Dry bed of Moira Lake (K Stockwell)

This page is about the Barmah-Millewa Forest, a cross-border forest which is located alongside the Murray River upstream of Echuca-Moama.

The Barmah-Millewa forest is a Ramsar wetland of international significance and an Important Bird Area.

It is one of six Living Murray icon sites.

Accessing Barmah Forest
In Victoria, the Barmah Forest can be accessed via a number of tracks off either the Murray Valley Highway (B300) or the Picola North Road. One of the best access points is via Dargan Track. Another is via Murray's Mill.

But the most-used access point in Victoria is via Sandridge Road from Barmah Town (the only Victorian town north of the Murray River). The Sandridge Road leads to the Dharnya information centre and to Barmah Lake from where the MV 'Kingfisher' operates wetland cruises.

Much of Barmah Forest is now a national park..

Camping in Barmah Forest
There is a commercial caravan park at Barmah Town. Bush camping is allowed along the Murray River. There is a free camping ground with toilets and picnic tables alongside Barmah Lake. Rubbish should be carried out (no bins or skips provided on the Victorian side of the river).

Accessing Millewa group of forests
In NSW, the forest has a number of names: Moira Forest, Gulpa Island, Millewa Forest, Tuppal Forest, Bullatale forest Reserve and Bama Forest. The collective name of Millewa Forest is often used. Most of forest is now part of Murray Valley National Park.

In NSW, Moira Forest can be accessed via a number of tracks off the Cobb Highway (B75). It can also be accessed via a bridge over the Gulpa Creek at Picnic Point. Moira Lake and its surrounds is a flora reserve.

Several tracks into Millewa Forest run off Millewa Road (Picnic Point-Tocumwal Road)

Gulpa Creek Road runs north-south across Gulpa Island and can be accessed from Picnic Point Road on the outskirts of Mathoura.

An elevated wooden boardwalk to the Reed Beds Bird Hide can be accessed from Picnic Point Road near the Tocumwal (Millewa Forest) Road turnoff. A toilet and updated information boards have recently been erected alongside the sealed car park.

There is a free camp site with toilets, gas barbeque, rubbish skip and picnic tables on Gulpa Island alongside the bridge where Tocumwal Road (Millewa Forest Road) crosses the Edward.

Camp fires are not permitted over the summer period.

There are commercial caravan parks at Mathoura, Picnic Point, Deniliquin and Echuca-Moama.

Bush camping is allowed in the forest. The most popular area are sites between Narrows Road and the Murray River in Moira Forest. A toilet has been/is to be erected at a site alongside Narrows Road.

The Reed Beds is a conservation area alongside Gulpa Creek south of Picnic Point Road. There is an elevated walkway and, as stated above, an elaborate bird observation structure in this part of the forest. A poorly-maintained walking track leads from Picnic Point Road via a suspension bridge to the Murray and with an arm to an old bird hide.

Bounded by the Edward River on one side and an anabranch called Gulpa Creek on the other, Gulpa Island is north of Moira Forest. It can be accessed via Picnic Point Road. The northern section of the island can be accessed from the Cobb Highway (75) via Walliston Road. The eastern section can be accessed from tracks off Millewa Forest Road (e.g. near the Edward River Bridge where there is a camping area with toilets).

Although Bama Forest is the closest section of Barmah-Millewa Forest to Moama, it is not as frequently visited. This forest is a regional park which can be accessed from the Cobb Highway by Cumming Road (not sign posted) and from the Picnic Point Road via Old Barmah Road.

The northern-most section of the Murray Valley Regional Park is Bullatale Forest but a locked gate prevents unauthorised vehicular access. Between Bullatale and Gulpa Island, the forest is called Tuppal Forest

A good way to explore the NSW side of the forest is to follow one of the sign-posted forest drives. These should only be attempted in dry weather and when the forest is not in flood.

There are commercial camp grounds at Picnic Point and Mathoura. In Victoria, there is a free camp ground alongside Barmah Lake. There is a motel in Mathoura. There are caravan resorts, motels, B and Bs and hostels in Echuca-Moama and Shepparton.

Camping is allowed in the forest. Most campers prefer unserviced sites alongside the Murray River. Campers are asked to remove all rubbish as bins are no longer provided. There are large skips at the main forest entrances on the NSW side of the border.

On the NSW side of the Murray, there is a ban on wood fire in summer. Trail bikes and, apart from days of total fire ban, camp fires are allowed in Victoria. Campers should remember that the NSW border is the top of the river bank on the Victorian side of the river. Therefore, NSW fishing and boating regulations apply (see section on native fish on this site).

The eco-certified two-hour Kingfisher Cruise from Barmah Lake through The Narrows is an ideal way to see the forest and many of the bird species, especially if the forest is in flood. Bookings are necessary (03 5480 1839 business hours).

The lakes area is usually a suitable place of canoeing although the current in the Murray itself is quite strong and it is hard to paddle upstream.

Maps
Visitors are urged to obtain good maps before visiting the forest. Information is available from the Mathoura Tourist Information and Rural Transaction Centre and, if it is open, from the Dharnya Centre. The downloadable birding guides listed below contain sketch maps.

1:50,000 topographic maps are useful (1:25,000 maps if you wish to do bushwalking). Relevant topographic maps are:
Moira Lakes 7826-2-2
Barmah 7825-1-1
Yielema North 7926-3-N
Deniliquin
Available by phone order from Information Victoria 1300 366 356.

Hayman's Maps has produced an excellent two-sided Barmah-Shepparton-Deniliquin Adventure Map. The second edition features River Red Gum national aprks and regional parks. Haymans Maps now has a web site: www. haymansmaps.com.au

Best time to visit
If there have been good winter rains, much of the forest may be flooded in Spring and early Summer.

Raised river levels and flooding sometimes make forest access difficult between May and November. Furthermore, limited access may be possible through Summer until March.

Summers get very hot in this region.

Autumn may be the best season to visit the forest. It is difficult to find a top camp site along the rivers over Easter when thousands of people flock to the forest..

 

 

Related pages on this site

Bushland Reserves of northern Victoria and southern Riverina NSW

Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest

Birding Guide to Barmah Forest (pdf)

Birding guide to Mathoura and Gulpa Island (pdf)

Indigenous plants of northern Victoria and southern (Riverina) NSW

Photo Gallery of the birds of northern Victoria and southern Riverina NSW

Site map (index)

 

External Links

Hayman's Maps

MDBC's Barmah-Millewa Forest page

NSW Government River Rede Gum pages

Millewa Forest map (pdf)

Barmah National Park Visitor Guide

NSW Parks and Wildlife Service pages on River Red Gum Parks

The Living Murray

Parks Victoria Barmah National Park page

Wikipedia section on Barmah Forest

Moira Lakes Wetland Rehabilitation Project

Establishing a wetland of indigenous plants (a section of Goldfields Revegetation Nursery Site)

Other links are shown in the opposite column.

Barmah Forest . Barmah National Park . Gulpa Island . Barmah Millewa Forest . Murray Valley Regional Park . Moira Forest
Murray Valley National Park . River Red Gum Parks . Barmah-Millew . Tuppal . Native Dog Forest . River Red Gum forests

Bushland Reserves
of
northern Victoria and the southern Riverina

Reed Beds
Reed Beds in Flood by K. Stockwell

Barmah-Millewa Forest

including

Barmah National Park, Murray Valley National Park (including Moira, Millewa, Native Dog and Tuppal forests), Regional Park (including Bama Forest ), Millewa Forest, Gulpa Island and Barmah State Forest

Introduction

Cattle

Access (side panel)

Introduction

Located north-east of Echuca-Moama, the Barmah-Millewa Forest straddles the Victoria-NSW border and covers about 66,600 hectares. Barmah-Millewa forest resembles a triangle in shape with its base running roughly north-south. The 'Forest' includes several lakes, wetlands, Moira Grass plains and sand hills. In places, on higher ground, Black Box is the dominant tree. But Red Gum is the dominant tree around wetlands and along the rivers. Callitris Pine is the dominant tree on sandhills. aeolian sandhills or lunettes mark the edge of a once larger Moira Lake.

The forest is called Barmah Forest in Victoria (28,500ha; light grey on map below ~ parts of which is now a National Park) ~ and by various names, including Millewa Forest, Gulpa Island Forest and Moira Forest in NSW (38,100ha; darker grey on map below) ~ most of which is included in Murray Valley National Park..

It is now very likely that most of Barmah-Millewa Forest will henceforth be a jointly-managed, cross-border iconic national park. National parks on both sides of the Murray River were declared on 29th June 2010 (Barmah Forest, Victoria) and 1st July 2010 (Millewa, Tuppal, Native Dog and Moira Forests in NSW). Most of Gulpa Island is part of the national park but an area near Mathoura has been included in the discontinuous Murray Valley Regional Park).


