Heart Morass gets environmental flow
The Victorian Environmental Water Holder has authorised the use of environmental water at the WET Trust and Field & Game Australia's Heart Morass in the lower Latrobe wetlands to provide feeding habitat for wetland fauna, particularly waterbirds.
This is the first time environmental water has been authorised for use at the wetland.
Environmental water will be diverted from the Latrobe River to Heart Morass depending on water levels and water quality and will be carefully managed by the West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority (WGCMA).
Watering is expected to occur from March to April 2016.
Environmental water is also likely to be released to the Sale Common and Dowd Morass.
WGCMA chief executive officer Martin Fuller said dams, water extraction and reduced rainfall from climate change had resulted in a reduction in the number of small-medium floods in the Latrobe River. “This has subsequently reduced the number of floods entering the lower Latrobe Wetlands,” he said. “Heart Morass is the only one of the lower Latrobe River wetlands that consists mainly of private land holdings; there are eight landholders including FGA. “This meant that in order to put water into the wetland all affected landholders had to agree in writing to the watering. This was achieved in March 2016.”
Environmental watering in Heart Morass has a range of actions and objectives.
Nature takes care of the major flooding events required to flush the wetland so managed environmental watering focuses on the following: preventing the activation of acidic soils by keeping those soils under water reducing salinity levels by letting in fresh water encouraging different wetland plant growth and reproduction through watering and drying out the wetland in cycles providing feeding and sheltering habitat for birds and frogs. Mr Fuller said one of the priority watering aims for Heart Morass was to promote the recovery of the wetland. • • • • “In terms of the next 12 months, watering will focus on inundating the main body of the wetland,” he said. “This area has undergone fantastic natural regeneration process as the wetland dried out over summer (which was the highest priority in the 2015–16 watering plan). “Inundating these wetland plants will encourage plant growth and seed dispersal, and provide food for water birds. “Natural floods in winter and spring will hopefully top up the wetland, but
if they don't, environmental water will likely be used to water it. During this time the wetland water levels will fluctuate providing niches for plants and birds to thrive.”
Gary ‘Pud' Howard, a long-time member of Sale Field & Game who is on the committee of management of the Heart Morass, said access to environmental water would allow for wetting and drying phases. “We decided as part of the management plan after a lot of research that we would try to dry the wetland every five years and it has been in a drying phase this year,” he said.
The ability to regulate small flushes will also help to combat salinity.
In a decade, Heart Morass has gone from degraded and desolate farmland to a stunning wetland — a transformation that wouldn't have occurred without the commitment of FGA and its member volunteers. “We can hang our hat on what we've achieved in 10 years and we are just adding to that,” Mr Howard said.
“It is very special this place, to me it is, anyway. “It proves that hunters are conservationists, it proves what community groups and volunteers can do if they work together.”
Mr Fuller said the rehabilitated wetland was an important part of the lower Latrobe River wetlands. “Whilst most of it does not come under the Ramsar site boundary, it's a vital part of the Ramsar-listed Gippsland Lakes system,” he said. “The three lower Latrobe River wetlands provide different habitat and ecological functions, critical to the overall environmental health of the area and the Gippsland region.”
Mr Fuller said joint management of Heart Morass with project partners, FGA, WET Trust, Hugh Williamson Foundation, Bug Blitz, Water Mark and WGCMA had been incredibly successful and resulted in excellent environmental, educational, recreational and social outcomes. “WGCMA is proud to be a part of this and keen to continue to play an active role,” he said. “The Heart Morass is one of WGCMA'S highest priority project sites and we will continue to contribute to the rehabilitation, management, educational and promotional efforts of the wetland. “Managed watering events are planned to continue into the future and, hopefully with government funding approval, new watering infrastructure will be built to improve the watering management, goals and opportunities for the wetland.”
The beauty of Heart Morass is undeniable