North Creek flows from the township of Lennox Head through to East Ballina, on the far north coast of NSW. It is a remnant intact paperbark forest to estuary wetland system and a crucial fish habitat area in its lower reaches.
North Creek contains diverse vegetation communities which provide habitat for numerous bird species as well as threatened plants and animals. Some of these remnant vegetation communities have declined in extent to a degree where they are considered to be threatened with extinction. The North Creek catchment contains no less than five endangered ecological communities:
- Lowland Rainforest on Floodplain in the NSW North Coast bioregion;
- River-Flat Eucalypt Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions;
- Swamp Oak Floodplain Forest of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions;
- Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions
- Coastal Saltmarsh in the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner Bioregions.
North Creek is considered to be one of the main locations for seagrass growth in the Richmond River estuary (WBM, 2006), and also provides important feeding and roosting sites for migratory birds. North Creek is also an area of immense cultural significance for the local indigenous people. Numerous shell middens occur throughout the catchment and there is a Bora Ring and burial artifact and scatter site near the upper reaches of the creek (Everick, 2009).
North Creek has been identified as an acid sulfate soil priority area (Tulau, 1999). When drained acid sulfate soils oxidise to form sulfuric acid. The hydrology of the upper and mid catchment has been dramatically changed by a network of drains which were built over the past 100 years, in particular two very large drains in the upper catchment. Other environmental problems in this area include invasive weed incursion into areas of remnant native vegetation, which threaten to outcompete and displace native species. Feral animals, in particular pigs, cane toads and foxes, harm native wildlife and cause habitat loss and degradation. Unrestricted vehicle access in saltmarsh areas is causing significant damage to this endangered ecological community and there are large volumes of rubbish along the edge of the creek, introduced by both tidal deposition and littering.
Coastal 20 Rehabilitation Actions:
Works we will be doing to address some of these issues are:
Weed control: focussing on high conservation value remnant native vegetation and tackling highly invasive weeds such as madeira vine, lantana and ground asparagus. This will reduce the threats to the native vegetation posed by these weeds and allow natural regeneration of native species. Initial, intensive, control will start in March 2012 and carry on through the winter in order to achieve maximum results. Any regrowth that then occurs over the spring and summer growing season can then be monitored and controlled in late 2012/early 2013. Follow up monitoring and control of regrowth will be ongoing after the initial control effort.
Revegetation: Some severely degraded remnant areas have required assisted regeneration. One site at East Ballina was cleared of high density invasive weeds by our project partner EnviTE. The site was then planted out with a suite of native species to help kick start the upward regeneration trajectory of this important coastal wetland site.
Rubbish removal: Once community clean up event was conducted in July 2011 at an important breeding site for the threatened Pied Oystercatcher with our project partners Australian Seabird Rescue. A whopping 80 kg of rubbish removed from this small area. Another one is planned for mid 2012 at North Creek Rd, where a combination of tidal deposition and dumping has resulted in significant amounts of rubbish in the saltmarsh and mangrove areas.
Threatened species protective fencing: A fence will now be installed at this site (and any more rubbish that has since been deposited removed) before the bird’s breeding season begins in August. This will ensure that the pair is not disturbed by people or dogs and they will be able to successfully raise their chicks. In the past the birds have had to abandon their nest due to disturbance and sadly this has meant that their chicks haven’t survived.
Feral pig and fox control: Numerous pig traps are located around the Newrybar Swamp perimeter and in partnership with NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service a contractor has been checking the traps and euthenasing those that are caught. This has already seen a significant reduction in feral pig activity in and around the swamp and an associated environmental and community benefit. This will continue throughout 2012 until the project’s finish in June 2013.
Saltmarsh restoration: Vehicle access exclusion bollards will be installed at an important coastal saltmarsh site to prevent further damage to this sensitive ecosystem. The existing wheel ruts will be levelled so as to allow natural regeneration of the saltmarsh vegetation.
A fantastic community tree planting day was held at the North Creek East Ballina wetland site on Sunday February the 5th to celebrate World Wetlands Day. Over 700 trees were planted at this formerly degraded site thanks to our community and project partners.
To monitor the success of the restoration works we have taken baseline vegetation surveys along a transect at each site which has captured information on the original vegetation (often mostly weeds). This is then compared to vegetation surveys taken along the same transect a year later, to get an idea of how much native regrowth has occurred as a result of controlling invasive weed species. There are also photo monitoring stations set up at each site to get a visual representation of how the site changes over time as a result of environmental work.
The wonderful EnviTE team at the East Ballina tree planting day. Chris and his team put up the fence around the site, prepared the ground for planting, and were there on the day to help plant the trees and fill the enormous water tank that was used to water in the young trees. Great work fellas! (Photo: Laura White, WetlandCare Australia)
Nicci and Eli from WCA, shown here with some of the community participants as well as Nev Kelly from Janelle Saffin’s office, Catherine Cusack Shadow Minister for Fair Trading and Shadow Minister for Volunteering, and the great team from NewTrain. The NewTrain team had already dug most of the holes by the time the local community participants got there, which was greatly appreciated since it turned out to be a very hot day! (Photo: Laura White, WetlandCare Australia)
This photo was taken on the 2nd July, 2012 - almost 5 months after the trees were planted and their growth has been amazing. Some of them are already shoulder height!
Along with our project partners Australian Seabird Rescue, a massive 80kg of rubbish was collected from a small sand spit next to Prospect Bridge, an important Pied Oystercatcher breeding site. (Photo: Sergio Jacomy, Australian Seabird Rescue)
Unrestricted vehicle access has caused a significant amount of damage to this coastal saltmarsh community. (Photo: Simone Haigh, WetlandCare Australia)
Pied Oystercatcher Protective Fencing
This fence has now gone up, and will help protect a breeding pair of threatened Pied Oystercatchers. Keeping people, but perhaps more importantly dogs, away from their breeding area will mean that they have a good chance of successfully raising a pair of chicks this year.
Ground asparagus control at North Creek Rd
The swamp oak forest understorey is thickly infested with ground asparagus at this site. Control is being achieved via a combination of manual and chemical removal methods.
The ground asparagus in this area has been removed manually and kept in bags until dead. This area will be revisited in spring of 2012 to follow up on any regrowth, and then again in early 2013.
Meet some of our volunteers!
Three of the wonderful people who helped make this happen are (from left) Paul Shephard, currently studying at Southern Cross University (SCU), Jacque Alinaitwe, a Ballina local who used to work for the Jane Goodall Institute in Uganda, and Sophy Millard from SCU, currently completing her internship with us. Thanks everyone for your great work! As well as ground asparagus, the team are working in another area of this site to control invasive vine species such as coastal morning glory and corky passionfruit.
As if thick infestations of ground asparagus and other weeds weren't enough, the site is also often subject to illegal dumping. Large amounts of rubbish are also washed up into the mangroves and saltmarsh, deposited there by tidal action from the creek.
This illegally dumped rubbish has now been removed (above) and the entire area was the focus of a clean up day which saw a whopping 9 bags of rubbish removed from the area (below).
Now that the primary weed control has been done we will return to the area in spring to follow up on any regrowth that may have occurred. The saltmarsh restoration is scheduled to begin in August with vehicle exclusion bollards being installed and wheel ruts levelled out so that natual recolonisation of the saltmarsh can begin.