Barmah-Millewa Forest

There was much local opposition to the creation of national parks covering most of the Barmah-Millewa Forest. Many, especially those with a vested interest, claimed that jobs will be lost, that towns such as Mathoura will lose businesses and population, that the forest will be poorly managed unless experienced rangers who understand the forest and its needs are appointed, that weeds will become a problem, and that forestry has resulted in a healthy, productive forest. Some opponents of national parks claimed that many national parks were poorly-managed and under-resourced. Some of the opponents to the proposed Millewa National Park (actually Murray Valley National Park) were climate-change deniers who argued that wet seasons will eventually return and that the Red Gum trees will then receive the water they desperately need. Angry 'anti-greenie' feelings were expressed.

On the other hand, it can be argued that, partly because of climate change and reduced rainfall, forestry practices were not sustainable and that a cross-border national park is more likely to obtain environmental water than might otherwise be the case. Most environmental water (measurement claims of 96% have been made by CMA/Parks ecologists) finds its way back into the river system and thereby becomes available for use downstream (e.g. by irrigators or to water downstream forests like Gunbower-Perricoota-Koondrook). Engineering works are being carried out in the Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota forest to better deliver environmental water and to allow the timber industry to continue to exist, but on a smaller scale. Management changes may be needed in order to meet our Ramsar Wetland commitments.

A map of the new Barmah National Park can be downloaded by clicking on the link at the end of the section below on Barmah Forest. The best cross-border map of the forest is probably the one produced by Hayman's Maps. Links to Parks Victoria and NSW Parks and Wildlife Service pages on Barmah-Millewa follow:

arrowParks Victoria's Barmah National Park page

arrowNSW Parks and Wildlife Service pages on River Red Gum parks

Reed Bed surface
Photo taken looking down from the bird observation structure at the Reed Beds alongside Picnic Point Road (K Stockwell).
Below: Barmah Forest in Flood
(K Stockwell)


The Living Murray

The Living Murray initiative lists this forest as one of six icon sites in the Murray-Darling Basin to be protected for their ecological significance. One icon site (or 'significant environmental asset') is Barmah-Millewa Forest.

The other Living Murray icon sites are
* Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota Forest
* Hattah Lakes
* Chowilla Floodplain, Lindsay and Wallpolla Island
* The Coorong, lower lakes and river mouth, and
* the river channel itself.

Barmah-Millewa is a wetland of International Importance under the Ramsar Convention and it is an Important Bird Area (IBA) because of its importance to the endangered Superb Parrot. It is an important breeding ground for a number of birds, including Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Nankeen Night Heron, Royal Spoonbill, Intermediate Egret, Great Egret and Australian White Ibis.

The Barmah-Millewa Forest provides habitat for numerous threatened plant and animal species, including birds, fish and reptiles, and supports colonies of breeding waterbirds during appropriate seasonal conditions.

The Living Murray initiative aims to enhance forest fish and wildlife values, ensure successful breeding of thousands of colonial waterbirds in at least three years in ten, promote healthy vegetation in at least 55% of the area of the forest (including virtually all of the Giant Rush, Moira Grass, River Red Gum forest, and some River Red Gum woodland).

Because of irrigation, natural river flow patterns differ from those which existed pre-European settlement. The river now flows at near bank full through The Narrows (see below) throughout summer, whilst winter-spring floods are usually neither as deep nor as prolonged.

In an attempt to restore a natural flooding and drying regime to the forest, a number of environmental works and measures have been completed or are planned. There are in excess of 50 water management structures, including regulators, pipes, culverts and earthen banks. To enable native fish to move up and down river, fish ladders have been, or are being, installed at obstacles such as weirs. Some of the fish ladders have traps aimed at reducing the number of the introduced European Carp, a fish which increases river turbidity and competes with native fish.


Regulators such as this one at the Top End help keep water out of wetlands over
autumn and summer when river levels are artificially high, but can
be opened to allow wetlands to be flooded in late spring.
(K Stockwell)

In his Australia Day 2007 address to the National Press Club, the then Prime Minister, Hon John Howard, announced 'engineering works for the 'Barmah Choke'. It is important that 'The Choke' (The Narrows), a landform of considerable significance, itself not be interfered with. The very existence of the Barmah-Millewa wetlands depend upon channel capacity being exceeded during late winter and spring. The wetlands should then be allowed to dry out over late summer and autumn. A by-pass channel could be good news for the forest if it is only used in summer and autumn. On the other hand, if a by-pass is used all year, including late winter and spring and early summer, causing a reduction in the depth and duration of flooding, it could spell doom for the wetlands. The Victorian Government has established a group to assess the proposal and various ways of by-passing the 'choke' over summer are being considered. It is now very unlikely that The Narrows will be either widened or deepened..

Another proposal which may result in further degradation of the wetlands is for dams along the King and Ovens rivers. At present, flood water from these unregulated rivers sometimes enters the Barmah-Millewa wetlands. Environmental water is sometimes released to supplement the depth and/or duration of flooding. Damming these rivers will not create one drop of additional water, but it may mean a reduction of flooding in Barmah-Millewa, and that is a bad thing.


A view of Barmah Lake from The Narrows (K Stockwell)

Geological History

Hundreds of years ago the Murray flowed north of Echuca, along the course of what is today called Green Gully. It did not flow through what is now Echuca.

The Cadell Fault Line runs from near Deniliquin south toward Elmore. From time to time, land to the west of the fault line has been uplifted, blocking the flow of westward flowing streams.

About 35,000 years ago, an area of land to the west of the Cadell Fault Line was uplifted, blocking the Goulburn River and leading to the formation of Lake Kanyapella, a remnant of which remains (the present-day Kanyapella Reserve). The Goulburn escaped by flowing into the Campaspe River. It abandoned its old course which today is called Broken Creek. Broken Creek flows into the Murray immediately downstream of Barmah Lake.

About 16,000 years ago, tectonic activity caused the land to the west of the present Barmah-Millewa Forest to be uplifted by between 8 and 12 metres along the fault line. The uplifted block of land slopes down to the west (the Cadell Tilt Block).

Cadell Fault Line
Gulpa Creek at the edge of Cadell Tilt Block, Mathoura
(K Stockwell)

The westward course of the Murray was blocked and a huge lake formed as a result.

Over the years, the Murray tried to escape from this lake. Gulpa Creek is an early attempt. Eventually the waters flowed around the northern edge of the tilt block as The Edward (alongside which Deniliquin is now built) and south into the old course of the Goulburn River. The Edward rejoins the old course of the Murray near Barham.

As the large lake drained, the Murray deposited silt as it flowed through the remnant lake, forming natural silt jetties. This section of new river is known as The Narrows (or Barmah Choke). The Narrows is a perched river with natural silt jetties separating it from the remnants of a once larger large, Moira Lake and Barmah Lake. Most rivers flow in a valley but The Narrows is actually higher than the land either side, its natural levees preventing the river from spreading out over a vast area. In flood times, The Narrows (Barmah Choke) cannot carry as much water as other parts of the river system, so the surrounding flat land is flooded. Numerous braided channels (runners) distribute flood waters throughout the forest.

Frequent flooding enabled a Red Gum forest to be created, with Banksia and native Pine dominating aeolian sand ridges which mark the retreating edge of prior lakes. Local rainfall alone cannot support the forest.


Natural levee: The Narrows (K Stockwell)

The Moira and Barmah Lakes are separate only because of natural levees formed as the Murray passed through the lake, and they are but a remnant of their former size. Hut Lake, the Reed Beds, the Gluepot, Duffy's Lagoon and Duck Lagoon are just some of the other fragments of a once huge lake.

Today, extensive red gum forests grow along the Murray River between Cobram, Deniliquin and Echuca-Moama. The forest is usually referred to as the Barmah Swamp and most visitors keep to the Victorian side. Barmah Forest, much of which is a State Park, lies between Cobram and Barmah on the Victorian side of the Murray River. But the term red gum forest is misleading. There are areas of sandhills (dominated by Callitris pine), grassland (Moira Grass plains), grassy box forest (on slightly higher areas) and both 'permanent' and ephemeral wetlands.

Water regulation (using dams and regulators) and extraction (e.g. for irrigation) have changed river flow patterns, with much higher summer flows. Some wetlands had, at least until recently, been permanently inundated, resulting in environmental degradation. Rehabilitation schemes have been attempted (e.g. of the Moira Lake wetlands and Reed Beds) and the Barmah-Millewa Forum was set up to co-ordinate management of the forest. It has now been replaced by site managers (one from each State) and a number of committees (see below).

