Protecting the headwaters of the Yarra River

Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Melbourne Water are working together to map and protect an area of Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens found in Falls Creek in the headwaters of the Yarra River. 

Endangered Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens
Areas of the endangered Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens ecological community were found and mapped at the headwaters of the Yarra River. Willow control was undertaken to protect this important area. Credit: Tegan Dalman

Discovering new areas of Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens

In 2015, Melbourne Water undertook vegetation surveys along 11km of waterways in the Yarra River Upper (Source) sub-catchment in the head waters of the Yarra River. These surveys found some interesting areas of treeless vegetation that have since been identified as the endangered Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens Community.  At the time, the total extent of this community was not determined and a small willow infestation was earmarked for later works.

What are Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens and why are they important?

Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens are treeless areas perched in alpine, subalpine and montane (mountainous) environments that are usually rich in sphagnum moss and peat and can be associated with groundwater or a spring.  It is an endangered ecological community listed under the Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation (EPBC) Act that is found in small pockets of Tasmania, Victoria, New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

These areas provide unique habitat for a diverse range of plants and animals. Some rely on it for both breeding and hibernation, including several species that are rare and threatened. The health of this ecological community is critical to the survival of:

  • southern and northern Corroboree Frogs 
  • Baw Baw Frog 
  • Alpine Tree Frog
  • Alpine Spiny Crayfish
  • Barred galaxsias
  • a range of listed alpine skinks

This area of special ecological significance is the very source of the Yarra, Melbourne’s iconic river that is significant to so many. Functionally, the sphagnum-rich vegetation and underlying peaty soils have significant water-holding capacity, which is important in modulating the spring snow melt that is critical to the survival of numerous other ecological communities. In addition, the vegetation acts as a natural filter for nutrients, pathogens and sediments, and plays an important role in maintaining water quality throughout catchment.

Sphagnum moss and peat, Falls Creek.
Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens is a threated ecological community that is usually rich in sphagnum moss and peat. Credit: Tegan Dalman

Threats to these unique and important areas

The Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens Endangered Ecological Community is particularly vulnerable to climate change, weed invasion and disturbance such as trampling by deer, cattle and feral horses. 

Working together works well!

In 2019, Melbourne Water approached Parks Victoria about the possibility of a joint project to address weed issues and learn more about the extent of this new area. At the time, Parks Victoria, funded by DELWP, was working on-ground to protect similar Alpine bogs around Mount Bullfight so DELWP agreed to expand the program to include the area around Falls Creek. The expanded program included revisiting known willow infestations, mapping the most southern extent for further weed issues, gathering detailed information regarding safe access and egress points and treating weed infestations (primarily willows). Approximately 4km of creek line was mapped and approximately 320 Willows were treated in the 2020-21 season. In September 2021, further work will commence in the Northern extents, treating weed infestations.

Parks Victoria and Melbourne Water will continue working together to identify further areas that require willow removal or other protections. Understanding the presence and significance of these ecological communities is fundamental to the management of the Upper Yarra Catchment. 

Alpine Sphagnum Bogs and Associated Fens, Falls Creek
Parks Victoria, DELWP and Melbourne Water are collaborating to maximise the opportunity to efficiently map and treat invasive weeds in these endangered areas. Credit: Mick Kealey

Links to the Healthy Waterways Strategy – Yarra catchment

One of the key values identified in the Healthy Waterways Strategy is vegetation, with large, intact areas found in the forested headwaters in the Yarra Ranges National Park in the Yarra River Upper (Source) subcatchment. The strategy states that the national park supports many areas of high quality vegetation that have rare and threatened plant species and communities present. This important work protects areas of high quality vegetation and the headwaters of the Yarra River. The collaboration between Parks Victoria, DELWP and Melbourne Water is an excellent example of co-delivery to address threats and protect the key values outlined in the strategy.