Yesterday the Sydney Morning Herald ran yet another nonsense story about the Macquarie Marshes. I reckon that their journalist, Anne Davies, was hoodwinked.
There is a strong belief that more water, in particular more environmental flows, will solve the environmental problems of the Murray-Darling Basin. Flood plain graziers have a vested interest in lobbying for more water, particularly in the Macquarie Marshes, where they claim “fat ducks equal fat cattle”.
I have previously posted photographs at this blog suggesting that a problem in the marshes may be overgrazing rather than inadequate environmental flows. Only 12 percent of the marshes are nature reserve leaving 88 percent for cattle fattening.
But the ‘eye poking’ is mostly always of cotton growers, despite evidence of overgrazing. This is what Anne Davies, the State Political Editor, at the Sydney Morning Herald had to say yesterday under the emotive title ‘As politicians squabble the wetlands die’.
“Then in the 1960s the Burrendong Dam was built, and after that came more intensive farming of cotton. By the late 1980s cotton farming had increased fourfold and irrigation licences meant less than 30 per cent of the original water flow was reaching the marshes.
Measures were then put in place to save the remaining 50 per cent of the marshes with considerable pain to the irrigators. But it proved to be insufficient. Last October, the Department of Environment conducted its annual aerial survey of wetland birds. The results, compounded by the continuing drought, were shocking.
“For the second year in a row, record low numbers of waterbirds were counted on the Macquarie Marshes,” the scientists wrote. “The marshes averaged 30,000 in the 1980s, never below 100 but this year less than 10 birds.”
There is a lot of misinformation here. I wonder who gave her that story? Who is the unnamed scientist?
I visited the marshes last October, when there were apparently only 10 birds to found, and here is one of the many photographs I took. Also, I saw lots of birds including great egrets, black ducks, reed warblers, straw necked ibis and spoon bills.
While Davies suggests the marshes are now receiving less than 30 percent of original water flow, since the 1996 water sharing plan, the official figure has been 85 percent. That is the marshes now receive 85 percent of their long term average annual flow.
The idea that birds have reduced in number from 30,000 to 10 since the 1980s is not consistent with the various technical reports or Atlas of Australian Birds which shows numbers of most colonial nesting waterbird species increased for the Darling Riverine Plains Bioregion over the past 20 years.
The graziers manipulate water flow in the marshes and one land holder in the region tells me new wetland habitat has been created by artificially directing flow into the Gum-Cowal Terrigal Creek wetlands and in this way directed water away from nature reserve to private land.
Here is an aerial photograph taken on 25th November 2005 showing a levy bank in the Terrigal/Gum Cowal system.
According to the landholder who sent me the photograph, “This is the system that we have been challenging strongly about even receiving much water, has now got the Ramsar wetland on it on private land although it is in conflict with the nature reserve. This is a system that should only receive minimal water under current conditions. An exceptional amount of environmental water has been pushed down there of late and virtually doesn’t reach the other end. It is held up by many banks such as this purely to develop wetlands for grazing as you can see in the image.”
The following photograph shows a levy bank just south of the southern nature reserve holding water on private land and preventing it reaching the nature reserve.