Refreshing Upper Billabong

Find out why the waterways of Upper Billabong are so important, and how we can work together to improve waterway health

Why Upper Billabong?

The Upper Billabong catchment has a long history of people working together to restore and protect waterways and riparian corridors. Producers in the area have been early adopters of catchment-friendly practices on farms.

Upper Billabong is traditional country of Wiradjuri First Nations people. The catchment covers 171,000 hectares, encompassing the headwaters of the Billabong Creek, which rises in the east and travels west for more than 300km. With no in-stream storages, the creeks flow in response to rainfall conditions.

Upper Billabong is an area of high rainfall, supporting prime agricultural land as well as habitat for special plants and wildlife including Squirrel Gliders, Regent Honeyeaters, Swift Parrots, Superb Parrots, Rakali, Southern Pygmy Perch and many others.

Two decades on from the creation of the first Waterway Management Plan for Upper Billabong, a new plan has been co-created by the community, landholders and project partners. Today’s landholders have an opportunity to build on past successes and to address new and ongoing challenges.

jump to RECOMMENDED ACTIONS

Values in the Upper Billabong

There are five sub-catchments within the Upper Billabong. Click on the map below to read about the specific environmental values of each sub-catchment.

Conversations with Community

We talked with local community members to better understand your perspectives on the Upper Billabong. We also consulted with experts to learn more about the catchment and the waterways.

Through these conversations, we learned what people value about the area and why, identified the main threats to waterway health, and together developed a shared vision for Upper Billabong.

Local students learning about the Southern Pygmy Perch

Refreshing Upper Billabong Waterway Exhibition and Workshop

Habitat that sustains wildlife, plants and ecological communities

Habitat for wildlife, including rare animals, is of top importance for community members in Upper Billabong. The catchment is home to 34 threatened species of terrestrial or semi-aquatic fauna. Platypus once also lived in the Upper Billabong. While not all of the threatened species are directly associated with riparian areas, the benefits of healthy waterways extend into the wider landscape.

Habitat features in healthy waterways, such as refuge pools, stable stream beds and woody debris, are particularly important for the persistence of some threatened or declining species in Upper Billabong.

Southern Pygmy Perch, Mountain Galaxias, Freshwater Mussels and refuge pools will be the focus of management strategies in the area over the next ten years. Refuge pools are areas that remain wet during drought, and are often the only place that some threatened species are able to survive.

Refuge pool at Spring Creek, Narra Narra. Credit: Rob Lacey.

Healthy natural wetlands

Healthy natural wetlands are increasingly rare in agricultural landscapes, so those that do remain are highly valued by the Upper Billabong community. Wetlands are areas of land that become covered or saturated with still or slow-moving water. They may be permanently wet, or they may dry out during periods of low rainfall.

Wetlands provide habitat for a range of animals, as well as breeding grounds and nurseries for insects, fish, frogs and waterbirds. They also provide valuable ecosystem services, including filtering pollutants and sediments, and retaining or slowing floodwaters.

There are several wetlands in the catchment that are a high priority for protection and improvement in coming years.

Wetland on private property.

Good quality water for stock and domestic supply

The waterways of the Upper Billabong provide water to many farms and households for stock and domestic use, as well as being the main source of town water in the catchment. The community values clean water, and is aware of the importance of biodiverse, well-vegetated waterways for water quality.

Stock in the Upper Billabong.

Habitat corridors for wildlife

Habitat connectivity is essential to a landscape that supports good biodiversity, enabling wildlife to move from one area of habitat to another. Upper Billabong has already seen significant investments in improving connectivity – Travelling Stock Routes (TSRs), riparian corridors, nature reserves and other crown land and council reserves all play a role.

The Billabong Creek was described by wildlife ecologist Matt Herring as a “wildlife superhighway” – the Creek and its tributaries are home to Squirrel Glider and Brown Treecreeper populations that rely on connected areas of habitat. These corridors of connective habitat are valued by the Upper Billabong community.

