A Protective Circle: Why Safeguarding Wetland Health Begins With Ensuring A Healthy Buffer Zone

A wetland landscape in black & white with only the fringin vegetation coloured in it's original green.

Located only a hop, skip and jump away from our very doorsteps, wetlands are closer and more accessible than ever before! We are fortunate to have them in our direct vicinity like this. But for the wetlands themselves, that are often surrounded by busy roads, cycle tracks and pedestrian pathways, disturbed by invasive activities of humans and domestic/feral animals alike and degraded by pollution, nutrient explosion and urban runoff, this proximity can prove costly!

A healthy buffer zone can help in these situations, as a simple yet effective solution. A buffer zone with ample vegetation and thick foliage distributed around the wetland periphery acts like a protective circle safeguarding our delicate wetlands. Wetland buffers can significantly reduce exposure, bolster wetland function and minimize damage and degradation. So much so that their establishment has been encouraged and enforced by wetland management authorities around the world.

In this article, we take a closer look at some key questions: What does a healthy buffer zone look like? What does it mean for our wetland health? And, how can we help our landcarers establish and maintain adequate buffer zones around the wetlands?

 

What is a buffer zone?

The wetland buffer zone is an area of fringing vegetation, which usually begins from the periphery of the wetlands and extends outwards. Pretty much like a border around the wetland.

The buffer zone can vary in size and nature – it can be several meters wide or narrow, and it can contain a variety of wetland plants, shrubs and bushes. Its nature may also vary depending on recommendations for a particular wetland:

  • The noise and visual screening requirements – a thicker and more effective screening may facilitate the nesting and breeding of certain wetland species,
  • The conservation significance of the wetlands – more significant wetlands may require a thicker belt for the buffer,
  • And, the safe-distancing from the nuisance of insects – For example, mosquito producing wetlands are required to be at least 2km away from residential areas depending on the severity of the nuisance.

 

Why are buffers important?

Buffers are important, not just for the preservation of our environmental assets, our wetlands, but also for protecting the plant and animal wildlife that inhabit them. They aid in wetland function, ensuring wetland ecosystems thrive and flourish.

Here are a few more reasons why wetland buffers are essential:

  1. They absorb surplus water from surface runoffs, floods and storm drains.
  2. They reduce the nutrient, pollutant and sediment loads in runoffs.
  3. They help maintain the water quality in the wetland catchments by filtering out pollutants and sediments to a considerable extent.
  4. They provide habitat, shelter, and feeding/breeding/nesting grounds for wetland wildlife.
  5. They reduce disturbance to native flora and fauna from surrounds, creating safe corridors for wildlife.
  6. They reduce the invasion of weed species by keeping the vegetation dense and impenetrable.
  7. They provide for areas of recreation and engagement within the wetlands – trails for bushwalking, wildlife photography or amateur birdwatching.

 

What does a healthy buffer look like?

A buffer may differ considerably from wetland to wetland, depending on the features and requirements. However, there are a few common features that are shared by all healthy buffer zones. For example, a buffer should be at least 50 metres wide. They can be wider, not narrower. The buffer should be effective in keeping invasive species such as weeds and feral animals out. And, you can often tell of its effectiveness by its density, biodiversity and the health of the vegetation in the buffer. Similarly, a healthy buffer will keep its wildlife well protected and nurtured within its confines, with little need for them to venture out!

 

What can we do to help?

Our constant activities with little regard to our fragile wetlands, as well as the more permanent changes in the environment, have drastically impacted our wetlands. Our wetlands are threatened and need our help! The wetland buffers are perhaps the best way to begin.

