Water for wildlife
3 March 2017
On World Wildlife Day we are looking at how environmental water was recently used to benefit wildlife in Australia’s largest river red gum forest — Barmah–Millewa Forest. Environmental water is water used to improve the health of rivers, wetlands and floodplains.
The naturally wet conditions over winter and spring provided ideal conditions for wildlife. Higher parts of the floodplain were flooded for the first time in over 20 years. More than 4,000 nesting pairs of waterbirds were recorded in one of the main wetland areas on the Victorian side of the forest. At least 56 Australasian bitterns, a threatened species, were also present in Barmah Forest.
Moira grass, which is internationally recognised as important in this wetland ecosystem, also benefitted from the recent rains. The video Watering the largest river red gum forest in the world talks about the benefits of environmental water for the forest.
As the water levels in the forest began to fall, due to drying conditions and river regulation, environmental water was used so that the waterbird chicks could safely hatch and fledge. Many waterbirds abandon their nests if water levels are not maintained. Barmah Forest was the only location in Victoria where eastern great egrets and intermediate egrets were observed breeding in 2016. Large numbers of egrets also bred in Millewa Forest, in New South Wales.
The Moira grass also needed extra water to allow it to grow successfully before setting seed. Floating Moira grass platforms then provided sanctuary for native fish, including golden perch and the critically endangered silver perch.
Environmental water will continue to be supplied to selected creeks in the forest in autumn and winter to improve the populations of large-bodied fish, such as Murray cod and trout cod.
Most of the environmental water used in the forests returns to the River Murray, where it is able to be re-used further downstream for other purposes.
The environmental watering was planned by the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and the New South Wales Office of Environment and Heritage, in consultation with Parks Victoria, the Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation, the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service, community members and the Murray–Darling Basin Authority. The water was provided by the Barmah–Millewa Environmental Water Account, The Living Murray, the Victorian Environmental Water Holder and the Commonwealth Environmental Water Holder.
Each year we work with water managers, environmental water holders and communities to identify environmental watering priorities for the Murray–Darling Basin. This is so the best use is made of the environmental water available.
The 2016–17 environmental watering priorities included supporting Moira grass, waterbird breeding, and threatened fish.