Connectivity can be increased in the catchment through further revegetation along creeklines, as well as connecting blocks of remnant vegetation close to waterways.

Habitat corridors in the Upper Billabong.

Revegetated areas

Significant work has been undertaken by landholders and others in the Upper Billabong to revegetate the landscape over the past thirty years. Approximately 23% of the catchment has been protected through fencing and revegetation, helping to protect the habitat values and water quality of the creeks. The opportunity to continue this revegetation is ongoing, and techniques continue to adapt to suit changes to climate, farm practices and latest science.

Revegetation is one of the key methods for enhancing a farm’s Natural Capital. Visit the Rewards page to find out more.

Revegetated waterway in Upper Billabong.

Cultural values and connection to country

The Upper Billabong catchment is Wiradjuri Country, part of both the Albury and Wagga Wagga Land Council areas. Through the Refreshing Rivers Program we are encouraging and creating opportunities for First Nations People to engage with waterways and waterway management in the catchment. We are also supporting non-Indigenous people to understand and respect the priorities of Indigenous people in relation to the Upper Billabong Catchment.

Through this engagement, Refreshing Rivers aims to support the protection of physical and spiritual cultural values, the management of environmental values, two-way knowledge exchange where appropriate, and connection to Country.

Holbrook Landcare staff & board Cultural Appreciation training with Aunty Edna Stewart, Uncle Tunny Murray, Aunty Ruth Davys, and Uncle Sam Whitby from the Albury First Nations Community. Credit: Holbrook Landcare Network.

Learn more about actions you can take to support these values.

A shared vision for Upper Billabong

When we asked the local community what they envision our waterways to be in 30 years’ time, these were their responses:

"More resilient landscapes and cleaner, less degraded waterways."

"A diverse ecosystem that is resilient to physical pressures of flooding and grazing. A system full of life, aquatic species, birds, reptiles and plants."

"Clean water, healthy trees, healthy bird population, less erosion."

"It would be wonderful to see less pests."

"Bank rehabilitation and stabilisation in the catchment that can also contribute to lower flood levels."

"To be able to stand in the middle of an old eroded gully that is now holding water, the shrubs and grasses swaying unhindered in the breeze as a backdrop to the chatter of small birds and croak of frogs and rustle of reptiles."

Main threats to waterways in this Target Area

Below are some of the factors threatening waterway health, ranked by the community.

Stream and gully erosion

Climate change and natural disasters

Decline in water quality

Weeds

Pest animals

Unrestricted stock access and grazing of riverbanks

Erosion in Mountain Creek

Stream and gully erosion

Stream bed and bank erosion was nominated as the greatest threat to waterways in the Upper Billabong. Figures from 2002, published in the Upper Billabong Land and Water Management Plan, indicated that there was 466 km of streambank and gully erosion within the catchment, and that "gully erosion may increase to over 700km by 2030 if certain landuse practices are maintained".

While Murray LLS and its predecessors and partners have undertaken on-ground works to address erosion in the catchment in recent years, there is more work to be done. Farmers continue to face challenges when attempting to address erosion, and the Refreshing Rivers Program provides new opportunities for farmers to be supported in this work.

Erosion in Mountain Creek

Climate change and natural disasters

Survey respondents identified climate change and associated disasters as important threats in the catchment. In the last decade alone, the Upper Billabong catchment has experienced drought, severe bushfire and multiple floods.

Climate change is already increasing the severity and frequency of natural disasters such as bushfire and floods, while changes to seasonal temperatures and rainfall patterns are expected to have a major impact on the agricultural sector and the economy of the catchment.

Healthier waterways are more resilient to natural disasters and to changes in climate. Therefore actions which help look after waterways – such as revegetating wide buffers along streams and managing stock access – will help build resilience in the long term.

Mountain Creek in flood, November 2022.

Decline in water quality

Decline in water quality (e.g. increased salinity, turbidity, total phosphorus) was voted the third highest threat in the catchment by survey respondents. However, there is a limited monitoring network to provide evidence for decline, or to understand the ways in which this decline might be occurring.