Prior to its inclusion in the new Murray Valley Regional Park, an area of around 1,500ha, which includes Moira Lake and the surrounding Moira Grass plains, was a flora reserve from which cattle and forestry were excluded. Where appropriate, fences were constructed around much of the reserve (the Moira Channel and Murray River serve as unfenced boundaries). Timber extraction in the area ceased and an extensive restoration programme . A rehabilitation plan for the wetland was developed by the NSW Murray Wetlands Working Group, NSW State Forests and the Department of Land and Water Conservation. Summer flows can now be excluded from the wetland, simulating natural conditions. Access is via Cobb Highway north of the Shepparton turnoff and immediately north of Moira Channel (because of a locked gate, a long walk is involved) or by walking from the southern end of Narrows Road


A rock wall built to prevent river water from entering Moira Lake (K Stockwell)

Stage 3 of the Moira Lake Restoration Scheme is planned. At considerable cost, the Moira Channel may be 'relocated' so that it takes off downstream of, and skirts to the south of, Moira Lake. The part of Moira Lake which the channel presently crosses is expected to be rehabilitated.

Whilst the forest and its wetlands attract lots of tourists and brings lots of money into the region, there's another benefit: the Barmah-Millewa wetlands are habitat for large numbers of ibis which each day travel to surrounding farms, preying on insect pests that feed on crops and pastures. At night, large numbers of bats leave the forest in search of insects, supplementing the work of the ibis. This natural pest control service has been valued at over $650,000 per annum.

A large volume of environmental water was released to the forest over the spring and summer of 2005-06, triggering a major bird and fish breeding event. Three species of Egret (Great, Intermediate and Little) all bred successfully. Other birds also bred successfully, including Nankeen Night Heron, White Ibis and Straw-necked Ibis.

Prolonged drought conditions then prevailed and even some 'permanent' wetlands dried up. Giant Rush (Juncus ingens) has taken over much of the wetlands ~ growing one and an half metres tall in just six months ~ whilst red gum saplings took over other areas.

Over the summer of 2010-11 the drought broke. Much of Barmah-Millewa Forest was flooded. Most of Barmah Forest was inaccessible for many weeks. The floods caused road closures. Some roads were closed for several months.

The flood of 2010-11 was the biggest for many years and resulted in colonial water birds nesting and raising young. In particular, large numbers of Nankeen Night Herons were observed in Barmah Forest. Egrets and ibis nested in several places. Some less-common birds like Buff-banded Rail, Australian Painted Snipe, Little Bittern and Australasian Bittern were observed in The Reed Beds.

arrowFlooding requirements of flora of red gum floodplains ('Murray Flow Assistance Tool')

Barmah_Sign

Barmah Forest

Barmah Forest lies on the Victorian side of the Murray River.

Most of Barmah Forest is contained within the 28,521ha Barmah National Park. The park has 112km of Murray River frontage. Part of Ulupna Island is included within the new national park. Forests on public land of Ulupna Island further upstream are part of Murray River Park.

The most-visited part of Barmah-Millewa wetlands is that section of Barmah Forest which can be accessed via the Sandridge Road from Barmah Town. The Barmah Lake is popular with day visitors and campers alike.

A small tourist boat, MV Kingfisher, operates from the lake, offering cruises of about two hours in duration. There is an information centre alongside Sandridge Road, north of the turnoff to Barmah Lake but it is currently closed owing to termite damage.

Sandridge Road becomes River Road. If the roads are open and dry, motorists can drive alongside the Murray for many kilometres. The forest can also be accessed from tracks off both the Murray Valley Highway and Picola North Road.

Compared to the NSW side, there are relatively few fenced exclusion plots in Victoria. The best one, perhaps, is located near the intersection of Dargan track and Bourke Street. The exclusion plot protects a variety of trees and shrubs, including Buloke. However, some shrubs and trees found in places on the NSW side appear to be absent from the Victorian side, e.g. Banksia marginata.

See the bushwalking section below for information about bushwalks in Barmah Forest.

Barmah Forest
A 'runner' (stream) in Barmah Forest (Photo: K Stockwell)

arrowClick here to download a copy of the Barmah National Park Visitors' Guide

arrowClick here to download a copy of DSE's Barmah Forest Management Plan (pdf fie)

arrowClick here to download a map showing the new Barmah National Park (coloured green) and State Forest (pink) (pdf file from DSE web site).

arrowClick here to enter the Parks Victoria page on Barmah National Park

arrowIndigenous co-management of Barmah Forest (ANTaR site).

arrowWikipedia section on Barmah Forest.

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Forest Drives

In dry weather, provided the forest is not in flood, the main tracks of the Barmah-Millewa Forest are suitable for most two-wheel drive vehicles. It is advisable to study maps and refer to the Gulpa, Millewa and Moira Forest Drives Brochure before venturing in to the forest.

There is an interesting half-day forest drive on the Victorian side of the Murray River from Barmah Town (VicRoads Map 31 H2) along Sand Ridge Road to "The Gulf" (or Top End) and on to Morgans Beach. Because of the length of the drive, it is best to return to Barmah via the sealed Picola-Barmah Road.

On the NSW side of the river, the signposted Moira Forest Drive leaves the Cobb Highway south of Mathoura and follows Poverty Point, Narrows and Swifts Creek roads. There is another forest drive off the Tocumwal (also called Millewa) (also called Aratula) Road.

The drive from Mathoura along Picnic Point Road to the Murray River is also a delightful drive although the road has been straightened and widened and is now bitumen for most of its length. Grey-crowned Babblers and Blue-faced Honeyeaters are often sighted along the side road to Tarragon Lodge. It is worth stopping off at the bird observation structure which is south-west of the Tocumwal (Millewa Forest) Road turnoff.

Gulpa Island is well worth discovering either by car or on foot.

Millewa_sign

Millewa Forest

That part of the forest east of The Edward (River) and north of the Murray River is termed Millewa Forest. Millewa Forest Road (also called Tocumwal Road and formerly called Aratula Road) runs through this section of forest. Some tracks lead south-east from Millewa Forest Road to the Murray. There are some good camping sites along the river in this section.

Note: most of these access roads were closed following flooding over the summer of 2010-2011 and many were still closed when last checked during June of 2011.

A few decades back there were some holiday shacks alongside the Murray. This have now all been demolished. Some of the trees planted around the shacks remain. Upstream of Picnic Point there is such a spot with many fruit and garden trees, Walthours Garden. When the forest is not in flood, seldom-used tracks in the vicinity of Walthours Garden are suitable for bush walking. Further upstream the Murray becomes a braided stream with many lagoons. Yet further upstream is a large meander with a narrow neck and it is here that anglers sometimes choose to camp.

Plantation Track runs from near the north-eastern end of Millewa (Tocumwal) Road into a plantation of pine trees. Several decades ago, forest authorities planted several plantations of pines in various parts of the Millewa group of forests, but the plantations were not particularly successful. Most of the pine-like trees on sandhills of the forest are native. But the pines here are introduced.

Most of the tracks running east from Millewa (Tocumwal) Road lead to a riverside road, Millewa River Road. Note, however, that vehicular access to the Murray River via Plantation Track and Fisherman's Bend Road is not possible owing to a damaged bridge.

Bridge_Out

There are lots of good camping and fishing spots along Millewa Forest Road. It is possible to make use of this road when planning a bushwalking circuit.

The term Millewa Forest is sometimes used more generally to include not only Millewa Forest but Gulpa Island, Moira Forest and other sections of red gum wetland on the NSW side of Barmah Forest. Let's look now at some of the other parts of the forest.

Gulpa, Millewa and Moira Forest Drives ~ pdf maps (Forestry NSW)

arrowMoira Lakes Wetland Rehabilitation Project (a page on the Murray Wetlands Working Group's Site)

Gulpa Island

Gulpa Island lies between the Edward River and Gulpa Creek. Much of Gulpa Island is now part of the Murray Valley National Park. That part of Gulpa Island closest to Mathoura, however, is part of the discontinuous Murray Valley Regional Park. Horse riding and walking dogs is permitted in the regional park section only.

There is a sealed road, Picnic Point Road, across the south end of Gulpa Island from the Cobb Highway at Picnic Point.

A walking track alongside Gulpa Creek can be accessed at the edge of Mathoura, from the first bridge over Gulpa Creek (Poley's Bridge, named after an early Polish chap who lived nearby), opposite a small caravan park and kiosk. The track features a number of bridges over Gulpa Creek. The northern end of the walking track, near Crane's Bridge is highly regarded by bird observers. Red-browed finches and water birds are usually observed along this track.


Red-browed Finch (D Ong)

Immediately after the Picnic Point Road crosses Gulpa Creek on to Gulpa Island, there is a vehicular track alongside the creek. The track heads north for many kilometres before leading back to the Cobb Highway half way between Mathoura and Deniliquin.

It is interesting to note how Reeds are common on the town side of the creek and not as common on the forest side where grazing has occurred.

Near the northern end of Gulpa Creek Road, just before Gulpa Creek Road crosses Gulpa Creek, there is a road to the right, Junction Track. A short distance along Junction Track is the intersection with Langmans Road. Langmans Road skirts a sandhill, a large section of which is fenced. The fenced exclosure protects remnant sandhill vegetation, including Murray Pine, Golden Wattle, native grasses, everlastings, Hop Bush, Calytrix and Exocarpus. The area is popular with bird observers as Gilberts Whistler is sometimes observed here.

