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Experts give wetlands the tick of approval

A yellow flower and lily pads on a wetland, with  a log in the foreground and gum trees in the background
13 Apr 2022

Expert ecologists have given the recent Gunbower Forest wetland environmental flow the tick of approval. 

Water for the environment flowed into Reedy Lagoon, the Little Reedy Complex, Black Swamp, and Little Gunbower throughout spring and early summer 2021, and was supplemented by water from the Murray River during a short period of high-river flows in October.  

These high priority wetlands were filled and some of the surrounding low-lying parts of the floodplain received water for the first time in three years.

Fire, Flood, and Flora vegetation ecologist Kate Bennetts and Wetland Revival Trust restoration ecologist Damien Cook have been monitoring the response of the wetlands to the flows, and they are excited with the preliminary results.

“Reedy Lagoon is the jewel in the floodplain crown. The wetland is full of plants and is flourishing,” Ms Bennetts said. 

“It is one of the healthiest wetlands in the region and the Little Reedy Complex wetlands are supporting more wetland plants in 2022 than they have in many years.

“A rich and abundant array of native aquatic and amphibious plants emerged in and around the wetlands in spring 2021 and continued to thrive through to autumn 2022. Red gums within the inundation area were equally healthy with lush green canopies.” 

Mr Cook said water for environment had resulted in excellent conditions for vegetation growth and bird breeding.

“As far as many floodplain wetlands go, some of the ones in Gunbower are about the best I have seen,” he said.“The vegetation looks great. It has been the best year for some plant species such as yellow bladderwort, swamp lilies, and the endangered wavy marshwort for a long time. It’s the first time I have ever seen beds of eel grass in Little Reedy Lagoon.

“Birds that bred successfully included Australasian darter, little pied cormorant, Australian shelduck, grey teal, Pacific black duck, Australian wood duck, purple swamphen, azure kingfisher sacred kingfisher, peregrine falcon, white-faced heron, Australasian grebe, black swan, and the vulnerable Musk Duck.

“The successful breeding of peregrine falcons at Long Lagoon was great to see.”

Ms Bennetts said while the wetlands were doing well, they were still showing the impacts of climate change and other stressors.

“Most wetlands in Gunbower are in a recovery phase,” she said.

“They have weathered a culmination of drought, reduced natural inundation because of regulation, carp, pigs, grazing by introduced and native herbivors, sedimentation and tree encroachment, among other things. 

“The rest of the forest is still dry, with the more elevated red gum areas showing signs of prolonged drought stress.” 

North Central CMA Environmental Water Program Manager Anna Parker said keeping these wetlands alive in the face of climate change and a regulated system is vital.

“If these wetlands remain in a healthy condition in between larger natural floods or broader floodplain environmental flows, they act as a refuge for frogs, waterbirds and many other wetland-dependent species – including some that are threatened,” she said.

“It means the wetlands remain an important seedbank for the rest of the forest, so it can maintain its international significance and the values we all cherish and love.” 

Culturally important plants were identified growing in the areas that had received water for the environment in 2021 including gukwonderuck (old man weed), an important medicinal plant.

“Ensuring there are areas of water in the landscape throughout the entire year is important for maintaining the cultural practices of the Traditional Owners, particularly ceremonial and birthing practices,” Ms Parker said.

“In a completely dry forest, these practices would need to take place elsewhere.

“When visiting Corduroy Swamp, a local elder told us the forest in that area looked and felt much healthier, and area that which has had a much greater frequency of inundation in the last decade.

“The discussion focused on how the tree canopies in the areas that received water were much thicker and provided shade, which also reduced the amount of evaporation in the wetlands.”

The North Central CMA manages environmental flows on behalf of the Victorian Environmental Water Holder. The flows are authorised by VEWH in line with its Seasonal Watering Plan 2021-22. 

The Plan is available for download from, with regular watering updates posted here.