Wet­lands & Wildlife

For more than 150 years, farm­ing al­tered the nat­u­ral land­scape of south-east South Aus­tralia, drain­ing wa­ter trapped be­tween the dunes to cre­ate more pro­duc­tive land but Wet­lands & Wildlife is do­ing the re­verse.

Field and Game - - WETLANDS AND WILDLIFE - www.wet­land­sand­wildlife.org.au

Tom Brinkworth is one of Aus­tralia’s big­gest pri­vate land­hold­ers. He hap­pily chats with hun­ters as they ar­rive for the open­ing of the South Aus­tralian Duck Sea­son, but leaves it to oth­ers to talk about the con­ser­va­tion projects he has fos­tered with the cre­ation of Wet­lands & Wildlife. The open­ing hunt of the sea­son is tak­ing place on the Cortina sys­tem, a con­ser­va­tion pro­ject aim­ing to cre­ate 5000 ha of con­nected habi­tat, in­clud­ing some of the most valu­able wet­lands in the re­gion.

The Morella pro­ject was com­pleted in 2014 and now con­nects 13 000 ha of wildlife habi­tat near the Coorong Na­tional Park, Martin Wash­pool Con­ser­va­tion Park and Bon­neys Camp Well.

The scale is vast, mak­ing it one of the largest con­ser­va­tion projects on pri­vate land in Aus­tralia. Dave Rehn from Keith Field & Game traces the his­tory back to a Jip Jip, a favourite wa­ter­hole fre­quented by lo­cal duck hun­ters. “When Tom Brinkworth first bought the area, he was plan­ning to de­velop it and put it to pas­ture,” he said. “A few of the lo­cals recog­nised they might lose it and they lob­bied pretty hard to get Tom to change his mind and Tom, as he does, not only agreed but put a weir

“There is noth­ing even close to this any­where else in South Aus­tralia but with the wa­ter regime and the highly man­aged sys­tems we have, Wet­lands & Wildlife have had to lobby hard to make sure these wet­lands get their share of wa­ter within the sys­tem.”

Dave Rehn

across the wa­ter course to man­age the wa­ter and turned Jip Jip into the great area it is to­day.”

Dave said that early in­ter­ac­tion with hun­ters was the cat­a­lyst for Tom Brinkworth to cre­ate Wet­lands & Wildlife, a con­ser­va­tion com­pany aim­ing to com­ple­ment the na­tional park sys­tem on pri­vate land. “It shows what can be done when peo­ple get to­gether and work to­wards im­prov­ing the en­vi­ron­ment,” Dave said. “It has grown into a huge en­vi­ron­men­tal suc­cess; for all the con­tro­versy over the years, Tom Brinkworth has been able to de­liver on en­vi­ron­men­tal out­comes — it isn’t just talk.”

Keith Frost has been in­volved from the be­gin­ning and re­mains a di­rec­tor of Wet­lands & Wildlife and a key fig­ure at or­gan­ised hunts with help to fund on­go­ing con­ser­va­tion works. “Tom was the brain­child: he ac­quired land that had been hunted in the past, and he has con­tin­ued on with hunt­ing and lock­ing up im­por­tant habi­tat for fu­ture gen­er­a­tions,” he said. “A lot of this coun­try was graz­ing land and it had been re­claimed, a lot of the banks that were in place to keep wa­ter out are now be­ing used to keep wa­ter in and wet­lands that were sea­sonal are now more per­ma­nent.”

The land and wa­ter is also used for aca­demic re­search, ed­u­ca­tion, and tourist ac­tiv­i­ties.

At a land­scape level, the re­gion is sim­i­lar to the Coorong, which at­tracts the most at­ten­tion dur­ing de­bates about wa­ter pol­icy and the en­vi­ron­ment.

Par­al­lel coastal dunes in­ter­spersed with flats were formed by rises and falls in sea level over the past 400 000 years. Win­ter rains left wa­ter trapped be­tween the dunes and it slowly flowed in a north-west­erly di­rec­tion un­til it even­tu­ally dis­ap­peared into lime­stone sink­holes or found its way into the Coorong via Salt Creek.

This cre­ated more than a mil­lion hectares of sea­sonal wet­lands with some >>

>> per­ma­nent lakes and ponds, which teemed with wa­ter­birds and aquatic plants and pro­vided abun­dant food for the in­dige­nous in­hab­i­tants.

A set­tler colony founded in 1836 en­coun­tered a land­scape dom­i­nated by wa­ter in win­ter, which made over­land travel dif­fi­cult and any low-ly­ing coun­try un­suit­able for farm­ing with­out ex­ten­sive drainage.

The first drain was dug in the 1860s and the dig­ging has been go­ing on ever since, to the point where the term ‘nat­u­ral land­scape’ had lit­tle mean­ing — only 6 per cent of the orig­i­nal wet­land habi­tat re­mained, and 90 per cent of the orig­i­nal veg­e­ta­tion was cleared.

The Morella and Cortina sys­tems are sig­nif­i­cant en­vi­ron­men­tal as­sets but even so, it has been a bat­tle. “There is noth­ing even close to this any­where else in South Aus­tralia but with the wa­ter regime and the highly man­aged sys­tems we have, Wet­lands & Wildlife have had to lobby hard to make sure these wet­lands get their share of wa­ter within the sys­tem,” Dave said.

Evan Pet­tingill, an­other long-time di­rec­tor of Wet­lands & Wildlife, said land­hold­ers en­cour­aged to pre­serve im­por­tant wet­lands decades ago were now hav­ing to fight for wa­ter. “We are at a dis­ad­van­tage,” he said. “There has been such a change from the 1980s when land­hold­ers like Tom were en­cour­aged to man­age these wet­lands, now the wa­ter is needed else­where, but it will prob­a­bly all cy­cle around again.”

Keith said the com­pany con­tin­ues to ar­gue the case for the south-east wet­lands. “Wa­ter is highly po­lit­i­cal and there has been a lot of lob­by­ing and ne­go­ti­a­tion to en­sure these wet­lands have wa­ter sup­ply,” he said.

“It is part of the tra­di­tional wa­ter course that flowed into the Coorong; our ar­gu­ment is that this area is just as valu­able, or even more im­por­tant than the Coorong.”

Keith Field & Game is still in­volved and Dave reck­ons the im­pact of pri­vate con­ser­va­tion of wet­lands in the south-east has been cul­tural as well as en­vi­ron­men­tal. “Go­ing back to the 1970s, the pres­sure to stop duck hunt­ing was high and with­out this there is a chance South Aus­tralia would not be still hunt­ing to­day,” he said.

Mem­ber­ship of Wet­lands & Wildlife is at record lev­els and in ad­di­tion to the 27 000 ha of Water­val­ley Wet­lands, the or­gan­i­sa­tion has ste­ward­ship of the War­raweena Con­ser­va­tion Park, a 355 sq km for­mer pas­toral prop­erty in the North­ern Flin­ders Ranges that has now been de­stocked.

Wet­lands & Wildlife mem­ber­ship is $50, which in­cludes dis­counts on tours, camp­ing, ac­com­mo­da­tion and hunt­ing. Find out more at

Jip Jip

Keith Frost

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