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Fish and frogs return to Coppabella Creek

Two threatened species in the Upper Murray region have been given a new lease of life thanks to a ground-breaking partnership between local landholders, industry and government agencies.

Coppabella Creek, an upland tributary of the Murray River, is special for being home to the threatened Booroolong Frog and Southern Pygmy Perch. These small but precious stream inhabitants occur in only a few locations across New South Wales. The local community identified threatened species as a priority during the development of the Murray Biodiversity Management Plan and Murray Catchment Action Plan, so key regional organisations stepped up to take action when these rare species recently came under additional threat.

Murray Local Land Services (LLS) is leading the on-ground partnership with Forestry Corporation of NSW, Murray River Forests and local farmers to remove weeds and revegetate creek banks with native plants. This has improved food sources and breeding areas for these tiny fish and frogs.

Luke Pearce from NSW Department of Primary Industries (Fisheries) and Dr. David Hunter from NSW Office of Environment and Heritage have been integral in driving the importance of these species in the region. They have provided technical expertise and have carried out regular monitoring of these species in the area for more than three years.

Luke Pearce explained that both the fish and frogs were severely depleted during the Millennium drought, and then the recent catastrophic floods damaged the creek, depositing silt and debris, allowing the spread of weeds which almost wiped out the fish population.

"Basically these little guys needed a helping hand", he said.

"The weed control and plantings undertaken to rehabilitate Coppabella Creek have resulted in the recovery of aquatic vegetation, which is the primary habitat of Southern Pygmy Perch", Luke added.

Dave Hunter said that the works undertaken have benefitted the frogs as well, which need good water quality, deep pools, and rocky banks to breed, sun themselves and call for mates.

"The Booroolong Frog is the only riverine frog species in Coppabella Creek. Without the conservation works being undertaken by Murray LLS, an important part of the ecosystem will be lost."

The project works, which include reducing the extent of blackberries and willows in the creek and replacing them will native reeds, shrubs and trees, have benefited adjoining riparian areas as well, and could not have been undertaken without the help and involvement of the landholders, both local farmers and timber plantation owners.

Chris Rhynehart from Murray River Forests said that his company had come on board to assist with the weed control and replanting efforts after being approached by Murray LLS and neighbouring land managers.

"It's been a good opportunity to show that good forestry practices include looking after the areas which surround the forest, particularly creeks, and to work in with our neighbours", he said.

The on-ground work was undertaken by local work crews, led by Peter Haenig from Forestry Corporation of NSW. They have completed work on over 15km of stream bank in the past two years, linking to earlier willow removal work down-stream so that Coppabella Creek is now in a much healthier state.

Trish Bowen, leader of the Environment Team at Murray LLS confirmed that funding from both the Australian Government and Catchment Action NSW has supported the works to date. "Follow-up spraying will ensure that the weeds don't get a foot-hold in the system again, and monitoring of water quality, native fish and frogs will continue to evaluate the longer term success of the project", she added.

Juvenile Southern Pygmy Perch captured on a recent inspection of the creek are the first indication of recovery of these threatened species since the 2010 floods. Murray LLS are confident that with ongoing support from agency partners and the community, these threatened species will have another chance at survival.    

If you would like more information on Murray LLS projects in the Upper Murray region, please contact Steve Thompson, Land Services Officer based at Tumbarumba.