More than one third of Victoria's wetlands have disappeared since European settlement and some 80 per cent of wetlands remaining are in private ownership.
While many of these are small, they are locally important. Watercourses and wetlands are the veins of the landscape, they provide services such as water filtration and storage.Protection of these vital components is paramount if we are to maintain
What is a wetland?
Wetlands are areas where fresh or salt water gathers - permanently or temporarily. Anywhere water sits long enough for the soil to be affected, or for water-plants to grow, is less than 6m deep and isn’t the sea, is a wetland!
Wetlands have a large amount of biological diversity. They support a wide variety of plants and animals that
are adapted to varying water levels. Wetlands are important breeding areas for many species and provide
refuge during times of drought. ecological processes. This involves maintaining or replacing fringing vegetation and ensuring that wetlands are not drained or compromised by activities in surrounding areas.
The wetlands of south-west Victoria are a vital part of our region's health.
The Western District is covered in thousands of wetlands. Most are small, ephemeral (only wet some of the time) and on private, agricultural land. These wetlands are vitally important. They have unique plant diversity and are habitat to many birds, such as the brolga, as well as frogs, reptiles, fish, and insects.
More than 7800, or 53% of the region's wetlands have already been lost through drainage and inappropriate management. Currently, a new wave of wetland loss is occurring because of climate and land use change. Reduced rainfall has severely impacted on runoff into wetlands. As a result wetlands that were wet every year might only be wet every second or third year.
Disturbed dry wetland beds have little chance of recovering if and when the water returns.
In effect, our wetlands are ‘dying from a thousand cuts'. On our current trajectory it is very possible that brolgas will have completely died out in our children's lifetime. Each year you can see flocks of brolgas and other birds continuously circling the skies looking (sometimes in vain) for wetlands to flock and breed.
These sites are getting fewer and fewer.
Did you know?
* There are now only 200-250 breeding pairs of the brolga left in south west Victoria.
* Key threats to brolgas include a lack of suitable nesting sites and predation of chicks by foxes.
* Over 50% of the state's wetlands are in south west Victoria and are essential habitat for many species of plants
* and animals.
* The majority of these wetlands are small, seasonal (dry for much of the year) and found on farms.
* Wetlands are windows to groundwater, and are often important points of groundwater replenishment.
* Wetlands are habitat to many species of bugs and birds that are beneficial to farming as natural pest controllers.
* Diverse plant communities in wetlands provide shelter and nesting materials for the birds and other wildlife.
* Cropping wetlands (levelling, ploughing, chemical inputs) results in potentially irreversible damage to wetland ecosystems.
* Environmental values of wetlands can be maintained with carefully managed sheep grazing at certain times of year.
* Drained wetlands can be brought back to life by returning water to wetlands.
Keeping our wetlands healthy
Wetlands, and the plants and animals in them, are sensitive to changes in water quality and quantity, turbidity, nutrient levels, temperatures and toxic chemicals. There are numerous everyday activities that can lead to the rapid demise in wetland health. Estuarine
wetlands are not as sensitive to salinity as their completely freshwater counterparts.
Plant communities in wetlands can be easily destroyed or degraded by inappropriate grazing and/or nearby land use. Degraded or unhealthy wetlands are not as capable in fulfilling their ecological, production and social functions. Due to the highly productive nature of the sediments deposited in wetlands, in the past they have been drained for agricultural purposes. Approximately 37 per cent
of Victoria’s wetlands have been drained, with approximately 90 per cent of these on private land. This decline has been mirrored with a decline in wetland dependant birds including Magpie Geese, Cape Barren Geese and Brolgas.
Different types of wetlands
The formal classification of wetland habitats depends on:
- whether the water is fresh or salty;
- how deep they are;
- how long water is present for; and
- what plants grow in and around them.
Click on the links below to learn about the different types of wetlands
- Shallow Freshwater Marsh
- Deep Freshwater Marsh
- Freshwater Meadow
- Permanent Open Freshwater
- Permanent Saline
- Semi-permanent Saline