Wetlands AustraliaNational Wetlands Update 2012
Issue No. 20, February 2012
Events linking wetlands together in Wimmera's south-west
Wimmera Catchment Management Authority
A pair of Brolgas (Brian Furby Collection)
It might not be obvious what Chicks in the Sticks, the Kowree Yabby, Swamp Talk and Habitat Tender all have in common. But for people living in the Wimmera's west, the connection is clear. And for Wimmera Catchment Management Authority, the connection has been a resounding success. Over the past 12 months, Wimmera CMA has hosted a range of events that have several things in common. They are fun, they are a great day out and most importantly, they lead to healthier wetlands and more sustainable farming.
Locals describe the West Wimmera as a series of swamps but this possibly undersells the value of its wetlands that comprise 25 per cent of all non-riverine wetlands in Victoria. Diversity is what makes the Wimmera's 3000-plus wetlands significant. They provide habitat for many regional and migratory birds, animals and plants, including quite a few from national and Victorian endangered lists. These include the growling grass frog, brolga, blue-billed duck, freckled duck, golden-rayed blue butterfly, red-necked avocet, red capped plover, salt paperbark, ridged water-milfoil and swamp sheoak. They also support productive uses and a variety of recreational opportunities for locals and visitors, including bird watching, fishing, yabbying and boating.
Chicks in the Sticks
Chicks in the Sticks is a regular event where farming women get together for high tea or a gourmet twilight barbecue on the banks of a wetland and talk about what's happening on their farms. They hear about the work their neighbours are doing in restoring their wetlands and they also get an opportunity to learn about the latest funding programs through which they can get assistance to improve their wetland habitat.
Rural women wore their gumboots with pride and purpose as they celebrated the resilience of communities and wetlands at the third annual Chicks in the Sticks event at Lake Ratzcastle near Goroke in early 2011. About 40 women listened avidly to guest speaker and wetlands ecologist Michelle Casanova of Westmere before enjoying a twilight meal at the water's edge to mark World Wetlands Day.
Mareeta Cox, who farms between Harrow and Coleraine, was a first-time participant at the lakeside event in early February, but she'll be pulling on her gumboots with enthusiasm for future gatherings and is keen to learn more about the ecology of the West Wimmera's wetlands.
Michelle Casanova's message about how both communities and wetlands had to be "resilient and connected'' to survive struck a strong note with the women, who have weathered years of drought and, recently, heavy rain and floods.
Swamp Talk, hosted by third-generation Langkoop farmer Simon Robinson and wife Georgina, focused on grazing wetlands. The picture-perfect setting was the banks of their swamp, and the CMA invited researchers Belinda Cant and Michelle Casanova along to share some of their wetland knowledge.
Simon and Georgina were keen to show the visitors the endangered red-tailed black cockatoos living near the swamp, as well as a pair of brolgas which had successfully bred after being unable to rear young for the previous eight years due to dry conditions.
It was May 2002 when the Robinsons bought the block where people gathered for Swamp Talk. Simon wasn't grazing the wetland at the time - one reason was that it was full of water and the other was that he tries to graze only when he absolutely has to - for example, during drought. He has fenced two wetlands, some with grants sourced through Wimmera CMA, and also at his own expense.
Simon and Georgina think they might be among the first farmers in the West Wimmera to fence off wetlands and put a tighter rein on grazing wetland areas. An interest in wildlife, birds in particular, led them to combine this appreciation of nature with their farm management approach of fencing to soil type. This enables them to invest their efforts into the farm's productive areas while encouraging the swamps to regenerate.
And what about the Kowree Yabby?
Wimmera's Kowree Yabby Day (Christine Bull Photography)
The return of water to rivers, lakes and swamps heralded the return of all the things the Wimmera took for granted before the region endured the longest drought on record: yabbies, fish, birds and frogs, as well as picnics by the water, water skiing and sailing. For the Kowree Yabby day, Wimmera CMA was keen to enlist local volunteers to plant trees at a significant wetland site but wanted to make sure it was much more than a tree planting day. By naming and branding the event 'the Kowree Yabby' they made it a local recreational event, which captured people's imagination and attracted 50 participants.
Blair Patullo from Museum Victoria was guest speaker and shared his findings from a six-year University of Melbourne research project on yabbies.
Regional Landcare Facilitator Bindi Lees said it was an "absolutely brilliant'' day. "It was so good to see so many young children involved in the tree planting with their families, and theming the day around yabbies made it so much fun for everyone. We all remember catching yabbies as kids, but my children, who are aged eight and under, had never even seen a yabby because there hasn't been much water around during their lifetime."
Three successful events
At the three events, Wimmera CMA met a total of 114 farmers and community members from the target area, south-west Wimmera. Of these, 65 people got involved in activities designed to build skills in managing wetlands and encourage on-farm wetland conservation. The remaining 49 were actively involved in protecting and enhancing an important conservation reserve.
Wimmera CMA chief executive David Brennan said the events also provided opportunities to cross-promote other CMA programs, funding incentives and initiatives such as Funds for Farmers and Habitat Tender for Wetlands. In the past, the CMA marketed their events as wetland conservation days and attracted good audiences; however, they noticed they were attracting the same faces each time.
"We wanted to engage with the farmers who did not see themselves as 'green' or conservationists, but had an interest in looking after wetlands for other reasons such as increased farm productivity and sustainability, leaving something for future generations, creating a haven for ducks for breeding, fishing, yabbying or just generally enjoying the way their farm looks," he said.
"As such, we have tried to be creative and innovative in the way that we run these events to make sure they are interesting and attractive to our target audience while also meeting the objectives of our investment programs."
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