Water quality decline is a known problem in many catchments and can occur due to a range of processes:

  • Stream bed and bank erosion, which directly contributes to turbidity (which can reduce light penetration, limit plant growth and impact fish breeding and fedding) and nutrient and salt loads
  • Farm runoff containing excess phosphorus, nitrogen, organic matter and/or acrochemicals
  • Saline drainage into water bodies
  • Stock manure and urine entering directly into the waterway, bringing extra nutrient and pathogens.

The focus of the Upper Billabong Waterway Management Plan is to further understand community perceptions about water quality, and improve water quality data and information to inform future management.

Measuring Turbididty (water clarity) in Spring Creek, 2016.

Weeds

Weeds are a threat to values in the Upper Billabong catchment as they compete with native species, form dense thickets, smother native vegetation and reduce the productive capacity of the land. 

Key species present in the catchment include Alligator Weed, Parrots Feather, Blackberries, Willows, Illyrian Thistle and Hawthorn. Alligator Weed is a Weed of National Significance (WoNS), as are several species of Willow.

Willows are a particularly serious threat to waterways. Their root masses can choke stream channels, cause localised floodplain inundation or cause diversion and erosion of channels. They also impact waterway ecology through extensive leaf fall in autumn, rather than the gradual, all-year-round leaf fall of native species.

Blackberry infestation along Wantagong Creek.

Pest animals

Terrestrial pest animals in Upper Billabong which impact on waterway health include deer, pigs and rabbits. They overgraze native riparian vegetation, contribute to bank erosion, cause weed invasion and damage water quality through manure inputs and increased turbidity.

Aquatic pest species are also a problem, including Gambusia, Carp and Redfin, which compete with, and often predate, native fish species such as Southern Pygmy Perch.

Gambusia are an invasive fish that compete with native fish for resources.

Unrestricted stock access and grazing of riverbanks

Unrestricted stock access and grazing of riverbanks is an issue of concern for the community. When allowed unrestricted access to riverbanks, livestock cause the following problems:

  • localised bank erosion from livestock trampling
  • destruction of groundcover, reducing bank stability and increasing vulnerability to further bank erosion
  • reduced water quality due to increased turbidity and increased nutrient loads from manure
  • loss of riparian native vegetation (especially aquatic reeds).

Over the past 14 years, over 32 hectares of riparian land has been fenced from stock access to address bank erosion. Many people in the community understand the threat of stock access to waterways and believe that there is more work to be done.

Cattle in creek.

Improving waterway health for current and future generations

The Refreshing Upper Billabong Waterway Management Plan is co-created by the community, landholders and project partners. It builds on past successes and existing management strategies in Upper Billabong, and provides the foundations for our work .

You can download the draft Waterway Management Plan here, or scroll down to see our recommended priority actions for landholders.

If you are interested in getting guidance for your property or tackling a specific problem, get in touch with Kylie.

CONTACT KYLIE

Kylie Durant

Holbrook Landcare Network (HLN)

Favourite plant or animal: Shield Shrimp (Triops australiensis)

0418 198 522

kylie@refreshingrivers.org.au

"We have one of the last populations of Southern Pygmy Perch in the Murray catchment and it has been teetering for the last 10 years. Getting the whole community involved and keeping our creeks and waterways functioning and resilient as our natural and production systems adapt to climate changes, can give these struggling species the fighting chance they need."

How landholders can help refresh Upper Billabong

ACTION

Control stock access to waterways and water stock offstream where possible

Fence a buffer zone along waterways so that stock pressure can be managed in sensitive riparian areas. This may involve complete exclusion of stock, or creation of a riparian paddock that is grazed strategically to promote native vegetation growth and limit weeds.

What are the benefits to landholders?