Rather than following Gulpa Creek Road all the way north, Taylor's Bridge Road can be followed across the island and it eventually leads to Millewa Forest Road at the Edward River Bridge. There are a number of scenic alternatives to Millewa Forest Road, one of which is Sages Track. Emus are often sighted along Sages Track, as are some endangered birds such as Diamond Firetail. Southern Whiteface is often observed on or near fallen branches along Sages Track.


Emus along Sages Track (D Ong)

Edward River bridge
Picnic area alongside Edward River Bridge (K Stockwell)

The picnic (day visitor) area alongside the Edward River bridge has recently been upgraded. There is now a toilet, new p;icnic tables, a gas barbeque and rubbish skips. There is a free camping area immediately downstream of the picnic area.

From here, it is a short drive south to the sealed Mathoura-Picnic Point Road. Turn left (south) for Picnic Point or right (west) to return to the Cobb Highway and Mathoura.

A few hundred metres west of the intersection of Tocumwal (Millewa Forest) Road and Mathoura-Picnic Point Road there is the two-storied Reed Beds bird hide which affords splendid views over the Reed Beds, a wetland remnant of a once huge Moira Lake. When the swamp contains water, large numbers of water birds can be observed feeding and nesting.


Bird Hide, The Reed Beds Mathoura

Reed Beds car park
New toilet and information board alongside a sealed car park, The Reed Beds, east of Mathoura (K Stockwell)

Before being incorporated into Murray Valley National Park, the Reed Beds were protected by a 2,000ha exclosure in which forestry and grazing were prohibited. Although technically on Gulpa Island, the former Reed Beds Exclosure is now part of the Moira block of Murray Valley National Park.

An expensive restoration programme was undertaken and there has been a marked improvement in the vegetation and bird life. The Reed Beds were flooded in 2004 and 2010-11. The modern bird viewing structure off Picnic Point Road is an improvement on an earlier hide built in 1986 which is inaccessible when the Reed Beds are flooded! Unlike the old hide, there is all-weather access to the new structure by sealed road. The walkway has been built above the 1 in 100 year flood level. Birds which can be viewed from the new structure from time to time include Great-crested Grebe, Australasian Grebe, Clamorous Reed Warbler, Sacred Kingfisher, Coot, Pelican, Little Pied Cormorant, Little Black Cormorant, Royal Spoonbill, Yellow-billed Spoonbill, Little Grassbird, Purple Swamp Hen, Swamp Harrier and White-bellied Sea-eagle. Access the hide via the Mathoura to Picnic Point Road.

Reed Beds
The Reed Beds, December 2009, following an environmental water release. (Photo: K Stockwell)

From the Tocumwal turnoff, Picnic Point Road continues unsealed to Picnic Point alongside the Murray River. There are camp grounds and a lodge here. There is a boat ramp at Picnic Point. The small riverside riverside alongside the Picnic Point Caravan Park is a good bird watching spot as such birds as White-browed Scrub Wrens, Red-browed Finches, Superb (Blue) Fairy Wrens and Nankeen Night Herons are used to campers and rather timid. There are public toilets alongside the narrow riverside reserve.

At Picnic Point, a bridge over Gulpa Creek gives access, after passing by several private dwellings and Tarragon Lodge, to Moira State Forest. It is possible to drive alongside the Murray atop a natural silt jetty for many kilometres. After several kilometres, a locked gate limits further vehicular access. It is worth walking alongside the river from here to Moira Lake. But a word of warning. It ay not be a good idea to try to walk around Moira Lake as there a lot of snakes in high grass between the Moira Channel and Moira Lake. So many, that it is hard to avoid treading on one with possible nasty consequences! Most of the snakes are Red-bellied Blacks and they are unlikely to be aggressive unless trodden on or approached too closely.


Red-bellied Black Snake: the most common snake in Barmah-Millewa Forest (Photo: D Ong)

Apart from red gum forest and sandhills, there are extensive areas of Box Forest, much of which is coppice growth from previously-logged trees. Grey Box dominates on non-sandy areas which do not flood very often. Black Box dominates on clay areas which occasionally flood for short periods. Native Pine (Callitris) is the dominant tree on sandhills. There are areas of Moira Grass Plains and perennial wetlands. This article, written over 10 years ago by the late Pat Corry, helps us realise that the forest is not merely a Red Gum monoculture:

A day on Gulpa Island, Murray Valley Regional Park
by (the late) Pat Corry
East of the Cobb Highway between Deniliquin and Echuca, extending back along the flood plain of the Murray River towards Tocumwal, are more than 35,000 hectares of State Forests (most of which are now part of Murray Valley Regional Park. Ed.). These River Red Gum forests contain many unusual features of great interest and are criss-crossed by a number of picturesque forest drives.

I would like to take you on a drive through one of our favourite spots, Gulpa Island.

Gulpa Island is bounded by the Edward River and the Gulpa Creek. The drive is about 15km. It commences at Mathoura and can be entered by crossing Polly's Bridge at the Gateway Caravan Park on Gulpa Creek.

Turn sharp left past the bridge and continue beside the creek, stopping at the cattle grid.

You will see on your left a scarred tree. The scar marks the place where an aborigine has removed a sheet of bark to make a canoe many years ago.

A short distance further on, look away to the left and you will see the Cadell Tilt.

There is a north-south fault in the Earth's surface. The land to the west rose up to 10m above the land to the east, some thousands of years ago. This altered the course of the Murray River by blocking its flow (the old course is the present-day Green Gully). A lake formed the the east of the fault, the waters of the Murray building up (a greater Barmah Lake) until water spilt out, some flowing South towards Echuca, some flowing north (Edward River and various creeks) through Deniliquin. The two arms rejoin some 200 kms west.

While observing the flora and bird life, follow the Gulpa Creek Road. You will see a lonely remnant of the original stand of Sandalwood. Continue on and you will see Blue Rod, Slender Hopbush, Narrow Hopbush, Ruby Salt Bush and Kurrajong.


Calytrix tetragona

Melville Road and Langman's Road will take you through to sand ridges with large numbers of native trees, shrubs and other plants such as Murray Pine, Cooba, Grey Mulga, Cherry Ballart, Calytrix (Fringe Myrtle), etc which are all common on the sandhill. Some areas are fenced for preservation and walking around these you can see the following native regrowth: Banksia marginata, Pale-fruit Ballart, Buloke, Clematis microphylla, Common Fireweed, Nodding Saltbush, Blushing Bindweed, Woollyhead Mat Rush, Austral Bugles, Cranberry Heath, Flannel Cudweed, Common Wheat Grass, Shrubby Riceflower and Native Jasmine. Kangaroos and emus may be sighted on your journey.

On a day there we saw more than 50 species of birds, including Superb Parrots and a large number of Friarbird. From where we sat having lunch, we watched nesting pairs of Diamond Firetails, Striated Pardalotes and Rainbow Bee-eaters busily feeding their young.


Superb Parrot (D Ong)

You may pass many camping and fishing spots along the way and will re-enter the Cobb Highway some 12km north of Mathoura.

As you leave the forest, observe the large regrowth of River Red Gum that struck after the 1993 floods. You will also notice the high flood levels on the trees. We hope you enjoy this tour as much as we do.

Pat Corry had many interests. Amongst other things, Pat was amongst the first to campaign for the protection of roadsides which were rich in native grasses and significant indigenous vegetation. The above notes were written about 10 years ago. Webmeister.

Gulpa Forest Walks ~ pdf brochure (Shire of Murray and Mathoura Chamber of Commerce)

Gulpa, Millewa and Moira Forest Drives ~ pdf maps (Forestry NSW)

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Moira Forest Entrance

Moira Forest and Moira Lake

The Moira section of Murray Valley National Park includes the former Moira State Forest, Moira Lakes Flora Reserve, the Reed Beds Exclosure and a number of small exclosures. Moira Forest is located south of the Picnic Point Road. Motorists travelling along the Cobb Highway on the Cadell Tilt Block can see over the tops of the trees in Moira Forest to the east. This area became a national park on 1st July 2010.

The Reed Beds, whilst part of this national park block, are actually on Gulpa Island. Hence they have been included under Gulpa Island on this page. (See above).

There is a delightful forest drive through Moira Forest. Enter the forest from a well-sign posted turnoff along the Cobb Highway about half way between the Shepparton-Barmah Road and Mathoura. Drive along Poverty Point Road to Poverty Point picnic ground and then follow Narrows Road alongside the Murray to Porters Creek Road. Follow Porters Creek Road to Coolaman Road and return to the highway. Narrows Road can also be accessed via a bridge over Gulpa Creek at Picnic Point. At the end of the drive, it may be worth stopping at the western side of Moira Flora Reserve, an area of Box trees.

