Gwydir Wetlands: Gingham and Lower Gwydir (Big Leather) Watercourses Ramsar site

The Gwydir wetlands are an example of a terminal delta wetland, one of the few inland wetlands remaining in the Murray–Darling Basin. The Ramsar site consists of four discrete land parcels within the Gwydir wetlands near Moree in northern NSW. It covers 823 hectares and is part of a wider area of wetlands which originally covered 220,000 hectares but has been substantially reduced due to land use change and river regulation.
map of Gwydir Wetlands Ramsar site in NSW

Gwydir Wetlands Ramsar site map

Why was this wetland listed as a Ramsar site?

The Gwydir wetlands were listed under the Ramsar Convention in 1999 because they meet the following Ramsar nomination criteria:

Criterion 1 - Representative or unique wetlands

The Gwydir wetlands are a good example of an inland terminal delta in the Murray–Darling Basin. Although some areas of the wetlands have been modified as a result of river regulation, the Ramsar site includes representative examples of seasonally inundated grass/sedge meadows and some wooded swamp wetland types.

Criterion 2 - Threatened species or ecological communities

The Ramsar site supports threatened species, including the Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), listed as endangered under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act), and Australian painted snipe (Rostratula benghalensis), listed as vulnerable under the EPBC Act.

Criterion 3 - Populations of plants and/or animals important for maintaining biodiversity of a particular bioregion

The Gwydir wetlands support a diverse assemblage of floodplain wetland communities characteristic of the Murray–Darling Basin drainage division, including grass/sedge meadows, cumbungi beds and coolibah woodland. They are one of only two areas (along with the Macquarie Marshes) in the Murray–Darling Basin with extensive water couch (Paspalum distichum) marsh. The Old Dromana subsite supports a marsh club-rush (Bolboschoenus fluviatilis) sedgeland community which is rare and declining in the bioregion. The Ramsar site provides a variety of nesting and feeding sites for a diversity of waterbird species, with 65 waterbird species recorded in the Old Dromana subsite.

Criterion 4 - Supports species at a critical stage of their life cycle or provides refuge in adverse conditions

The Gwydir wetlands are an important breeding area for waterbirds, including egrets, herons, ibises, swans and rarer species such as brolgas (Grus rubicundus) and magpie geese (Anseranas semipalmata). The Gwydir wetlands also provide important resting and staging points for migratory species protected under international agreements, including Latham’s snipe (Gallinago hardwicki), cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis) and white-winged black terns (Chlidonias leucopterus).

During floods the Ramsar site can support large congregations of breeding colonial waterbirds which feed in the wetlands, with 47 species recorded as breeding in the Old Dromana subsite.

More information

The key document for the Gwydir wetlands Ramsar site is the Ramsar information sheet. It outlines the criteria met by the site, special features and management practices within the site and its catchment.

The Ramsar Convention requires Contracting Parties to maintain the ecological character of their Ramsar listed wetlands. Australia has developed a framework for describing ecological character in detail.

The Old Dromana subsite was gazetted as Gwydir Wetlands State Conservation Area (SCA) on 25 February 2011, to further protect its wetland values while still allowing for recreation opportunities under the National Parks and Wildlife Act 1974. A statement of interim management intent has been prepared for the SCA which includes actions to protect the subsite’s Ramsar values until a comprehensive plan of management is prepared.

The Goddard's Lease and Crinolyn subsites are managed as grazing properties under the ‘wise use’ principles of the Ramsar Convention. The site managers have developed Ramsar management plans to guide management of the sites.

An Article 3.2 notification was prepared for the Gwydir wetlands Ramsar site in 2003, following clearing of native vegetation on the Windella subsite. A restoration order under the EPBC Act is in place.

While the Old Dromana subsite is now protected as part of the Gwydir Wetlands SCA, there are several threats to the Ramsar site’s values. The principal threats include changes to the hydrological regime of the Gwydir system resulting from irrigated agriculture and construction of water diversion structures, impacts of introduced plants such as lippia (Phyla canescens) and water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) on wetland plant communities in the lower Gwydir, and changed fire regimes and grazing.

Management of the Gwydir wetlands is guided by the Gwydir Wetlands Adaptive Environmental Management Plan. The plan identifies ecological assets, their condition and water needs, and actions and projects to halt the decline of the wetland system.

The Ramsar Managers Network provides a forum for Ramsar site managers in NSW.

Page last updated: 26 April 2012