The productivity benefits of waterway fencing include:

  • improved ground cover management and re-establishment of sensitive riparian vegetation
  • reduced streambank erosion, minimising loss of valuable riparian land
  • closer management of stock watering by providing alternative watering sources, with flow-on improvements in animal productivity
  • the opportunity to manage paddocks according to land class, such as using gully and waterway paddocks to create smaller paddocks that segregate land types and enable sensitive management
  • reduce the risk of stock getting stuck in waterways, and reduce maintenance of creek crossings
  • improved mustering efficiency and general stock management.

For landholders, stabilised creek banks that are less likely to erode in high rainfall events reduces stress and anxiety about land and stock loss.

Why is it good for waterway health?

Waterway fencing:

  • enables the creation of a riparian buffer zone that traps sediment and nutrient runoff
  • restricts stock access, reducing trampling along fragile banks
  • enables native plants to regenerate, creating improved habitat for fauna and flora including threatened species
  • reduces sedimentation, leading to improved water quality and reducing “smothering” of habitat (such as when rocky creek bottoms become silted up, removing important fish breeding habitat).
Resources to help you take this action

See Stock & Waterways - A NSW Manager's Guide: Riparian Fencing (2019) for information on fence layout, fencing types and potential management options.

The Refreshing Rivers Program can also equip eligible landholders with support through providing access to a work crew to erect fences. Visit the Rewards page for more information. ‍

On many properties, fencing off creek systems allows landholders to revegetate and improve their waterways without compromising agricultural production.

ACTION

Create a natural capital asset assessment that includes waterways

Understand the natural assets on your property and be ready to be rewarded through environmental markets.

Start by developing a big-picture view of your farm within the landscape. Map the location and condition of natural assets, including waterways, areas of remnant or planted vegetation, farm dams and areas you know support native wildlife. Note areas vulnerable to flood and erosion, as well as changes in land type. From here, consider opportunities for enhancing these assets in the context of other goals on farm.

The Upper Billabong Project Officer, Kylie, can provide support through this process.

What are the productivity benefits?

Understanding natural capital on your farm provides the opportunity to be rewarded through environmental markets and/or certification schemes. See our Rewards page for more information.

Mapping and improving natural capital also has a range of direct benefits for the production system.

Natural capital on farms includes soils, water, carbon and the diversity of plants and animals. The natural assets which make up this capital include riparian remnant vegetation, rocky outcrops, refuge pools, paddock trees, farm dams, floodplain wetlands, groundcover, shelterbelts, scar trees, habitat for specific threatened species and more.

By assessing natural capital on your farm, you can identify opportunities to improve natural capital with a range of flow-on benefits for the broader farming system. Ecosystem services (the services to humankind provided by natural ecosystems) are particularly relevant here.

These services provide a production benefit to farms, and include:

  • water filtration and infiltration into the soil profile
  • nutrient cycling and retention
  • bank stabilisation
  • healthy biodiversity
  • carbon storage
  • shade and shelter for stock and crops
  • waste disposal (e.g. breakdown of manure).
Why is it good for waterway health?

Assessing natural assets, particularly waterways, in the context of surrounding landscapes has the following benefits for waterway health:

  • identify linkages that can be enhanced to support wildlife movement between riparian corridors along creeks and other vegetation
  • identify and restore biodiversity hotspots along waterways
  • identify areas at risk of erosion, and work to address these
  • identify opportunities for enhancing habitat in waterways, such as refuge pools
  • may provide access to environmental markets and other sources of funding to support waterway management actions.
Resources to help you take this action

Talk to your Project Officer for Upper Billabong, Kylie Durant, about assessing natural capital on your farm.

ACTION

Leave fallen logs and woody debris to stabilise the streambed and provide fish habitat

Instream logs and debris create habitat complexity, which is essential for healthy waterways. They also facilitate the formation of pools by forming obstructions that trap sediment and fast-track the development of leaky natural weirs. Logs and debris can be added carefully to waterways to provide this habitat without compromising other values.