Here are a few ways we can help our wetlands:

  1. Think of ways to minimize disturbance to the wetlands. Be sensitive to the movements of wetland creatures. Beware of plants that are growing or sprouting.
  2. When walking/cycling stick to the pathways. The pathways, trails and tracks are designed to lead away from environmentally sensitive areas within wetlands.
  3. Do not discard your garden waste – cuttings and prunings, or waste from aquariums or terrariums directly into the wetlands.
  4. Do not let your pet animals – cats, dogs and/or rabbits, stray in wetland areas. Animals are known to prey upon the vulnerable wetland wildlife. Collect and discard your pet’s faeces appropriately and do not discard in the wetlands. Pet faeces are a detriment known to contribute nutrients and, in some cases, carry weeds.
  5. If the buffer zone around your wetlands is at risk due to human activity, building, construction or development work, or being along roadside, highways or curbs with heavy traffic, a light fence can be erected in order to shield it.
  6. If the fringing vegetation and buffer around your wetlands appear to be disturbed or degraded, contact your local landcarers or wetlands facility. Note: Only specific native vegetation may be grown as buffer vegetation. Do not plant without advice!
  7. Participate in community planting, weeding and landcare events. Take an active interest in the health of your wetlands.

Why not get involved with us?

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, here in the heart of the breathtaking Beeliar Regional Park, we are working towards building healthier wetlands for everyone.

We are involved in landcare, conservation and rehabilitation work. We run some exciting educational programs. We are community driven, we have a fantastic community outreach. And, we are pioneers in wetland management.

With a dedicated team of volunteers and staff and our love for wetlands, we are doing just what it takes. Come join the team and get involved with us today. Together we can make a difference!

Our Battle Against Weeds

A collage of weeds illustrations against a background of a weed infested field and people doing weeding work.

It is easy to be moved by the earthy and bountiful beauty of our wetlands. Carried within the constant rush is the spur of everyday life in the wetlands. From the smallest creatures to the most complex ones, all life is interwoven and interconnected. And delicate, diverse bionetworks bustle with unseen activity.

Weeds are slowly changing all we love about our wetlands. They overwhelm the ecosystems, choking and outcompeting native flora. They crowd and degrade the habitats. They spread aggressively, establish themselves stubbornly and are extremely hard to dislodge.  They hamper the myriad ecosystem functions.

In Australia, over 4 billion dollars are spent annually towards managing weeds. Costs compound when you consider the impacts from loss of biodiversity and environmental services.

Our battle against weeds is ongoing and persistent. And winning it will take a precise combination of science, engineering, ingenuity and committed on-ground support!

 

What are “Environmental” Weeds?

Environmental Weeds are unwanted invasive plants that establish themselves in natural ecosystems and permanently alter the natural processes of those ecosystems (as opposed to Agricultural/ Pastoral Weeds that thrive in agricultural and pastoral lands).

Here are a few weed facts.

  • Over two-thirds of the weeds now established in Australia originated from gardens and ponds.
  • About 10% of Western Australia’s flowering plants are introduced weeds.
  • Of the 1233 identified weed species in WA, around 800 are found in Swan Coastal Plain bioregion.

 

How Do Weeds Invade the Wetlands?

Weeds showcase resilience and they flourish in the nutrient-rich wetland environment. So much so, that weeds have established themselves in every wetland in Western Australia.

Weeds are disturbance opportunists – plants that respond positively and rapidly to changes in soil, salinity, dampness, pH and native plant distributions. So, the disturbed edges of our urban wetlands are most at risk – where roads, verges, tracks, paddocks and housing settlements, are located close to the wetlands. In these disturbed areas, conditions quickly become favourable for weed growth.

A host of activities that we humans undertake can also boost the spread of weeds in the wetlands. Urban run-off and leaching, dumping garden and pond waste, prunings and clippings, fire events such as burn-offs and arson, and overusing groundwater from bores and wells, can all have serious impacts.

 

What Effects Do Weeds Have on Wetlands?

The wetland vegetation is specialized and contributes to processes within the wetland ecosystems. And these ecosystems are delicate, often relying on natural conditions of light, salinity and dampness.

When weeds encroach our wetlands, they affect the distribution of wetland vegetation. This, in turn, has a detrimental effect on the plants and animals that depend on native vegetation for survival.

