Paroo Darling National Park
State: NSW | Hectares: 231,118 | IUCN Category: II | Partners: Department of Environment and Climate Change
When 230,000 hectares fronting on to the last unregulated river in the Murray Darling Basin was bought for the National Reserve System, it opened the floodgates for environmental benefits far downstream.
The Paroo Darling National Park is a blend of seven properties purchased between 2000 and 2003 by the New South Wales Government, with help from the National Reserve System Program.
Its conservation value centres on the Paroo River wetland system, which is a haven for tens of thousands of water birds including many internationally-protected migratory species.
In these dry times wetlands of any kind are rare but the Paroo River system stands out as one of the few wetland systems in arid catchments that is still regularly flooded. The National Park's Peery and Poloko Lake wetlands form part of the Paroo River overflow - the only unregulated river in the Murray-Darling Basin.
This free-flowing river can still support its rich and diverse ecosystem but NSW National Parks Association Executive Officer Andrew Cox says like much of the Basin it needs all the help it can get.
"Types of habitat that rely on lots of water - like wetlands and river shallows - are at risk of becoming the drought's latest casualty," he says. "If they go, they'll take with them the thousands of migratory water birds, fish, turtles and aquatic plants that call these places home.
"That's why protecting areas like the Paroo-Darling National Park is so important. We need to make sure these environments survive, so our kids can appreciate the rich diversity of life that once blossomed up and down this river system and neighbouring communities get the benefits of better water."
When the NSW Government first set up the national park they set about helping native plants regenerate, controlling weeds and feral animals and providing infrastructure to minimise the impacts of visitors.
This sort of work is vital to the health of the river and the livelihood of neighbouring farms. A secure reserve with healthy wetlands and river reaches helps to retain soil moisture, keep the water table down and prevent salinity, which is a major problem across much of the Basin. Maintaining native plant cover also helps control erosion, avoiding the loss of precious topsoil into the river.