Several years ago, work began on restoring Moira Lake to its original condition ~ it used to be a great fishing spot in the early days of European settlement. The Murray River and Moira Channel act as barriers to the movement of cattle. Fencing has been erected on the other sides of the Moira Lake flora Reserve. Cattle have also been excluded from the reserve, resulting in the return of many plants which have been uncommon for many years. Regulators have been constructed along Moira Creek so that water can be allowed to enter the wetland over Winter and Spring but prevented from entering over Summer and Autumn, allowing the wetlands to dry out as they once did prior to river regulation. Unfortunately, high river flows for irrigation and water supplies in summer can sometimes exceed the capacity of the Murray, here known as the Bar bah choke, so that summer flooding sometimes occurs. The final stage of the restoration involves the relocation of the Moira Channel and/or a By-pass around the Choke.

Left: Moira Lake ~ sometimes allowed to dry out in late summer and autumn. (K Stockwell)

If you can visit here, the raucous cry of flocks of Sulphur-crested cockatoos coming form the red gums will remain etched in your memory for years to come.

When Moira Lake contains water, a large number of tern, ibis, herons, ducks and other water birds may be observed. When Moira Lake was filled following a fire late in 2009, two pair of Brolgas were observed. One pair had a nest.

Stage 3, the final stage, of the Moira Lake Restoration Scheme is planned. The final stage involves the relocation of the Moira Channel downstream and rehabilitation works along the site of the present channel. The lake is presently dry but, because Giant Rush has taken over, it no longer resembles the way it was when the photograph was taken a few years ago. A thick blanket of rush grew to over one and an half metres tall in just six months.

 

Bama Forest

This forest, part of the Murray Valley Regional Park, is located in NSW alongside the Murray River downstream of Barmah Town. It is generally regarded as part of the greater Barmah-Millewa Forest. Much of this forest consists of Box which has been heavily logged in the past. Therefore, many of the trees have multiple stems from a stump. One adjoining private property is used for "paint ball". Some adjoining farmers have allowed bushland to regenerate on part of their properties.

Although the closest section of the forest to Echuca-Moama, this forest is not as well-known. It can be accessed from the Cobb Highway via an unsignposted track (Cumming Road?) south of the Barmah turnoff and from the Picnic Point Road via Old Barmah Road.

Formerly part of the ancient Lake Kanyapella, Bama State Forest is a flood retarding basin, protecting Echuca-Moama from serious flooding. It is important that flood waters can continue to enter this forest.

Map reference: Mathoura 1:50,000 (Central Mapping Authority of NSW).

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Bullatale Forest Reserve and Tuppal Forest

Located alongside The Edward (River) south of Deniliquin and north of Gulpa Island, Bullatale Forest is not easily accessed. There is a locked gate at the southern entrance. Tuppal Forest lies between Gulpa island and Bullatele and is a degraded section of the forest. Tuppal Forest was upgraded to national park on 1st July 2010.

 

Thornley and Native Dog Forest

This relatively small Red Gum forest, which was upgraded to national park on 1st July 2010, is located in NSW upstream of the Barmah-Millewa Forest. The northernmost section is called Thornley Forest and the southern block, which has some Murray River frontage, Native Dog Forest.

 

Ulupna Island

This red gum forest is located in Victoria upstream of the Barmah-Millewa Forest, north of Strathmerton. The western part of the island lies within Barmah National Park. There are toilets at Ulupna Beach.

Some other sections of Ulupna Island are part of the Murray River Park. There are toilets at Carters Beach and Doctors Bend.

Much of Ulupna Island is, however, private property, and much of it has been cleared for farming.

Morgans Beach is a popular beach located between Ulupna Island State Forest and Barmah Forest.

Reference: Strathmerton 7926-S 1:50,000 (Central Mapping Authority of New South Wales). VEAC recommends that his area be part of Barmah National Park.

 

NSW reserves in the forest

Prior to the declaration of the regional park, reserves on the NSW side of the Murray included Bullatale Forest Reserve, Toupna Creek (NW of Hills Road) and Sand-dune Pine (south of Fire Hut Rd). In addition, there were a number of 'exclosures', e.g. Reed Beds Exclosure and Sandalwood Exclosure. As grazing, forestry and other extractive activities were not usually permitted in these reserved area, they were, in effect, mini national parks and now within Murray Valley National Park.

 

Other Victorian reserves

Opposite Bama Forest and downstream of Barmah is the former Echuca Regional Park, now part of the discontinuous Murray River Park, and some forest, much of which lie between the Murray River and Echuca-Nathalia (Stewarts Bridge) Road. Most of these areas are now incorporated into Murray River Park. There are also forest wetlands alongside the Goulburn River which enters the Murray downstream of Stewarts Bridge and most of these are now part of the new Lower Goulburn National Park. A short distance from the Goulburn River is Kanyapella Basin Wildlife Area. These areas are listed separately.

 

Bushwalking

A forest walkway has been constructed alongside the Gulpa Creek at Mathoura. The northern end of the track is at Crane's Bridge, just east of the Cobb Highway near the mandarin orchard on the northern edge of Mathoura.The southern end of the track is at Poley's Bridge (where the Picnic Point Road crosses Gulpa Creek). This southern section is a loop track. Along the track are a number of bridges (some of them on side tracks) across Gulpa Creek. The final bridge, linking sections of the walkway, was opened during 2006.

Langmans Sandhill
A good spot for walking is probably on Gulpa Island. A day-long circuit can be done incorporating Tea Tree Road (the plants are actually fringe myrtles or Calytrix tetragona), Langmans Road and Gulpa Creek Road. Tea Tree Road follows a sand ridge (Aeolian lunettes) which has been fenced in places to protect the feeding grounds of rare birds as well as to encourage the regeneration of banksias, hop bushes, Calytrix and other plants. Those behind this idea are to be applauded as the fences keep rabbits and cattle off the environmentally-sensitive lunettes. A degraded sandhill in the Millewa Forest has also been fenced to exclude cattle and revegetation work will be undertaken.

Mathoura to Edward River Bridge, Millewa Forest Road
Another good walk on Gulpa Island is from Cranes Bridge (or Poley's Bridge) via Little Edward Road and Sages Track to the Edward River Bridge, Millewa Forest Road. A good topographic map is needed and it is a good idea to do a 'recce' beforehand. The birding along Sages Track is usually outstanding: Emu, Southern Whiteface, Brown Tree-creeper and Diamond Firetail are usually seen.

Several off-track walks are possible but flooded runners and wetlands may prove a hindrance at times.

It is usually possible to walk on a vehicular track alongside Broken Creek from the Murray River to the Barmah-Picola Road. A car shuttle is necessary unless you retrace your steps. This walk was possible during the 2010 floods.

Warning: the following two walks may be overgrown with weeds and the paths hard to find:

The Yamyabuc Discovery Trail is a self-guided 1.5km walk with informative signs and it begins in the car park of the Dharnya Centre in Barmah Forest.

Lakes Loop Track is a circuit which also begins in the Dharnya Centre car park but can be joined at the Barmah Lakes camp ground, the day visitor area or at Rices Bridge. The walk passes through through Red Gum forest before skirting Barmah Lake and skirting the Murray River and Broken Creek. Return to the Dharnya Centre via Broken Creek Loop Track.

 

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Moira Grass plains

Over the years, Europeans have exploited the forest. Parts of the forest are still logged and grazed by cattle, although these activities are being scaled back as national parks are proclaimed.

Cattlemen were attracted by Moira Grass, which is green in summer when surrounding lands are barren. The removal of cattle in Autumn is termed "The Barmah Muster" and has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.

Moira Grass plains are becoming increasingly uncommon in the forest. In the past, deep flooding killed young saplings and favoured the growth of the grass. With irrigation and river regulation, large floods are uncommon so fewer Red Gum saplings are now drowned by flooding. Red Gum forest and Giant Rush have replaced much of the Moira Grass plains. Giant Rush (Juncus ingens) is capable of growing in height by 11mm per day. Cattle find Giant Rush unpalatable and leave it, creating a fire hazard. In Victoria, authorities have conducted a very successful ecological burn on Steamer Plain to help remove the Rush and allow Moira Grass to regenerate. Noting the success,in November 2009 NSW authorities burnt a section of Moira Lake which had become infested with Giant Rush. A few days later, however, almost the entire lake floor was engulfed in flames. It is not known if this was the result of an arson attack or not. Following the fire, environmental water was released into Moira Lake. Within days, lots of water birds arrived to take advantage of food provided in the flooded lake.

Barmah Forest
'Red Gum Wetland, Barmah Forest' (K Stockwell)

Cattle

On the NSW side of Barmah-Millewa forest, cattle licences used to permit cattle to be grazed for a period (e.g. six months) in certain areas. The forest was then rested for a period. However, now that national parks have been proclaimed, cattle grazing is forbidden in almost all of the forest.