A range of habitat features can be added or improved, including:

  • in-stream debris and logs to create complex habitats
  • refuge pools and areas of both shallow and deep water
  • good grass, sedge and reed cover on stream banks and in ephemeral (wet/dry) areas
  • healthy surrounding terrestrial vegetation
  • in-stream vegetation
  • rocky or sandy areas (depending on the waterway) free of silt
  • fish hotels.
What are the benefits to landholders?

Creating and enhancing habitat along waterways has many benefits to landholders, including:

  • increasing the diversity of native plants and animals supports ecosystem services, with many benefits for production systems
  • bringing back rare native species onto farms is a real win for current and future generations
  • increased aesthetic appeal of waterways
  • opportunities for waterways to be a place of fun, recreation, calm or sanctuary.
  • creates shade and shelter for stock and pastures (reduced wind, heat stress)
  • increased environmental responsibility with regards to water
  • improving a farm’s natural capital.
Why is it good for waterway health?

The benefits of improving habitat along waterways are twofold.

Firstly, in most cases, improving habitat requires management changes that will benefit the waterway as a whole - for example, reducing channelling and erosion to allow shallow and deep areas to form will also improve water quality.

Secondly, habitat improvements such as restoring vegetation have many flow-on benefits for waterway health, such as filtering run-off and stabilising banks.

Resources to help you take this action

Visit the Restoring riparian areas website (Sustainable Farms, 2023).

Contact your Refreshing Rivers Project Officer, local Landcare group or native plant nursery for advice on appropriate local species to use for revegetation or in-stream planting.

Learn about the recent work done to restore Woomargama Creek and create pool and riffle habitats to provide sanctuary for endangered Southern Pygmy Perch.

ACTION

Connect with your community to create corridors

Work with your neighbours and the Refreshing Rivers Program to improve waterway health at a catchment scale, and to connect areas of riparian vegetation with other remnants and plantings in your community. Remnant patches such as Travelling Stock Reserves or roadside vegetation, or planted strips such as shelterbelts, all create vegetation corridors.

What are the benefits to landholders?

Working with your neighbours and others in the community to connecting corridors of vegetation has many benefits including:

  • create climate resilience (including to flood and fire) at a larger scale
  • improve water retention in dry times
  • support more wildlife on farms
  • reduce erosion impacts
  • get to know your neighbours and create success as a community
  • increase wellbeing through collaboration and connection
  • be part of a coordinated effort to improve waterway health, truly driven by local community values.
Why is it good for waterway health?

Corridors help to:

  • create a riparian buffer zone
  • enable native species to move through the landscape, improving biodiversity throughout the catchment
  • stabilise streambanks and reduce erosion, which in turn improves waterway health and in-stream habitat
  • filter nutrient and sediment runoff before it enters waterways
  • buffer against spray drift and herbicide run off before it reachs waterways.
Resources to help you take this action

Talk to your Project Officer for Upper Billabong, Kylie Durant, about connecting with your community to create corridors.

See also Ten ways to improve natural assets on a farm (Sustainable Farms, 2020).

ACTION

Control woody weeds and pest animals in and along waterways

Woody weeds can choke waterways. Infestations can be controlled through a combination of strategies, including biological control, grazing, manual removal and waterway-sensitive herbicides. Maintaining a cover of perennial species helps reduce new infestations. Pests and weeds are best controlled as part of a farm-wide approach, and management can be enhanced through collaborative control programs with neighbours.

What are the productivity benefits?

There are many productivity benefits of controlling pests and weeds along waterways, including:

  • reduced spread of weeds and abundance of pests across the whole property
  • meet legislative requirements
  • minimise loss of viable land to weed infestation, and reduce habitat for pests such as rabbits
  • maintain and increase property values
  • maintain access to and amenity of waterways
  • control erosion – pest animals can contribute to erosion along waterways, while replacing woody weeds with native ground cover helps stabilise stream banks.
Why is it good for waterway health?

Waterways can easily become choked and smothered by weeds, which also compete with native plants. Benefits of weed management include:

  • reduce smothering and blocking of streams, which can alter flows
  • allow native plants to compete, which in turn provides habitat for native animals and boosts farm biodiversity.

