Australia — A group of intrepid wetland lovers from the New England Tablelands braved freezing and wet conditions to learn more about the importance of our endangered lagoons and swamps. Upland Wetlands (lagoons) and Peats and Swamps of the New England Tableland are listed as endangered ecological communities under the NSW Threatened Species Conservation Act 1995. WetlandCare Australia hosted three field days in late August leading people to lagoons and swamps around Uralla, Arding, Torrington and Tenterfield. WetlandCare Australias organiser Nick Cobcroft commented;
The high level of interest shown at the field days is extremely encouraging. Once we started looking people could not stop. Every wetland is unique in its own way and we need to do everything we can to protect them. He said Most wetlands occur on private property and once landowners realise the significance of what they have, they become very enthusiastic about them.
A variety of speakers contributed their expert knowledge throughout the field days. Dr Dorothy Bell from the University of New England pointed out to participants just how rare intact lagoons are on the New England Tablelands.
Only about 15 of the documented 58 lagoons remain in a reasonable condition, she said The majority have suffered extreme modification with more than 70% having been drained or dammed. Dr Bell also stressed that lagoons and their associated diversity of dependent species rely very much on the natural cycle of wetting and drying. The majority of lagoons are temporary and often only hold water for short periods. Plants and animals have evolved to take advantage of this cycle and it is therefore crucial that changes to the hydrology of intact lagoons be avoided. Armidale naturalist Peter Metcalfe highlighted the fact that shallow lagoons are important for local birds as well as migratory birds such as waders.
Lagoons such as Dangars lagoon are on the radar for a number of threatened migratory birds including the Blue-billed Duck and Lathams Snipe. Magpie Geese were even recorded breeding at Dangars lagoon earlier this year, he said.
Participants learnt from Nic Cobcroft that restoring vegetation around exposed lagoons not only increased protection but provided habitat for an array of species such as possums, microbats, gliders and tree nesting birds. He said the best method in such harsh landscapes is to plant at high densities both understorey and taller species. Issues associated with the management of lagoons were discussed by Don Hardman of the Department of Environment and Climate Change.
One of the challenges is to control invasive weeds and feral animals such as foxes He also emphasised There have been a number of positive steps taken recently that will help in the protection of Dangars, Racecourse, Barleyfields and Thomas lagoons. Uralla Shire Council and the Armidale Rural Lands Protection Board have both recognised the importance of these lagoons and have signed up to long term management agreements that will assist in their better management. Assoc. Prof. Peter Clarke of the Botany Department The University of New England informed listeners of various aspects of fire ecology in peat swamps.
High frequency fires and fires that may burn peat can both result in the complete death of vegetation and destroy seed banks he said Combined with overgrazing, clearing and other factors, swamp communities face a high risk of extinction A number of rare and undescribed plants exist in the tableland lagoons and swamps and Ian Telford of the N.C.W. Beadle Herbarium The University of New England was on hand to identify many of these. Ian pointed out that many of the wetlands are vastly unknown and that any amount of new species still await discovery. WetlandCare Australia will be hosting two more field days towards the end of November. Nic said, We plan to tour some of the lesser known lagoons in the Guyra area as well as a number of peat swamps near Ebor. It will be another great opportunity to learn more about these endangered ecological communities.