The forest on the NSW side of the Murray was divided into sections. Over winter, cattle were sometimes allowed in areas where introduced grasses were a problem. Cattle grazing was sometimes allowed on higher sections of the forest, where cattle were unlikely to damage wetlands. There were exclosures in which cattle were not normally permitted. Some of these exclosures were wetlands along Gulpa Creek and around Moira Lake.

As flood waters recede, cattle can cause cause soil and vegetation damage (pugging) in wetlands. Sometimes, some cattle were in these for a short period to help control weeds. Forest administrators followed the guidelines set out in a document titled Riverina Grazing Strategy, copies of which can be obtained through Forestry NSW (a division of the NSW Department of Primary Industries).

Some of the exclosures were areas which have been fenced to protect certain plants (e.g. Banksia) or animals (e.g. Gilbert Whistler). As is the case with cattle, logging and vehicles were not normally permitted in exclosures.

Today, cattle grazing is not permitted in either Barmah National Park or Murray Valley Regional Park.

In Victoria, cattle were removed from the forest in autumn. 'The Barmah Muster' was held in autumn and attracted many tourists. The VEAC draft recommendations set aside some land near the Dharnya Centre so the Muster Carnival can continue.

According to research evidence, to help control weeds and to promote the growth of indigenous grasses, grazing is best done between Easter and late July provided, however, the soil is dry. Cattle should not be present over spring and summer when indigenous grasses are flowering and setting seed. If and when it is appropriate to graze an area, sheep, being lighter, may be more appropriate insofar as they cause less damage. At Terrick Terrick National Park, sheep are used as an ecological control to reduce weeds and to maintain suitable conditions for the endangered Plains-wanderer. There is a case for ecological grazing in Barmah-Millewa Forest from time to time for ecological reasons.

Some argue that the cattle reduce the 'fuel' on the forest floor and lessen the danger of fires. Others argue that cattle grazing may increase the fire risk by spreading weeds and by promoting the spread of woody weeds and less palatable plants such as Giant Rush (Juncus ingens). Cattle prefer to eat the most palatable plants and these may therefore become less common. For example, reeds(Phragmites spp) are more common along streams where grazing has not occurred often e.g. the town side of Gulpa Creek at Mathoura.

A nasty fire in the Top End in December 2006 occurred in an area where cattle had grazed the less flammable indigenous grasses but promoted the spread of highly inflammable rushes. According to fire fighters, the intensity of the fire in the rush beds was virtually beyond belief, even in beds that were flooded to help control the fire. Someone should have told the cattle to eat the inflammable Giant Rush and leave the less flammable grasses! So bang goes that argument. Cattle can actually increase the fire risk!

Furthermore, over the past 15 years the forest has been impacted upon by drought and, in much of the forest, there has been little grass or material on the forest floor for the cattle to eat or for fire to burn.


A cow grazes in forest of the Top End after the 2006 fire (K Stockwell)

Prolonged drought conditions may have contributed to the severity of recent fires, the causes of which appear suspicious. An unattended camp fire may have been to blame or the campers may have deliberately ignited the fire. Camp fires (using solid fuel such as wood) are banned in the NSW side of the forest over summer and the VEAC draft report recommends they also be banned on the Victorian side of the Murray River.

There are other ways of reducing the fire risk, e.g. cold burns in winter.

But the best way to reduce the fire risk is to flood the wetlands over the hot summer period. Most of the environmental water released into the forest will eventually find its way back into the river system.

Owing to severe drought conditions, cattle were removed from the Victorian side of the forest by mid 2007 and only a reduced number were permitted back since. Now that the national park has been proclaimed, cattle are to be excluded all year.

At Kinnairds Wetland, in an example of lateral thinking, weeds are cut before they flower and are baled for hay. Perhaps, in places, this could be done in Barmah-Millewa forest.

There is no doubt that cattle grazing reduces plant diversity. When cattle are removed from an area, plants which have not been common may become more common. At Terrick Terrick, some old trees and shrubs not common in the park grow near the cemetery. Since cattle grazing ceased, many young specimens of these plants have appeared and are growing well. There are no specimens of intermediate age: in all probability, the cattle ate them.

Cattle cause major damage on sand ridges where they not only prevent the regeneration of banksias, hop bushes and wattles but may destroy the nesting tunnels of Rainbow Bee-eaters.

They also cause problems in reed bed swamps, pugging the soil and reducing the vegetation cover.

If cattle are allowed to graze when the soil is wet, pugging occurs.


Pug marks at the edge of Hut Lake (K Stockwell)

Some argue that 'pugging' (marks made in mud by cattle hooves) helps provide suitable habitat for certain indigenous plants. Others argue that pugging compacts the soil and damages the environment. Comparing the vegetation in an area into which cattle have been in only one part (e.g. adjoining sides of an 'exclosure') suggests that there is greater diversity in areas without pugging.


Cracking soil is good but are the pug marks bad? (K Stockwell)

Although many argue that pugging is bad, most ecologists agree that soil cracking is essential. Drying wetland beds consolidate and aerate sediments, alter the phys-chemical properties, and may serve to strengthen macrophyte communities upon re-wetting. If a wetland is to be a good food source for wildlife when it next floods, a drying and cracking stage is desirable.

Giant Rush is an indigenous species that is, unfortunately, taking over too much of the rich bio-diversity of the Moira Grass Plains. Unfortunately, cattle avoid eating it.

In places, cattle damage the river banks and eat out reeds which, when present, help prevent bank erosion. There is a growing realisation that cattle should be excluded from such areas and, in places, fencing has been erected to protect sensitive areas, e.g. on sandy areas along Picnic Point Road, along Millewa (Aratula) Road, along Tea Tree Road and along Langmans Road in Gulpa Island. Recently, the Reed Beds and Moira Lake have been fenced off. The number of cattle which can be grazed under lease has been reduced significantly over recent years and more power given to land managers.


Cattle alongside the Murray River in Barmah State Park (K Stockwell)

Cattle grazing is bad news for birds such as robins which feed low in the forest. These birds need cover and perches. But the cattle tend to eat the lower branches of saplings and break off many of the twigs which would otherwise serve as perches.

Some argue that a cost-benefit analysis should be undertaken, comparing the benefits from grazing (income from license fees, weed control, etc) with the costs (increase in non-palatable grasses, reduction in incidence of palatable species, reduction in the diversity of vegetation, pugging, administrative costs, damage to river banks, spread of weeds, etc).

On balance, cattle probably do more harm than good. Excluding them from the forest is probably a good thing environmentally. Nonetheless, there may be times and areas where grazing is desirable, e.g. to maintain optimal conditions for Bush Stone Curlews or to help control weeds. To promote native grasses and help control weeds, it may be best if cattle grazing is limited to certain areas and to dry periods in winter. The VEAC report recognizes that there is a case for environmental grazing.

arrowBarmah Muster Yards (a page on the Heritage Victoria site)

 

Timber harvesting

Directly and indirectly, forestry employs hundreds of people, especially in the Barmah-Koondrook area. Value-adding is becoming increasingly important and magnificent furniture is being made from red gum. An expensive laminating plant has been installed at Barham. Red Gum veneer can be used for flooring and wall panels as well as for table tops and in furniture construction. Fine quality red gum furniture is sold in Koondrook and in Echuca.

Although it is claimed that logging is becoming increasingly conservative, the extent of logging seems to have been cranked up a few notches over recent years prior to the opening of the parks in mid 2010.

Old trees unsuitable for forestry are no longer being ring barked: in face, habitat trees are retained in forestry coups. Foresters claim that only a small percentage of the forest is logged each year (there is a 20-year cycle) and only a fraction of the trees (as low as 20%) in each coupe are logged.

Some claimed that over-logging was occurring and some spots of high ornithological significance were logged shortly before the establishment of the national parks, e.g. an area alongside the Langmans Sandhill Exclosure on Gulpa Island, a spot where Gilberts Whistler, Superb Parrot, Diamond Firetail, White-browed Babbler and Brown Tree-creeper have been often recorded. When leading bush walks on Gulpa Island, I used to plan to stop at a lovely lagoon for lunch. It was a lovely shaded place with many birds in the lagoon. Alas, when the lagoon was dry recently, a bulldozer cut a road into and along the floor of the lagoon and most of the trees have been cut down. Such irresponsible acts tarnish the timber industry.

Over-logging areas and leaving unsightly stumps and residues on the forest floor also tarnish the industry. It can be argued that it is a good thing that there be some stumps (e.g. for bats) and logs (e.g. for Bush Stone Curlew and robins) but vast areas have been left in an unsightly condition.

StHelenaSwamp
Millewa Forest alongside St. Helena Swamp in December 2009 showing excessive number of saplings, excessive amount of forest residues,a lack of old (habitat) trees (which provide wildlife with hollows and nectar), and a recently logged area with stumps. (Photo: K Stockwell)

Red Gum is susceptible to fire, relying on flooding for regeneration.

