Case Study: Barmah wetlands

Name of the wetland

Barmah wetlands (Barmah National Park and Ramsar site).
Located on Murray River floodplain in northern Victoria, Australia.
Heartlands of the Yorta Yorta traditional owner Aboriginal community.

Name of the respondent

Mr Keith Ward, Environmental Water Manager, Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority.

Barmah Choke, a natural constriction (passing only ~40% of the flow from upstream) in the mid-Murray River that readily floods to form the vast fan of the Barmah-Millewa floodplain (photo: Keith Ward).

What you have seen in the wetland – state, change, and drivers

Barmah Forest (28,500ha) forms the Victorian component of the Barmah-Millewa Forest (total 66,000 ha) that straddles the state boarder with New South Wales.  Over 90% of the forest is an active floodplain containing a diversity of wetland types (predominantly shallow freshwater marshland and deep freshwater marshland) and meets five of the six Ramsar criteria in its listing in 1982.  Renown for its treeless floodplain grassy wetlands (dominated by Spiny Mud-grass/Moira Grass Pseudoraphis spinescens) amongst the otherwise largest contiguous stand of River Red Gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis) forest in Australia.

The site has exhibited a large reduction in the extent of the Moira Grass plains after river regulation (construction of reservoirs in upstream catchments resulting in modified flooding regimes on the floodplain).  Waterbird numbers and native fish declines have also been recorded.

Eastern Great Egret on Barmah Lake during flood subsidence, representing a colonial-nesting species that once bred in large numbers but now uses Barmah Forest as the only remaining nesting site in Victoria (although other breeding populations exist in other eastern mainland states) (photo: Keith Ward).

Increased allocations of water specifically for the environment have been progressively made by the government over the past three decades.  Use of this water includes targets to re-instate critical natural flood regime requirements of the Moira Grass plains and to wetland biota.  Complimentary management activities are also being made that include elevating the reservation status of the site to National Park in 2010 with commensurate cessation to logging and cattle grazing, and an increased pest plant and animal control program (although feral horses have yet to be removed but is planned to occur).

Research and monitoring strongly supports the water management activities.  The Barmah wetlands have benefitted from the various university and government research projects until Barmah-Millewa Forum in the 1990s until the early-2000s established with annual funding support from the Murray-Darling Basin Commission to target required information requirements, including appointment of consultants. The federal government then established The Living Murray initiative in the early-2000s that survives to this day with a program of works and measures that includes a strong focus on research and monitoring for environmental outcomes.

Why you took part

To highlight a magnificent example of a mid-Murray floodplain wetland ecosystem that is often overlooked in favour of the better-known large wetland systems across the globe, especially given challenges being faced with good management outcomes.

What you hope will come from the survey

To participate in a shared understanding of the risks that wetlands across the globe face, and to showcase the positive drive from wetland scientists and practitioners to overcome those risks towards maintaining wetland biodiversity and ecological functioning.

Little Rushy Swamp in Barmah National Park, an example of the shallow freshwater marshlands that form naturally treeless wetlands that are floristically diverse but otherwise dominated by Moira Grass (photo: Keith Ward)