Coorong National Park
State: SA | Hectares: 1,088 | IUCN Category: II | Partners: Department of Environment and Heritage
When a quarter of South Australia's Hindmarsh Island was bought for conservation, it sparked some unusual environmental partnerships that now protect habitat far beyond the reserve's borders.
Hindmarsh Island lies at the mouth of the River Murray, and is a popular holiday spot and important feeding ground for migratory waterbirds. The coastline is fringed with stands of salt water teatree - some more than 400 years old - and the channels that criss-cross the island contain an unusual mix of fresh and salt water that supports vulnerable species of fish such as the Yarra pygmy perch.
In 2001 the Australian Government provided $2 million through its National Reserve System Program to help the South Australian Government buy Wyndgate, a 1,088 hectare property stretching along the Island's eastern shore. The reserve will eventually be protected as part of Coorong National Park.
Wyndgate was purchased to protect the delicate wetland areas that lie along the coast, but the property also covers a tougher 'buffer zone' of higher-lying land that was previously used for grazing. It is this stretch of robust land that Wyndgate's managers have used as leverage, partnering with the local council and a neighbouring farmer to protect more delicate habitat far outside Wyndgate's borders.
The local council was the first partner to jump on board, safeguarding an important stretch of samphire swamp and solving a sticky visitor problem.
David Cooney from the Alexandrina Council says when dropping water levels cut the Island's main boat ramp off from the rest of the Coorong in 2002, visitors flocked to the smaller boat ramp on Wyndgate as a replacement.
"It was incredible - we suddenly had up to 70 boat trailers heading for Wyndgate in a single day," David says.
"We needed to provide a larger, safe place for them to park, but the only option seemed to be a fragile samphire swamp just outside the reserve.
"Wyndgate ended up providing the solution - the reserve's managers allowed us to build the overflow carpark on a tough bit of the reserve, and in exchange we've protected the samphire swamp from development. We also upgraded the small carpark and boat queuing area next to the ramp, and made sure no polluted stormwater enters the waters of the Coorong."
A similar deal has been struck with neighbouring farmer Colin Grundy, who runs cattle on six islands in the Coorong. Colin has stopped winter grazing on some of his most delicate land, and in return he has been granted grazing access to some of the high ground on Wyndgate.
Phil Hollow is the South Australian Government's District Ranger for the Coorong. He says the cattle actually do an important environmental job on Wyndgate, cropping down the pasture so it's short enough for migratory waterbirds to eat in the summer.
"Wyndgate is a major summer feeding ground for Cape Barron geese, which are one of the rarest species of geese in the world, and the cattle help maintain that," Phil says.
"Every year a bit of the barley that Colin plants for his cows is left over too, so there's plenty for the geese to tuck in to when they arrive.
"Our agreement with Colin just goes to show that farming and conservation can marry together - it doesn't have to be one or the other."
The grazing area on Wyndgate is carefully managed - wetlands have been fenced off from the cattle and natural fertilizers like turkey manure are used - and a formal monitoring programme is in place to make sure grazing doesn't damage the reserve.
Phil says the land that Colin has de-stocked is reacting well to its winter break - in fact researchers have found evidence of his samphire swamps growing back, which is very rare.
"Wyndgate is a great example of a reserve being worth more than the sum of its parts," Phil says.
"As well as taking care of Wyndgate's wetland habitat, we've used some creative partnering to safeguard areas outside the reserve that we could never have protected on our own."