 

Weed Impact at a Glance

  1. Loss of biodiversity and simplification of wetland plant community.
  2. Impacted and altered ecosystem functions.
  3. Altered nutrient recycling.
  4. Loss of habitat and food source for wetland fauna.
  5. Increased risk of erosion.
  6. Increased fire risk, as weeds add to the fuel load.
  7. Altered soil quality.
  8. Loss of water quality.
  9. Loss of aesthetic value.
  10. Increased management costs.

 

Ways to Fight Weeds

Compared to disturbed areas, densely vegetated areas are far more resilient to weed attack. Here circumstances do not permit weeds from taking a foothold or competing successfully for nutrients, sunlight and moisture.  Thus, rehabilitating the wetland vegetation is a crucial first step towards weed control.

Restoring dryland vegetation and establishing shelterbelts around the wetlands is important too. They act as a line of defence and barrier from weed invasion.

Prevention is key. Prevent garden prunings and clippings from entering the wetlands. Similarly, prevent aquatic plants from ponds and aquariums from entering the wetland catchments. Prevent pet animals entering the wetlands, where they may graze on native plants. Pet faeces have been known to carry and spread weeds.

And finally, participate in wetland rehabilitation and conservation activities. These include weed removal, as well as planting activities, to re-establish native plants.

 

Join Our Forces!

At ‘The Wetlands Centre Cockburn’, here in the heart of the breathtaking Beeliar Regional Park, we are working towards building healthier wetlands for everyone.

We are involved in landcare, conservation and rehabilitation work. We run some exciting educational programs. We are community driven, we have a fantastic community outreach. And, we are pioneers in wetland management.

Get some action when you join us on Thursdays and Fridays. We start early, at 9am, and you can work for as long as you want until the close of day at 4pm. We have an array of weed control measures that we undertake. Or, you could participate in the nursery, where we nurture native flora.

Talk to us today and join our forces. Together let us win this fight!

10 Things You Could Do To Help Our Wetlands

A conceptual image of caring palms cupping wetlands

Taking a walk through the lush wetlands is a delight this time of the year. The winding tracks and sturdy boardwalks that open up hidden new worlds. The thick bush, fringing vegetation and the canopy of swaying trees. Startled animals we catch off-guard that quickly scamper away. And, the thin blanket of mist that lies settled over the water.

We discover a different pace and rhythm as we let go. Unwind. And absorb a hundred splendid experiences that the wetlands offer unbiddenly. There is such peace and tranquillity here.

We are fortunate that our wetlands are so close to our urban dwellings. We are able to enjoy their unique splendour and partake in their beauty. But being so close to urban habitation poses a serious threat to our wetlands. Urban run-off, littering, leaching and degradation – there are several impacts that continue to take a toll.

As much as the wetlands are places of recreation and pleasure, they are also grounds that support delicate ecosystems, intricate bionetworks, diverse wildlife and their habitats. They require our care and attention. Here are 10 simple things we can do to help our wetlands:

 

1. Household Plants and Gardens

By practising a little care in our gardens, we can help the wetlands immensely. For example, limit your use of chemicals – fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides or fungicides – and use organic remedies instead. These potent chemicals can leach into groundwater, and subsequently into the wetlands. Use animal manure that is great for the garden and has no unpleasant side-effects.

Be careful while discarding plants or seeds. Our non-native household plants can be invasive and dominate over native flora. The same goes for aquatic plants from our aquariums. They must not be dispensed into the wetland catchments.

 

2. Pets and Pests

Our cuddly pet animals can be quite destructive. Cats are known to prey upon native species – turtles, frogs and even lizards. Rabbits can wreak havoc on plants by binging on them, any fresh regrowth and seedlings. Rabbit faeces are known to carry and spread weeds.

It is best to keep pets indoors or under supervision. They are likely to cause less harm if they are not allowed to stray.   On a similar note, pests that are introduced into the wetlands can have a detrimental effect on the wetland ecology.

