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!