Most of the timber extracted from the forest was used for firewood or garden chips. Much of the firewood and chips were produced from forest residues, from thinning operations and from trees damaged by fire. Some were critical of the amount of firewood taken from the forest. Most of the firewood went to Melbourne and provincial cities. Some argued that, because smoke contaminates the atmosphere and adds to greenhouse gases, wood fires should not be permitted. Smoke from wood fires causes some distress in the neighbourhood, especially to those with respiratory problems. Gas fires cause less greenhouse pollution and are unlikely to diminish the air quality of neighbours.

In view of the low annual average rainfall of this area, Red Gum requires periodic flooding. Much of the forest has not received sufficient water over recent years. In parts of the forest, the trees are stressed and therefore subject to insect attack, placing their future value as timber trees at risk. It is in the interest of the forest ecosystem that areas of red gum forest receive 'floodwaters' from time to time.

Forestry is now excluded from Barmah National Park and Murray Valley Regional Park. But there is a good case for environmental thinning, e.g. on Moira Grass Plains, and let us hope that this can continue. In its Riverina Bioregion Regional Forest Assessment recommendations report, the NSW Natural Resources Commission argues for thinning. Such timber could be available for sale as firewood to help defray the cost of the thinning.

In their reports, both VEAC and the Natural Resources Commission recommended that some other forests in the region be multi-use forests in which lumbering may continue, e.g. much of the Gunbower-Koondrook-Perricoota State Forests (although part of Gunbower Island is now national park and there will be exclosures on the NSW side of the forest) and Campbells Island State Forest

 

Indigenous occupants

Several Koori tribes, including the Bangerang, inhabited the area for thousands of years. Collectively, local tribes form Yorta Yorta nations. Many indigenous persons reside in the area.

Indigenous peoples found an abundance of food in the area. Until recently, they operated the Dharnya Centre, a cultural and educational centre, along the Sandridge Road near the turnoff to Barmah Lake. The centre has been closed owing to termite damage. Hopefully the centre will be revamped and reopened sometime fairly soon.

Some cultural or sacred sites have been fenced off, e.g. areas with middens (piles of shells marking camping sites).

One fenced site of significance is Garradha Molwa (Bucks Sandhill). This sandhill is badly weed infested (e.g. with Patersons Curse) and in need of revegetation to restore its cover of indigenous trees, shrubs, herbs, lilies and grasses.

Some trees bear evidence that a bark bowl (coolamon), bark shield or bark canoe has been cut from them. Such trees are referred to as Coolamon Trees. One is sign-posted near the southern end of Gulpa Creek Road. A road in Moira Forest which runs roughly parallel to the Cobb Highway is called Coolamon Road.

Attempts are being made to involve indigenous persons in the administration of the forest. At this stage, various indigenous citizens have been approached to help determine if they wish to be involved in the process. Progress is being made and the VEAC Report recommended indigenous co-management of Barmah National Park.

The recently released NSW Riverina Bioregion Regional Forest Assessment also calls for indigenous involvement.

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Management

To co-ordinate environmental water delivery and help manage the forest, a cross-border body, the Barmah-Millewa Forum was established back in the 1980s. This forum included representatives from government and non-government bodies from both sides of the river, e.g. Parks Victoria, Forestry Commission of NSW, Murray-Goulburn Water, Shire of Murray, Bird Observers Club, Barmah Protection League, Forest Users Group, irrigators. Some criticised the Forum, saying that cattle, irrigation and forestry interests are over-represented. But the Forum served a worthwhile purpose and helped managed the forest as a whole, with representatives of groups from both sides of the State border. The Forum was financed by the Murray-Darling Commission. In recent years, the Forum studied flooding patterns and installed regulators and levee banks so that pre-1799 flooding patterns could be simulated.

Under the Living Murray Initiative, the Ministerial Council designated the Barmah-Millewa Forest as one of six icon sites in the Murray-Darling Basin which was in need of protection. The Murray itself is another of the six 'sites'. Associated with the Living Murray initiative, the Forum was replaced by a new structure (see below).

Management of Barmah-Millewa Forest
The forest straddles the border of NSW and Victoria. Under The Living Murray Agreement, a cross-border liaison body, the Barmah-Millewa Forum was scrapped. A new structure was set up.

Early in 2007, the Australian government asked the States for permission to 'take over' the Murray-Darling Basin. NSW, Queensland and South Australia signed off on the proposal but Victoria did not do so until March 2008. The agreement may impact on the structure which is outlined below.

There is Barmah site manager and a Millewa site manager. These managers take turns at acting as a Chief Site Manager. A Project Officer was employed to assist the site managers. Unfortunately the project officer position has been vacant since the end of 2007.

They are assisted by a Co-ordinating Committee, a Technical Advisory Committee and the Barmah-Millewa Consultative Reference Group. Indigenous representation is being organised.

Co-ordinating Committee. The Co-ordinating Committee's main function is to assist the asset manager to develop and implement cross-border consultation process and to develop an asset environmental management plan (AEMP). Other functions are:

• to co-ordinate the Project Officer
• to assist with reporting requirements

Members of the CC:

• Lead Asset Manager (alternating between Forestry NSW and DSE Victoria) (Chair)
• Alternative Asset Manager
• Murray CMA representative
Goulburn Broken CMA representative
• Victorian Department of Primary Industry (DPI) representative
• Victorian Department of Environment and Sustainability (DSE) representative

• Commonwealth Department of Environment and Heritage (DEH) representative
• Parks Victoria representative
• NSW Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Natural Resources representative

• MDBC/River Murray Water representative
• two members of the Barmah-Millewa Asset Consultation Reference Group
• plus the Project Officer

The Co-ordinating Committee would be likely to meet at least twice per year, in March to review the asset environment management plan (AEMP), and in October, which coincides with environmental water allocation releases.

Technical Advisory Committee. The Technical Advisory Committee meets as required and provides technical advice, preparing annual environment management plans (AEMP) and annual reports and would oversee implementation of the AEMP (water application, environmental works). The Technical Advisory Group comprises representatives of Forestry NSW, DSE, Parks Victoria, Murray CMA, Goulburn Broken CMA, DNR, Goulburn Murray Water and experts, e.g. scientist from the Arthur Rylah Institute.

Consultation Reference Group. The Asset Consultation Reference group is to provide community input into developing and implementing the Asset Environmental Management Plan. Membership is by application and was limited to about 18 persons. In 2009, the number was reduced substantially. This group has met infrequently and has limited input.

Indigenous Engagement. Indigenous persons are included in water planning and management as per current respective jurisdictional protocols. In NSW, since 1983, there have been local and regional Land Councils. In Victoria, it is expected that Indigenous engagement would involve the recent Yorta Yorta Joint Management Agreement. The Victorian Barmah-Millewa Asset Manager sits on the Yorta Yorta Joint Management Body and provides an added link with the Victorian Government agreement with the Yorta Yorta nations. A person has been appointed by the CMAs to liaise with indigenous persons. It is expected that there will be indigenous representation on each of the six icon CRGs.

A number of indigenous persons have been employed as rangers in the Barmah and Murray Valley Regional Parks.

Hopefully as a result of the VEAC and Natural Resources Commission investigations, Barmah-Millewa forest may be managed even better than it has been in the past.
First and foremost, more water is needed to flood parts of the forest over Spring. The good is, that on both sides of the State border, water allocations and reserves have been reasonably well-managed by agency employees , both long-serving staff and younger locals, who between them have a good understanding of the effects of releasing environmental water into certain parts of the forest, a wealth of experience and a good local knowledge which must not be lost now that the forest is to be a cross-border national park.

Map references: The most-readily available map is 'Barmah-Shepparton-Deniliquin Adventure Map' published by Hayman's Maps and it is recommended.

Other references:.

VEAC Recommendations, Victoria's Red Gum Forests (download pdf files from VEAC)

Panel recommendationsRecommendations of Ministerial Panel which considered the VEAC recommendations (download pdf file from DSE)

Investigative reportFinal Assessment Report and Recommendations Report, Riverina Bioregion Regional Forest Assessment, River Red Gum and Woodland Forests (available from NSW Natural Resources Commission)

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Here are some more notes about the forest.

Latest news

Much of the forest was flooded over the summer of 2010-11. Although most of the forest roads are again open, some remain closed owing to flood damage and/or flooding. The flooding has been terrific for most plants and wildlife, including waterbirds, frogs and insects. June 2011.

Most of Barmah Forest became a national park on 29th June 2010. The Millewa group of forests ~ including most of Gulpa Island, the Reed Beds Exclosure, Moira Lakes Flora Reserve and Moira Forest ~ became Murray Valley National Park on 1st July 2010. An area of Gulpa Island near Mathoura has been excluded from the national park so that activities such as horse riding can take place: this area is classified as regional park.

