Threatened upland wetlands of the Northern Tablelands

New South Wales has an amazing diversity of wetlands. However, several of its wetland communities are listed as endangered under the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016. These include coastal saltmarshes, mountain springs, upland swamps, coastal floodplain forests, coastal freshwater lagoons and peat swamps.

Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve

To celebrate World Wetlands Day on 2 February, let’s take a closer look at the endangered ecological community of the upland wetlands of the drainage divide of the New England Tableland bioregion – and find out how you can help Saving our Species protect this unique community.

What are upland wetlands?

Upland wetlands are high-altitude (above about 900 m) freshwater lagoons that are not connected to rivers by floodplains. They can be temporary or near-permanent wetlands and are only found on the tablelands of New South Wales.

There are 59 upland wetlands in the New England Tablelands, all with varying hydrology and environmental conditions.

Why are they important?

Wetlands perform many functions that are vital for environmental, economic, social and cultural reasons. 

They are important sites for biodiversity, providing habitat for threatened species, and can help improve water quality, store carbon, recharge groundwater and reduce the impacts of floods and storms. 

Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve and Ramsar site provides habitat for a number of threatened species.

Plants and animals in upland wetlands

A wide range of plants and animals depend on upland wetlands for their survival. 

Upland wetlands provide habitat for birds, frogs, fish, mammals and reptiles, including threatened species such as the Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus), comb-crested jacana (Irediparra gallinacea) and blue-billed duck (Oxyura australis). Other species recorded from upland wetlands include the brown toadlet (Pseudophryne bibronii), Peron’s tree frog (Litoria peronii) and eastern long-necked turtle (Chelondina longicollis).

Tree and shrub layers are typically absent in upland wetlands and the ground layer is dominated by water plants, sedges, forbs and grasses. The plant assemblage can vary in structure and species composition, based on whether the upland wetland is flooded or dry.

Threatened waterbirds such as the Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus) occur in upland wetlands

Protecting upland wetlands

Many upland wetlands have been dammed, drained or otherwise modified, mainly for agricultural purposes, and it’s estimated that about 70% of the original upland wetlands have been lost since European settlement. Of those that remain, almost all have been modified or degraded through changed water regimes, sedimentation from erosion, damage from domestic and feral animals, and invasion by exotic plant and animal species. 

The conservation of wetlands is guided by the NSW Wetlands Policy, the Ramsar Convention and state and national programs. 

The NSW Government’s Saving our Species program, through a partnership with the University of New England on the Dynamic Lagoons project, is building knowledge and public support to secure threatened upland wetlands on the Northern Tablelands. Find out more about the project and ways to get involved at Dynamic Lagoons. Download a free copy of Dynamic lagoons – Colour the world of upland wetlands

Visit an upland wetland

Several upland wetlands are accessible to the public:

  • Mother of Ducks Lagoon Nature Reserve near Guyra is a great place to spot birds, with over 87 species observed to date. Several threatened species rely on the reserve for survival, including the curlew sandpiper (Calidris ferruginea).
  • Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve and lagoon near Armidale is a Ramsar-listed wetland and another birdwatching paradise that also supports a great diversity of plant life, including distinct groups of sedgeland, herb land and grassy woodlands. You’ll also find tree species such as snow gum (Eucalyptus pauciflora) and threatened New England peppermint (Eucalyptus nova-anglica). 

Visit the bird hide at Mother of Ducks Lagoon Nature Reserve

How you can help

  • Help monitor upland wetlands on the Northern Tablelands. Visit one of 2 photo point stations at Little Llangothlin Nature Reserve or Dangars Lagoon near Uralla. Stop and share a photo and help the Dynamic Lagoons project collect data on the long-term environmental changes at these wetlands. 
  • Join the citizen science movement to help collect data on upland lagoons by taking a photograph of flora and fauna at any lagoon and uploading it to iNaturalist. Turtle sightings can be reported through TurtleSAT.
  • Find and visit one of the 12 Ramsar-listed wetlands in New South Wales. 
  • Get involved in wetland conservation activities at your closest wetland. Contact your local Landcare group for more information.
  • Take part in World Wetlands Day on 2 February each year.

Help monitor upland wetlands and collect data on long-term environmental changes at these sites.

Learn more

Find out more at Endangered wetland communities.