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Wetlands

A wetland is a community of plants and animals that relies wholly or partly on water to survive. They are often environmentally, culturally and historically important. About 4.5 million ha, or 6% of NSW, is classified as wetland.

Healthy wetlands can make a difference in the following:

  • home – providing a diverse environment for young and old to enjoy
  • paddock – providing improved farm management and production
  • catchment – maintaining catchment integrity and connectivity
  • community –  supporting healthy rural communities.

Wetlands occur on floodplains, which are the total area of land, either side of a river that is liable to become flooded. Other wetland examples are:

  • billabongs
  • lakes
  • back swamps
  • farm dams, in some circumstances.

Some wetlands get their water from rain or underground aquifers. Not all wetlands are wet all the time. Some have saltier water than others and some are deeper than others. All of these physical factors determine the type of wetland and what plants and animals live there.

Impacts of a degraded wetland

On-site changes include:

  • impoverished water quality
  • degraded soil condition
  • reduced grazing opportunity
  • reduced farm productivity.

Off-site changes include:

  • poor water quality
  • increased salinity issues
  • unbalanced transfer of water through the catchment.

Benefits of wetlands

  • remove nutrients and sediments from water
  • provide valuable grazing land
  • store greenhouse gases
  • protect land from severe weather
  • provide essential habitat to many animals including fish, birds and frogs
  • maintain the health of other aquatic systems
  • focus points for urban communities.

Threats to wetlands

There are many activities that impact upon wetland health. They include:

  • vegetation clearing
  • draining
  • river regulation
  • overgrazing by livestock
  • contamination from excessive pesticide and fertiliser use
  • the presence of pest animals and plants such as carp, pigs and willows
  • expansion of urban areas.

What can I do to protect wetlands?

  • Minimise disturbance to wetlands on your property
  • Erect fences to manage stock access to wet areas
  • Establish a buffer zone between your wetland and grazing or cropping land
  • Practice conservation farming techniques, including good chemical management
  • Form or join a community group to care for a wetland near your town or city
  • Avoid clearing dead wood and trees from wetlands as they provide valuable native habitat
  • Monitor for weeds and pest animals
  • Restore wetlands and natural water flows, communicating your plans with your neighbours where possible
  • Enhance wetland areas by encouraging native vegetation to grow in and around them
  • Allow low-lying back swamps to fill and drain naturally so they can provide productive native grazing species such as water couch
  • Organise regular clean-up activities at your local wetland.

Key points to remember

  • Wetlands are important environmentally, economically and culturally
  • Wetlands are diverse, vibrant landscape features that provide important habitat
  • Wetlands are threatened by inappropriate land use
  • Wetlands and catchment health can be improved by revegetation and restoration of flows
  • Wetlands provide essential breeding habitat for large numbers of migratory birds.