nest boxes demonstrating the success of the project. Winton Wetlands and the Friends of Winton Wetlands are most pleased to confirm the recorded sighting of one of the two targeted species being the Squirrel Glider.

“Finding a Squirrel Glider using our nest boxes is the highlight of the Friends four-year nest box program so far. This and finding several families of young Yellow-footed Antechinus in an area previously populated with poor nesting hollows, provides the incentive to continue the program. We hope to extend the chain of nest boxes to continue encouraging wildlife to utilise the entire Wetlands and to create links to nearby woodland.  Well done to all those who have participated in construction, installation and monitoring,” said Geoff Barrow, Friends of Winton Wetlands volunteer and nest box monitoring manager.

Not only is this the first record of a Squirrel Glider since the onset of the project but also the first ever recorded sighting at the Winton Wetlands site, marking it as a very exciting and special event.

The 2019 Friends of Winton Wetlands membership applications are now open and available instore at the Mokoan Hub & Café.

 

Fish hotels – Need a place to put your fins up?

Media Release: 13 December 2018

In restoring Winton Wetlands, we need to provide habitat for plants and animals that has previously been lost. In the long term, new vegetation will provide a range of vital habitats for fish and other organisms. However, establishing vegetation which will then provide woody debris to the ecosystem is a lengthy process.

Fish hotels at Winton Wetlands

The Winton Wetlands Committee of Management together with the Friends of Winton Wetlands are creating ‘fish hotels’ as a quick way to restore aquatic habitat for our threatened fish species, including the iconic Murray Cod.

Two types of fish hotels are being used:

  • Hollow logs – sustainably sourced from road and pipeline clearance projects.
  • Constructed fish hotels – made from smaller logs and locally sourced from fallen timber.

Wood surfaces attract food for fish

“The surfaces of the wood provide an excellent place for algae and other biofilms to grow, attracting shrimp and other crustaceans which are a major food source for fish. Further, Murray Cod and other fish love to use the surfaces of the wood to lay their eggs,” said Lance Lloyd, Restoration Scientist at Winton Wetlands.

“These fish hotels will provide great fish habitat and allow aquatic species, including the threatened Murray Cod, to survive”.

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Fish hotels waiting to be installed at the Duck Pond - Image by Lance Lloyd
Fish hotels waiting to be installed at the Duck Pond – Image by Lance Lloyd

Why did the turtle cross the road?

Tuesday 23 October

Winton Wetlands is fortunate to play host to some interesting ‘heroes in half-shells’ including the Eastern Long-necked turtle (Chelodina longicollis) and Murray River turtle (Emydura macquarii). Turtles love to use the edges of the Wetland’s swamps for laying eggs and are known to travel between expanses of water which provide their food resources.

“We are seeing turtles almost on a daily basis at the moment around the Wetlands”, said Lance Lloyd, Restoration Scientist at Winton Wetlands.

“We’ve seen an abundance of turtles crossing Lake Mokoan Road and they’ve even been visiting the Mokoan Hub and Café and our glamping site near the boat ramp”.

These four-legged friends contribute to the diversity of fauna represented at the Wetlands and are the subject of ongoing restoration and monitoring, including that being conducted by the Friends of Winton Wetlands who use an online mapping database, TurtleSAT, to log their findings.

Fingers are tightly crossed in the hope of finding the locally-extinct Broad-shelled turtle (Chelodina expansa), but the focus is on conservation efforts across all species.

For visitors to the area and beyond, there are a few ways to help your local turtle populations, including recording sightings using databases like TurtleSAT and lending a helping hand to turtles taking the treacherous journey across roadways.

Turtles travel to seek out healthy habitats, food and water. Keep the following tips in mind if you see a turtle crossing the road:

  • Be cautious of your own safety by checking where you stop your car and being aware of other vehicles travelling on the roadway
  • Take a quiet, low and slow approach towards the turtle to prevent distress
  • Pick the turtle up firmly by the shell edges, keeping it low to the ground
  • Move the turtle off the road making sure to keep it facing the way it was walking to continue on its travels!

Media Contact: Tanya McAlpin
03 5766 4462, 0414 266 960
tanya.mcalpin@wintonwetlands.org.au

2018 Drying of the Winton Wetlands

The drying we’re seeing at Winton Wetlands is part of a normal and regular process. With the dry weather over summer and autumn the site dried out this year. Drying drives very important ecological processes (such as nutrient transformation, trigging invertebrates to lay eggs and plants to germinate), so we welcome it. It also allows us to get on with some physical works that the big wet of two years ago has delayed!
When the reserves filled in 2016 (after being dry for two years), it took about 2 months for them to fill (July and August) to over 100 per cent as the wetlands then drained out for a couple of weeks and water slowly dropped over that summer and autumn. Unfortunately the winter rains last year only resulted in a small water rise and of course they have dried out now.

A more detailed explanation

The Winton Wetlands are an ephemeral wetland system. This means that there will be times when the wetlands dry out for example after periods of low rainfall.  experience both drying events, after periods of low rainfall, and filling events, from inflows following rain events in the catchment, and from local surface runoff.

Evaporation is happening all the time

At all times, the wetlands lose water through evaporation. Evaporation happens more quickly from November to March. During these hotter months the water level can drop rapidly. In drier periods it can completely dry out. The flooding-drying cycle is a natural and predictable event for all wetland systems.

Lake Mokoan aerial

Drying out can have benefits for the wetlands

Lance Lloyd, Restoration Scientist at Winton wetlands says:

“Drying is very important to the wetland ecosystem as it:

  • Triggers organisms to lay desiccation-resistant stages, eggs, or plants to set seeds in response to the lowering water levels;
  • stimulates edge and wetland plant colonisation; and
  • causes dried out sediments on exposed wetland beds to allow nutrients to be transformed and prepare the system for next refilling phase.”

A natural cycle of drying out and filling

The main, most visible body of water in the centre of the Reserve comprises the three largest wetlands in the complex – Sergeant’s, Winton and Green’s Swamps. These wetlands have historically dried every eight years, on average. At the moment Greens and Sergeants Swamps have already dried, as have the smaller wetlands. The large body of water in Winton Swamp is very shallow and is likely to dry completely in coming days or weeks.

A 10% drop in water level can span over two square kilometres of water surface. This means that drying out can seem to be a dramatic event affecting a large surface area, even though it is only a slight decrease in system volume.

Site improvement and ecological benefits

Jim Grant, CEO of the Winton Wetlands Committee of Management says “we work with these natural occurrences as opportunities to continue to develop the site across its many aspects and welcome the drying event as an effective control of exotic and potentially harmful fish such carp, which still occur in the system (although at lower levels than previously).” Firstly, he says “the low water levels assist water birds, such as pelicans, to feed upon the fish and secondly, the drying itself eliminates the harmful fish.” Restoration Scientist, Lace Lloyd said “Our recent fish survey indicated that Winton Swamp had fewer carp than usual but drying will eliminate this harmful species. Native fish have found refuge in our Mokoan Ponds along the old dam wall.”

Header photo by Liz Arcus


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Lance presents some interesting information about carp in this video