 

3. Waste and Recycling

Using safe, sustainable and eco-aware methods of waste disposal will go a long way in protecting the wetlands. Reduce the use of plastic, whether it is plastic water bottles or disposable plastic containers, straws and cutlery. Reuse and recycle to the maximum possible extent.

Maintain a worm farm or compost pit at home. Compost can be great for your garden, and you will be amazed at how much of your waste – like cardboard, paper, egg shells and tea bags – can be put to good use. Get your children involved.

 

4. Reduce Pollution

Reducing pollution can begin at home with some relatively small but consistent steps. Be conscious of your choices. Buy organic, eco-friendly and sustainable products. Your local farmers markets can be great places to shop.

Be energy-conscious and use energy wise appliances. Avoid throwing away stuff carelessly. If you find litter in public parks or wetlands, be considerate, pick it and throw it in the bin. Every step counts.

 

5. Conserve Water

Lifegiving water is central to wetland health. Observe the wetland vegetation. Their leaves, limbs, roots and other remarkable features help them conserve water.  Even wetland wildlife is adept at using water, a vital resource, judiciously.

Turn off the tap when not in use and use only as much as you need. Check your pipes and fittings regularly for any leakages. Harvest rainwater. During the summer months, water your plants early in the mornings.

 

6. Healthy Wetland Vegetation

Healthy vegetation is crucial for sustaining life in the wetlands. This includes upland vegetation, fringing vegetation and aquatic plant-life. Wetland vegetation is highly specialized, in that it has evolved to thrive in varying conditions of dampness and salinity.

Within the wetland catchments, ecosystems flourish based on an energy exchange between living organisms and the non-living environment. Leaves or branches from overhanging trees and shrubs, fall and are broken down by microbes, bacteria and fungi. These, in turn, become food for larger animals within the food web.

You can help in the conservation and rehabilitation efforts – by planting native flora, creating habitats for wildlife and participating in citizen science projects and initiatives.

 

7. Help Wetland Wildlife

Much like the wetland vegetation, wetland wildlife too is exposed, fragile and susceptible. Turtles that live in the swampy wetlands are known to venture out, cross busy roads or polluted areas in search of suitable nesting sites. Similarly, snakes and bobtails too are known to sneak-out to bask in the sun during winter months. Accidents are common and animals get run over. It is also common for animals to get entangled and hurt in the plastic debris.

Animals sometimes venture into homes and gardens, looking for nesting sites or grounds to lay eggs. There are many ways in which we can help these animals, by looking out for them, helping them get to their destination and protecting their eggs or hatchlings.

Apart from the permanent wetland residents, some migratory birds use the wetlands for resources. The dwindling bush and fringing vegetation and the changing environmental conditions are posing a serious threat to all their lives.

 

8. Important Contact Information

It can be useful to locate and carry information on local bodies responsible for wildlife rescue, wetland rehabilitation and conservation work, and research organizations. This can be especially significant if you reside in an area close to wetlands. We encourage you to keep such information handy.

At the Wetlands Centre, we are involved in wetland conservation, rehabilitation, research and education work. We can be contacted through phone, our website or through our social channels. We welcome your messages.

 

9. Learn and Educate

Wetlands are fascinating worlds that open doorways to some interesting natural activity. Take the initiative to deep dive and learn about the wetlands – their mysteries and intricacies. While there are several avenues for learning, there are also avenues for teaching, educating and spreading awareness.

 

10. Participate and Volunteer

At “The Wetlands Centre Cockburn”, we are a warm, friendly, community-based organization. We are located in the heart of Beeliar Regional Park, in the vicinity of the beautiful Bibra Lake. Visit our centre nestled in nature. Take a look at what we do.

We run a range of educational programs all-year-round. We have a fantastic community outreach. And, our in-house nursery and Seed Propagation Areas (SPAs) are our pride and joy.

There is so much you can do! Come begin this journey with us and help us restore our wetlands for everyone to enjoy!