By Keith and Lindsay Fisher
Abattoir Swamp is situated between Julatten and Mt Molloy on the Atherton Tableland and takes its name from a nearby slaughterhouse, which operated from 1952 until the 1960’s. The area was grazed until 1989 when it was sold to the Mossman Central Mill who cleared the remaining trees around the swamp for planting sugar cane. There was also a plan to fill in and level the swamp. Local opposition to this plan, and the start of a World Heritage tree planting scheme led to the Mill donating 9ha of land to the Mareeba Shire to manage as a Conservation Reserve in 1991.
A subsequent survey by the council resulted in a management plan in 1993. Wet Tropics Management Authority funds allowed the council to establish a tree-planting scheme which included the establishment of a boardwalk, bird hide, car park and access track. However, when the funding stopped after a few years the management committee ceased and the normal council maintenance and works program took over. Since that time the open bodies of water have been overtaken by introduced Hymenachne, which has interbred with a native variety, and resulted in a rapid decline of the waterbird diversity.
A move was made in 2015 to try, or rather, resolve the Reserves problems, and a community event was held at the swamp. From that time the rotten parts of the boardwalk were replaced by volunteer members of the Julatten and Mt Molloy Association of Ratepayers and Residents, but more structural damage was found during these works. Funding was obtained to rebuild the boardwalk and the work was undertaken by a Job Find team. A new management plan was produced in 2018 along with funding to re-profile some of the swamp to create more suitable habitat for waterbirds. However, the aggressive Hymenachne has overgrown these works.
Forward to July 2021 when the Mitchell River Watershed Management Group (MRWMG) took over the management of the Reserve from Mareeba Shire Council, initially for a five year period. The Abattoir Swamp Management Group was then formed, as a sub-group of the MRWMG and is reliant on volunteers to continue the maintenance of this valuable wetland.
Why is Abattoir Swamp important? It is in a region that is recognised internationally as a biodiversity hotspot, renowned for high flora and fauna endemism. The swamp’s location makes it a valuable refuge in the wildlife corridors running between the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area with the drier savanna country of the Rifle Creek drainage.
Currently the open woodland area around the car park and adjoining paperbarks provide the most diversity of birds for visiting birdwatchers. Northern Fantail and Eastern Yellow Robin are probably the most obvious, with both species also nesting in the car park.
Historically, when open water was available, many waterbirds such as Green Pygmy-goose, plus many other duck, heron and egret species were regularly seen. Crakes such as Ballion’s, Spotless and White-browed were easier to observe then, along the edges of the water. White-browed Crake are occasionally still seen around the hide.
What does the future hold?
The management committee will prioritise what is achievable in line with the 2018 Management Plan. Already there have been two working bees and a new walking track has been made along the northern boundary which ends up in a stand of paperbarks opposite the bird hide.
Obviously the biggest problem is the Hymenachne which is almost impossible to eradicate, but it is hoped that some kind of control can be implemented to at least create some open water once again. Repairs to the hide and replanting to enhance the tree and other plant species to attract birds, are top priorities.
The 2018 Management Plan gives a lot more detail and can be downloaded from a link on the Friends of Abattoir Swamp Facebook page, where you can also join us and keep up to date with progress and wildlife observations.
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Images by Mary Brook.