Protecting our wetlands with the largest ever land purchase for conservation

1 February 2019

A new joint venture between the Nature Conservancy Australia (TNC) and Tiverton Agriculture to purchase land for conservation will protect almost the entire extent of the Great Cumbung Swamp from irrigated cropping. It is the largest ever acquisition from a private conservation-focused organization in Australia, valued at $55 million, with the purchase of the Juanbung and Boyong cattle stations in western NSW.

Located at the end of the Lachlan River, the Great Cumbung swamp is one of the largest and most important wetlands in the Murray-Darling Basin, home to 131 bird species and more than 200 plant species. It’s the biggest area of reed-swamp in the Basin, a core habitat for wildlife.

Professor Jamie Pittock from the Fenner School, who assisted TNC in communicating the environmental importance of the project to funders, said it was a momentous milestone for conservation in this country.

“There’s definitely a growing movement for innovative environmental conservation: applying methods that are better and faster in creating change,” Prof Pittock said.

“What we are seeing is a really strong collaboration between different spheres, with those from the worlds of science, conservation, agricultural and Indigenous backgrounds coming together to establish more sustainable ways to manage the environment for both people and nature,” he said.

“By getting in now and conserving what is already there – before the irrigators develop it - we don’t then need to come in and undertake the back-breaking work of restoration.”

The Great Cumbung will be managed in conjunction with the 87,000-hectare Gayini Nimmie-Caira property, which was purchased for conservation by the NSW Government in 2012 and is now managed by TNC and the Nari Nari Tribal Council. Tribal Council Chair Ian Woods said “Nari Nari people are very supportive of the purchase and we look forward to working with TNC and Tiverton at the Great Cumbung and Gayini Nimmie-Caira”.  

It's this partnership with Indigenous organisations that is a crucial factor in changing how land is managed according to Professor Jamie Pittock.

“Wetlands in the Basin have been severely degraded by this ‘dig them up and ship them out’ culture of irrigation, and as Australians we have obligation to work with the Traditional Owners of the land to put some things right,” Prof Pittock said.

“Purchase of the Great Cumbung Swamp sets a new benchmark for conservation land trusts to conserve biodiversity and cultural values independently of government. I see this as an indication there is more to come in this space.”

More information can be found at The Nature Conservancy Australia.