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Saving Balclutha Nature Reserve Spring

A culturally significant spring impacted by feral pigs.

Freshwater rivers and creeks in northern Australia support incredible biodiversity and cultural values. However, these values are at threat because of land use change, including agricultural development, road construction, mining, grazing, along with water resource development.

The introduction of feral pigs (Sus scrofa) in northern Australia has also caused broad-scale negative impacts on coastal wetlands, namely water quality, and biological communities. The challenge for land managers faced with protecting wetland ecosystems from feral pigs is access to data and information to assist and support on-ground restoration investment.

During a field survey in late November 2016, scientists from TropWATER visited a spring on the Balclutha Nature Reserve, with Land and Sea Rangers from Wunthulpu Aboriginal Land Trust (WALT), and staff from Cape York NRM. The spring holds important value to the WALT community, but has been damaged by feral pigs and cattle.

The visit was part of a project to conduct a preliminary survey of the aquatic fauna and water quality in the spring, and to collect baseline data for comparison once feral pig abatement works (fencing the spring and wetland area) are complete. In addition, this survey provided the opportunity to start building capacity with the Ayapathu Rangers, and to broker knowledge around wetland conservation and management.

Lead Scientist, Dr Nathan Waltham of TropWATER (James Cook University) recently completed a survey of the ecology in the spring.

“We completed a survey of the fish occupying the spring and were surprised by the number of fish, crustaceans and frog species living in the spring. However, the spring is suffering from feral pig damage, with water quality very poor” Dr Waltham said.

Secretary of the Wunthulpu Aboriginal Land Trust, Mr Billy Pratt, has been delighted with the outcomes of the project so far. Mr Pratt said that the work follows an earlier project in 2000.

“There are many things to still do, but completing the survey of the spring was an important first step in restoring country” Mr Pratt said. “We hope to begin installing feral pig fencing this year during the dry season. The fencing will stop pigs and cattle from compacting the spring and reducing the flow of water to the fish and crustaceans that live in the spring”.

Cape York NRM’s Project Contracts Officer, Ms Vicki Wundersitz said that Cape York NRM was excited to continue working with WALT.

“This project will provide important information for the region and for other projects planned for Cape York” Ms Wundersitz said.

For more information about this project, contact Ms Vicki Wundersitz 07 4095 7132, or Dr Nathan Waltham 07 4781 4191 nathan.waltham@jcu.edu.au

This project is supported by Cape York NRM through the Australian Government’s National Landcare Programme. Photos supplied

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