Benefits of pest management include:

  • reduce competition with and predation on native animals
  • improved ground cover through reduced grazing pressure
  • reduced erosion, which can be caused by pest animals wallowing, browsing and destroying groundcover.

Pest fish are also a significant problem in many waterways, and measures to control or reduce pest fish will help support the survival of native fish species.

Resources to help you take this action

NSW Weed Control Handbook (NSW Government, 2014) - a guide to weed control in non-crop, aquatic and bushland situations.

Priority Weeds of the Murray and Riverina Regions Identification Guide provides basic information to help identify and manage species listed as priority weeds in the Murray and Riverina Regional Strategic Weed Management Plans.

The Refreshing Rivers Program can also equip eligible landholders with support through access to a work crew for significant weed control projects. Visit the Rewards page for more information.

ACTION

Restrict stock access to waterways and reduce stream bank erosion

Creates a riparian buffer zone, Reduce run off, trampling along fragile banks, enables native plants to regenerate, improve habitat for fauna and flora including threatened species. Less sedimentation means improved  water quality and smothering of habitat

Why would a landholder take this action?
  • improved ground cover management
  • alternative stock watering sources
  • creating a biosecurity buffer between neighbours
  • managing land according to land class
  • increased groundcover holds banks together and reduces erosion and loss of viable riparian grazing land
  • reduce stock getting stuck in waterways
  • improve stock management
  • improve water quality leading to higher productivity
Resources available to assist landholders

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Riparian fencing to restrict stock access

ACTION

Control of woody weeds and pest animals in and along to waterways

Reduce weed spread across property, legislative requirements, loss of viable grazing land, declining property value, woody weeds are a harbour for pests. Woody weeds can choke up and reduce access to waterways.

Why would a landholder take this action?
  • improved ground cover management
  • alternative stock watering sources
  • creating a biosecurity buffer between neighbours
  • managing land according to land class
  • increased groundcover holds banks together and reduces erosion and loss of viable riparian grazing land
  • reduce stock getting stuck in waterways
  • improve stock management
  • improve water quality leading to higher productivity
Resources available to assist landholders

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Willows at Adelong Creek

ACTION

Create a natural capital asset farm plan

Reduce weed spread across property, legislative requirements, loss of viable grazing land, declining property value, woody weeds are a harbour for pests. Woody weeds can choke up and reduce access to waterways.

Why would a landholder take this action?
  • improved ground cover management
  • alternative stock watering sources
  • creating a biosecurity buffer between neighbours
  • managing land according to land class
  • increased groundcover holds banks together and reduces erosion and loss of viable riparian grazing land
  • reduce stock getting stuck in waterways
  • improve stock management
  • improve water quality leading to higher productivity
Resources available to assist landholders

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Project Officer Cherie working with one of the landholders

Learn about how we are supporting these actions in the draft Upper Billabong Waterway Management Plan

Success Stories

Check out a few of the ways in which community, landholders and project partners have come together to improve the waterways in the Upper Billabong. The Refreshing Upper Billabong Program provides the opportunity to build on these successes, as well as tackling new and ongoing challenges.

Restoring waterways for Southern Pygmy Perch

In the upper reaches of the Mountain Creek, habitat restoration for the endangered Southern Pygmy Perch also has many benefits for landholders, revitalising much-loved and valuable creek systems.

Where should you start?

If you are interested in guidance for waterway management on your property or have a specific problem you’d like to tackle, please get in touch with our Project Officer Kylie. You can fill in the form or use the contact details below to get in touch.

Upper Billabong

Kylie Durant

Holbrook Landcare Network (HLN)

0418 198 522

kylie@refreshingrivers.org.au

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The Refreshing Rivers Program is a collaboration between government, industry, research, and community organisations, led by Local Land Services. This Program has been assisted by the New South Wales Government through its Environmental Trust.

The Refreshing Rivers Program works on Country that always was and always will be Aboriginal land. We acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land and waters, and we pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.

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