Greater Taree City Council's 'Big Swamp Project' unveiled

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A CONVOY of four wheel drives ascended on Greater Taree City Council's 'Big Swamp' on Thursday, for an open day to showcase the work that has been completed over the last three years.

In late 2011 council received a $2 million grant from the federal government to undertake the Big Swamp/Cattai Wetlands "A Hidden Gem in our Valley" project.

The project, that takes in 700 hectares of the overall 2000 hectare site was recently completed and the gates opened to view the results of council's restoration efforts.

Council staff have been working closely with representatives of the Water Research Laboratory (WRL) at the University of NSW.

It is jointly funded through the government's caring for our country initiative, the Hunter-Central Rivers Catchment Management Authority's partnership program, and the NSW fish habitat action program in conjunction with the WRL.

A Big Swamp feasibility study was undertaken in 2010, prior to the funding being received and the overall aim of the project is to contribute to the improvement of the water quality of the Manning River by remediating a State-recognised acid sulphate soil 'hot spot'.

Council purchased the 700 hectares of low-lying farmland affected by acid sulphate soils and restoration activities have included extensive drain modification works to re-wet the landscape and introduce tidal flows.

This action will reduce the amount of acid runoff entering the river, helping to re-establish both saltwater and freshwater wetlands, with improvements in water quality already evident, according to Dave Hopper, council's environmental project co-ordinator.

"There is still a long way to go but we're certainly pleased with the work so far," he said.

Surface and groundwater testing has been undertaken as a way of identifying the areas where the acid release is at its worst and the main component of the study has been to grasp the hydrology of the site.

A remote camera continuously takes photos of the site and these are uploaded to the WRL website so that they can monitor the site from afar.

Jaimie Ruprecht, former local and WRL representative said it was great to see council investing in conservation.

"It's exciting that council has invested in the future of the project and we've formed a close working relationship with them to ensure the best outcomes," he said.

Local landholders as well as council staff, councillors and oyster farmer, Ian Crisp, attended the open day.

The Big Swamp is located between Crowdy Bay National Park and Coopernook State Forest.

It lies east of the Pacific Highway; east of the Moorland village and north-east of the Cattai Wetlands.

Whilst currently a mix of farmland and remnant coastal wetland, it was once a large wetland that fed into Cattai Creek and supported an extensive array of wildlife, particularly birdlife.

Council recently presented the results of the highly successful Big Swamp Project at the fourth National Acid Sulphate Soil Conference in Perth.

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