Wetland champions

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As the Murray Wetland Carbon Storage Project approaches the end of its final year, Sarah Ning and Susanne Watkins explain how the success of the project has relied on building strong relationships with landholders.

Landholders and communities have played a large part in the rehabilitation of more than 3000 hectares of wetlands in inland New South Wales, thanks to a partnership between Murray Local Land Services and the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group Ltd to increase the capacity of wetlands to store carbon.

The Murray Wetland Carbon Storage Project is a six-year initiative funded by the Australian Government, which works with landholders, both public and private, to rehabilitate wetlands. Through the development of strong partnerships, the project has far exceeded the original target of 2000 hectares. Additional outcomes of the project have been the increased capacity of landholders to undertake restoration works and monitor their wetlands, with some landholders becoming local ‘wetland champions’.

Wetland degradation and carbon storage

Wetlands are the largest terrestrial carbon store – they are capable of storing 30 to 40 times more carbon than forests. Inland wetlands contain 33 per cent of global soil carbon, despite only occupying 8 per cent of the land surface area. Inland wetlands are also the largest source of the greenhouse gas methane; however, these emissions become negligible over the long-time frames relevant to climate modification. Wetland degradation associated with land use changes, however, may impact their ability to sequester carbon.

Rain-filled wetlands in inland New South Wales

In inland New South Wales, rain-filled wetlands are common in agricultural areas. Here they are threatened by livestock grazing, vegetation clearing, cropping, pests and weeds which impact on their ability to sequester and store carbon. In other wetland systems such as floodplain wetlands, manipulating hydrology, a critical driver of carbon capture and storage, is a common way to improve carbon sequestration and storage. Rain-filled wetlands, however, offer a challenge for the management of carbon sequestration and storage because the hydrology of these systems is almost entirely driven by rainfall.

Landholder partnerships offer hope for degraded wetlands

The Murray Wetland Carbon Storage Project is working with landholders who were directly targeted and driven by economic priorities, presenting a key challenge for increasing their capacity to appreciate, understand and manage their wetlands. To meet this challenge, the project successfully implemented a program which invested staff time to build relationships with landholders, rather than management payments, used contractors to deliver on-ground works to free up landholder’s time, and allowed for the development of management actions that integrated their farming activities with biodiversity and carbon storage interests.

The success of the project to date is largely due to the many landholders who have enthusiastically embraced this project.

A ‘fit for purpose’ funding model has been providing landholders with on-ground works tailored to each individual site with the aim of improving carbon storage and biodiversity.

These works have included:

  • revegetation of endemic wetland, riparian and woodland vegetation
  • changed grazing regimes, including fencing to exclude stock and alternative watering points
  • pest animal and weed control
  • education and community engagement resources and facilities, including signage, bird hides and community events.

Three investment rounds have been completed, with a fourth and final round currently underway. To date 26 landholders have taken part in rehabilitating over 3000 hectares of wetlands in the Murray Local Land Services district.

Wetland monitoring

Through the project’s monitoring program, Deakin University’s Blue Carbon Lave have found that rehabilitation of freshwater inland wetlands, through on-ground works such as fencing and revegetation, significantly improves soil carbon stocks, increasing further, the longer the wetlands have been restored. Furthermore, rehabilitation of degraded wetlands greatly improves carbon stocks, regardless of the degree of degradation, with sequestration capacity returning in as little as five years.

Salvaging a Savernake swamp

Farmers Bill and Cecile Nixon participated in the project to store wetland carbon and attract birds back to their Savernake property. Cecile explains that she “wanted to better manage the area to encourage native vegetation growth and to bring woodland and wetland birds back to the site”. The Nixons are thrilled to be part of the project and can’t wait to see the changes to the vegetation and wildlife at their 8 hectare wetland area which is dominated by sedges, rushes, grasses and Grey Box. Cattle used to access the area, though now with the fencing in place the site is protected from trampling stock, particularly during the wet times, allowing for a greater diversity of wetland plants to establish.

Birds get a new home at Balldale

Through the project the McDonalds fenced an 82 hectare wetland (Emu Swamp) to manage stock grazing, and installed a bird hide and nest boxes. Ross and his wife Lea wanted to encourage birds and animals to the wetland and establish a few more trees around the wetland edge. The McDonalds consider the wetland to be a really attractive part of the farm. They have installed  a bird hide for bird watching so that they can learn to identify different bird species. Ross said there were several farmers in the area working on wetland and native vegetation conservation on their properties and together they are building a network of wildlife habitat links. “By each of us doing a little bit we can make a real difference to the local environment”. The wetland has responded well to the altered grazing regime with an improved cover of wetland plants emerging at the site, providing a home for many waterbirds, which the McDonald family enthusiastically view from their bird hide.

This article was written by Sarah Ning and Susanne Watkins.

You can download a pdf of the article ‘Wetland champions‘.
For more information, email sarah.ning@murraydarlingwetlands.com.au, susanne.watkins@lls.nsw.gov.au, or head to one of the following websites:
www.murray.lls.nsw.gov.au
www.blucarbonlab.org
www.murraydarlingwetlands.com.au
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