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Swamp success is something special

Long shot of a wetland covered in knee-high green grass
9 Nov 2021

When hectares of a rare aquatic plants are growing over a once-degraded wetland, you know something is working well.

That’s what ecologists have been greeted with as they monitor the results of the environmental flow onto Reed Bed Swamp in the Guttrum State Forest on Barapa Barapa and Wamba Wamba Country near Koondrook.

Swathes of aquatic plants including the rare river swamp wallaby grass and water nymph, have sprung up across the wetland after the second delivery of water for the environment in three years.

“This is certainly an uncommon sight, especially on a wetland that was so degraded from a combination of river regulation and historical management practices,” Wetland Revival Trust Senior Ecologist Damien Cook said.

“To see hectares of river swamp wallaby grass and a small population of water nymph – which needs the right inundation at the right time to colonise – is fantastic news.

“This kind of vegetation is what makes the wetlands of the Murray floodplains so special and something the community should be excited about.”

Mr Cook said the environmental flow had also brought birds back to the area.

“We counted 42 species of birds, split about 50-50 between waterbirds and woodland birds,” he said

“There is a great diversity of waterbirds, and some that are breeding, which is really good news given the amount of water across the whole region.”

Reed Bed Swamp is of environmental and cultural significance and the North Central Catchment Management Authority (CMA) has managed two recent water for the environment flows into the wetland – one this year and one in 2019.

Barapa Barapa and Wamba Wamba have been instrumental in advocating to get water into Reed Bed and worked closely with the North Central CMA in the planning and delivery.

This year’s flow also included the planting of culturally significant food and medicine plants, as well as reeds and rushes to restore habitat for the Endangered Australasian bittern.

“The recent high Murray flows only just reached Reed Bed Swamp giving it a small top up, making this environmental flow even more important,” North Central CMA Program Delivery Executive Manager Rachel Murphy said.

“It’s also important to note that we didn’t plant river swamp wallaby grass or water nymph. It came back because the right conditions had been created over a number of years through a combination of watering and some good winter rainfall.

“It highlights how resilient these wetlands can be, and with a little nudge in the right direction, can be restored into something truly spectacular.”

To ensure the benefits of this flow are not lost, another top-up flow will likely begin in late November.

“This top-up will ensure that the water is deep enough for the aquatic plants to support them through to flowering and setting seed. While also helping to maintain water depth over the top of the red gum saplings that were slashed earlier this year in an effort to halt their encroachment into open water habitat” Ms Murphy said.

“It will give the wetland a boost before summer and build on the success of the recent flows.

“These unique parts of our floodplain forests are loved by everyone, and we want to ensure they’re around for the generations that follow us to enjoy.”

Reed Bed Swamp is a key part of the proposed Victorian Murray Floodplain Restoration Project, which is developing opportunities to establish permanent watering infrastructure to help the floodplain and wetlands like Reed Bed Swamp to survive.

“The VMFRP will benefit places such as Reed Bed Swamp, while ensuring irrigation water stays in the community,” VMFRP East Projects Manager Tim Shanahan said.

“And what we have seen with the past two flows to Reed Bed is that the right amount of watering at the right time can make a big difference.

“These floodplains are special. Doing what we can to repair and restore them now, and build resilience for the future, is an important project everyone can get behind. The local community has been involved in the recent environmental flow events and we will continue to work with them as the VMFRP project develops.”

The flows are authorised by the Victorian Environmental Water Holder in line with its Seasonal Watering Plan 2020-21, which is available for download from, with regular watering updates posted on the North Central CMA website  

The Bringing Back the Bittern project is supported by the North Central CMA through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program.

Water for the environment is water legally set aside to protect or improve the environmental values of wetlands and streams. This water is held in storages and can be released to meet specific environmental needs.