NSW Parks and Wildlife Service has a new web page about River Red Gum Forest parks.

NSW government confirms announcement
The NSW government has stood by the recommendation of the NSW Natural Resources Commission regarding the Millewa group of state forests. Following a detailed investigation, the key findings of the Commission were as follows:

• significant water reforms and closer collaboration in water and forest management between jurisdictions

• active interventions to manage forests, e.g. ecological thinning and water-delivery infrastructure will be necessary

• trans-border national parks with coordinated adaptive management

• new funding models for forests to reflect the diversity of ecosystem services, products and values the forests support

• engagement with local communities

• maintaining human and social capital

Note: firewood collection is allowed in certain designated places but a licence is required and conditions apply.

The recommendations of the Natural Resource Commission's investigation team are as follows:

  • State and Australian governments should undertake collaborative water reform to increase the forest's environmental water entitlements
  • the proposed Koondrook-Perricoota water delivery project should proceed
  • forest managers should implement outlined principles with respect to ecological thinning, grazing, fire management, silvaculture and firewood collection
  • ecological thinning trials should be undertaken on a large scale
  • forest management operations should be codified (interventionist and adaptive approaches to park management are required)
  • a diversity of management approaches be employed: Government should use a range of existing and novel reserve types and land tenures across major forest groups
  • transparent governance should be implemented
  • the Barooga and Millewa groups of forests, and the riparian forests alongside the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee Rivers should become national parks; Werai and Taroo forests should be jointly managed with indigenous peoples and that, near towns, regional parks should be created in forests with significant ecological values (e.g. Benarca Forest, Moama [Five Mile] Forest and Moama Wetlands
  • trans-border iconic national parks should be created
  • an adaptive management strategy should be implemented
  • ecological connectivity should be enhanced
  • new ways should be found to govern and fund multiple-use forests(State Forests)
  • exit assistance and support should be given to industry to adapt
  • communities should be involved in forest management
  • indigenous communities should be empowered to manage some forests
  • regional development opportunities should be identified and funded.

December 2009; updated 30 June 2011.

Environmental water released into Barmah-Millewa
During dry years, some environmental water is sometimes released into a few wetlands so that they can act as drought refuges for native fish and waterbirds.

Prior to the floods of 2010-11, when drought still prevailed, Moira Lake was filled in late November/early December 2009. Some environmental water was released into other parts of the forest, including the Reed Beds, Boals Deadwoods, Werai Forest (to the north-west), Tuppal, St. Helena Swamp and the Top End.

Moira Lake
Moira Lake, December 2009, following an environmental water release. (Photo: K Stockwell)

Some 'permanent' wetlands such as Hut Lake in Barmah Forest (it actually dried out during a prolonged period of drought and prior to the 2010-11 floods) provide drought refuges for both native fish and birds. Over periods of drought, limited amounts of environmental water have been sourced for such drought refuges, including, at times, Reedy Lake in Shepparton, McDonald Swamp near Koondrook and Black Swamp on Gunbower Island.

An interesting email report ~ was sent by Keith Ward a few years back ~ outlining the effects of drought on wetlands of the Barmah-Millewa Forest.

Having mentioned that a major drought refuge, Hut Lake, had all but dried out, Keith Ward states:

"Fortunately it is not all doom and gloom. The drying bed will consolidate and aerate the sediments, alter the phys-chemical properties, and may serve to strengthen macrophyte communities upon re-wetting. Giant Rush, an indigenous species that is, unfortunately, taking over too much of the rich bio-diversity of the Moira Grass Plains, will not find the conditions favourable. This is a good thing."

In order to provide a rich source of food for water birds, wetlands need to dry out at times. So, when the wetlands receive water, there should be food for waders and other waterbirds. But Keith Ward points out a paradox:

"the drought paradoxically often means that parts of the Barmah wetlands get wet. No, this is not a typo - just a consequence of the Murray River being run too high in the quest of river managers' attempt to deliver as much water as possible through the Barmah Choke (a natural constriction within the river channel). The Giant Rush stands in those wetlands are in complete heaven, and their advancement this year will now be about the last nail in the proverbial coffin for many Moira Grass plains. This is definitely not a good thing."

Before irrigation, the Murray usually flooded the Moira Grass plains in spring, drowning and killing any young Red Gum saplings which had germinated since the last flood. With river regulation, flooding is less frequent and the floods are lower, so the area of Moira Grass plain has contracted, Red Gum saplings taking over. Most of the Moira Grass plains have been lost. Obviously, the loss of this habitat has had an effect on the makeup of the local bird population. Some birds have suffered, e.g. Brolgas, seed-eaters, whereas others have benefited, e.g. White-plumed Honeyeaters, nectar feeders. Anyway, Keith Ward continues,

"But it gets more interesting - What isn't wet or dry has been burnt. A large fire that begun in mid-October 2008(?), under suspicious circumstances, burnt about 800 ha of Redgum-rushland wetland system (pictures not included here). Approximately 300 ML of water was diverted from the Murray River to successfully douse some difficult to reach hot spots, however the fire continues to re-ignite elsewhere from subterranean sources (i.e., is smoldering along roots until it re-surfaces in an adjoining tree). So much for the 'grazing reduces blazing' adage being exposed by those with a vested interest. Someone should have told the cattle that they need to eat the unpalatable rush instead of facilitating the spread of it. The flammability of the material, according to the fire-fighters, was practically beyond belief!

"Despite this, the fire has actually provided a unique opportunity to reduce the Giant Rush biomass. If we were now only to get some deep and long duration flooding, then the Moira Grass may have the opportunity to re-dominate. But like any good thriller, we now have a new surprise contender - Arrowhead. This introduced species is rapidly taking over vast areas of wetlands and water supply systems throughout north-eastern and north-central Victoria, including Barmah. It prefers shallowly flooded open systems, and has so far failed to colonise Top Island because of the Giant Rush. But with the rush now out of the way, and Arrowhead choking every waterway leading into the wetland, conditions are now set to enable this species to take over when the river next rises."

Comment: Forest managers are particularly alarmed at the rapid spread of Arrowhead and are finding it difficult to obtain the necessary permission to use chemical sprays. The EPA of NSW prefers hand weeding but this is not practical. Unfortunately, Arrowhead is only one of several invasive water weeds threatening the Murray system (see 'weeds').


Supporters of cattle grazing protesting against the site manager's decision to order cattle out of Barmah Forest. (photo: N Roberts)

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Potential threats to Barmah-Millewa Forest

Potential threats include:

  • climate change, resulting in higher temperatures, greater evaporation, lower rainfall and more frequent wind storms
  • poor management decisions, e.g. by officers not sufficiently familiar with the forest or appropriate watering regimes
  • wild fires (Red Gum does not respond well to fire, depending on flooding to help with regeneration
  • inappropriate water management (insufficient quality,insufficient frequency, inappropriate season,insufficient or over-long duration)
  • excessively high flows through The Narrows over late Summer and Autumn (unless structures prevent water from entering wetlands at these times
  • diverting water past the Barmah Choke (The Narrows) over Spring and early Summer
  • insufficient environmental water allocation to enable most of the Red Gum areas to survive in a healthy condition
  • inappropriate timber harvesting (e.g. reducing the number of old habitat trees, allowing stumps to re-sprout as multiple-stemmed trees, over-logging, failing to retain strong saplings which can become future timber and/or habitat trees, destroying shrubs and ground layer)
  • insufficient ecological thinning or lack of ecological burning (e.g. to control Giant Rush)
  • inappropriate grazing management (erosion of banks, pollution of water supplies, changed vegetation mix, weeds, summer grazing, grazing damaging wet soils)
  • wild fires (Red Gum does not respond well to fire but depends upon flooding for regeneration)
  • weeds (e.g. Patersons Curse, Arrowhead, Basket Willow, thistles) and further encroachment on wetlands by Giant Rush and Red Gum ~ at times, Patersons Curse covers vast areas and is a fire hazard

Patersons Curse
Patersons Curse on sandhills of Gulpa Island, 2010 (K Stockwell)

  • feral animals (e.g. rabbits, brumbies, pigs)
  • environmental vandalism


Damage at the site of Murray's Mill caused by hoon drivers.
The area ha
d been a feeding area for several robin species each winter
but robins abandoned the site on the day when this damage occurred
and
were sighted on the spot over subsequent years.
(K Stockwell)

 

  • barriers to fish movement (e.g. weirs and regulators which lack fish ladders prevent fish movement along waterways)
  • barriers to water movement

It would be appreciated if sites copying slabs of information from this page (or other pages on this site) would acknowledge this site as their source. A link would be appreciated. Copyright of photographs remains with the respective photographers. Commercial sites do not have right to use photographs without the appropriate photographer's permission.

Upgraded July 2010. Revised and photos/graphics added November 2010 and June 2011. KS.

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