Coastal Paperbark. Photo: Office of Environment Heritage.
Coastal Paperbark. Photo: Office of Environment Heritage.

Restoring our endangered Paperbark Swamps

One very recognisable flood plain forest community, commonly referred to as Paperbark Swamp, is known scientifically as Swamp Sclerophyll Forest.

Over the past 200 years, this community has been decimated, firstly being drained for agricultural cropping, particularly sugar cane in this region, and latterly for urban expansion. As a result the community has been listed as endangered, and given the complicated title of “Swamp Sclerophyll Forest on Coastal Floodplains of the NSW North Coast, Sydney Basin and South East Corner bioregions”.

That complication does not stop with the name, with the term “flood plain” adding another layer of confusion by bringing in the question of what constitutes a flood plain. For example, in making its determination of the endangered status, the NSW Scientific Committee describes the endangered community as occurring on “peripheral parts of flood plains on soils that are usually waterlogged, stained black or dark grey with humus, and show little influence of saline groundwater”, specifically, “where they adjoin lithic substrates or coastal sandplains”.

This specific wording means that significant areas of Swamp Sclerophyll forest that actually occur on coastal sandplains, such as West Yamba, are not considered to be that endangered community.

Floristically identical paperbark forests also occur in swamps that are fed from sandstone outwash areas, or soaks, which are associated with Kangaroo Creek Sandstone outcrops in the valley. These are similarly excluded from the protection provided to true flood plain communities, even though they too are regularly subjected to flooding.

There is some good news though, with the NSW Biodiversity Conservation Trust recognising the significance of these sandstone swamp communities by funding a three year program to eliminate weeds, mainly Lantana and Camphor Laurel, from two wetland areas southwest of Grafton.

The first year’s work has seen primary weed eradication work undertaken by the Clarence Environment Centre’s experienced bush regeneration team across both sites, with plots being monitored by volunteers to measure the recovery of biodiversity following Lantana removal. The funding will allow follow-up works and extension of weed free buffer zones to ensure full recovery of these rare ecological communities into the future.

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