Gills Bridge Creek Rehabilitation Project

Gills Bridge Creek, commonly referred to as Gills Creek, is a semi-urban stream with the headwaters originating in elevated terrain (up to 100m AHD) located approximately 5 kilometres to the south west of the Kempsey CBD. The creek then flows through the main industrial area in South Kempsey and into East Kempsey Swamp, before discharging into Pola Creek, approximately 2km east of the Kempsey CBD. Gills Bridge Creek flows through, or adjacent to, a number of different land use zones including rural, residential, industrial and a special uses zone designated for the South Kempsey Sewage Treatment Plant, and as such is exposed to a wide range of potential impacts from human activities.

The visual appearance of Gills Bridge Creek has been declining for a number of years, while basic water quality monitoring has indicated some impacts from the surrounding urban, commercial and industrial environment. Council and the community have recognised the declining health of the Creek and the need for action to be taken.

Rehabilitation Plan

Gills Bridge Creek

In 2007 a Rehabilitation Plan for the system was developed. The aim of the Plan is to set a framework for preserving and enhancing existing assets of the creek, such as remaining segments of intact native riparian vegetation and aquatic habitats, and to rehabilitate degraded ecological assets, such as water quality and the extent of weed coverage. In doing so, the project aims are to describe and set in place measures to improve and sustain the ecological condition of the Creek, while encouraging a Total Catchment Management (TCM) aware, involved and practising community.

Objectives

The objectives of the rehabilitation plan are to:

  1. Improve water quality and flow regimes;
  2. Protect and where possible regenerate native riparian vegetation;
  3. Improve and sustain aquatic and terrestrial ecological habitats;
  4. Increase bank stability and decrease erosion;
  5. Manage, control and where possible reduce the area and extent of weed species; and
  6. Raise community awareness of total catchment management (TCM) principles.

Funding

NSW Environmental Trust logo

In order to implement all of the recommended actions, funding resources, additional to those estimated in Council’s long term budget at the time, were required. To this end Council applied for grant funding through the NSW Environmental Trust and in June 2008 were notified that the grant application has been successful in attracting $92,000 over a three year period to implement a number of actions to meet the above listed objectives.

Rehabilitation Plan and related documents

Project implementation – progress to date

Riparian flora and fauna survey

The aim of this component of the project was to identify areas of remnant riparian vegetation communities, including those which have been infested with weed species, or entirely cleared of wooded vegetation and provide recommendations for rehabilitation.

Results of the survey have identified a number of intact forest ecosystems, requiring protection and rehabilitation works, including removal of weeds and replanting with endemic species. Fauna surveys were included to add value to the information collected during the vegetation surveys. A number of endemic fauna species were identified, including the Grey-headed Flying Fox, Koala various macropods (Eastern Grey Kangaroo, Swamp and Red Necked Wallabies), arboreal species (Ring and Brushed Tailed Possums) and a variety of aquatic birds and reptiles, including the Macleay River Turtle.

Flora of Gills Bridge Creek

Intact riparian vegetation Areas of thick weed infestation
Figure 1 - Areas of intact riparian vegetation
Native vegetation here includes - Aquatic Water Ribbon and Juncus Rush, Native Bracken Fern and Matt Rush.
Figure 2 - Areas of thick week infestation. Weeds here include - Lantana, Senna and Camphor Laurel.

Fauna of Gills Bridge Creek

"Gilly" the koala Juvenile squirrel glider
Figure 3 - A Koala (Phascolarctos cinereus), most likely a male, affectionately named "Gilly" spotted again in the tree tops beside Gills Bridge Creek near the South Street Bridge crossing. Figure 4 - Juvenile Squirrel Glider (Petaurus norfolcensis) encountered along with mother in a section of riparian habitat in the Gills Bridge Creek Corridor.
A land mullet Grey-headed flying fox
Figure 5 - A Land Mullet (Egeria major) found in a moist location amongst some dense undergrowth in the Gills Bridge Creek riparian zone. Figure 6 - Grey-headed Flying Fox (Pteropus poliocephalus) sited in a patch of Swamp Sclerophyll forest adjacent to Gills Bridge Creek.
Juvenile eastern grey kangaroo Brushtail possum
Figure 7 - Juvenile Eastern Grey Kangaroo (Macropus gigangteus) encountered in open woodland in the upper reaches of Gills Bridge Creek. Figure 8 - Brushtail Possum (Trichosurus vulpecular) utilising a section of riparian habitat near the Queen Street low level crossing.
Pacific black duck Macleay River turtle
Figure 9 - Pacific Black Duck (Anas superciliosa) and Purple Swamp Hen (Porphyrio porphyrio) inhabiting an open pool of lower reaches of Gills Bridge Creek. Figure 10 - Macleay River Turtle (Emydura macquarii dharra) also inhabiting an open pool of the lower reaches of Gills Bridge Creek.

General rubbish clean-up

A general rubbish clean-up along the banks and within the main channel of the Creek at accessible locations was undertaken to remove various pieces of accumulated rubbish.

Before clean up After rubbish cleanup
Figure 11 - "Before" Rubbish Clean-up Figure 12 - "After" Rubbish Clean-up

Bush regeneration

Council has engaged the services of a professional bush regenerator, to undertake an initial site works program. The project site is located immediately downstream of the Queens Street low level crossing on Gills Bridge Creek (GBrCk). Identified as Management Zone 1A – MZ1A (located stream-side adjacent to the South Kempsey Post Office Depot and extending from the Queen St low-level crossing down to the South Kempsey Sewage Treatment Plant on the south side of the creek) and Management Zone 1B – MZ1B (again located stream-side and lying largely opposite MZ1A to the north of the creek - with access south off Harry Boyes Avenue).

Location of Management Zone 1
Figure 13 - Location of Management Zone 1 - Bush Regenerator Work Site.

This is the first area to receive rehabilitation works funded under the Environmental Trust Grants Program. To date an area of over 5 hectares has received a broad control program of splatter-gun spraying of exotic riparian weeds using Bio-active Spray (chemicals which breakdown quickly after being taken-up by their target species and are certified to be used along stream margins). Directed specifically at Lantana it has been very successful in reducing this smothering weed cover, with the weed dying in-situ to naturally breakdown into a rich mulch layer (while still providing habitat shelter for small native birds, reptiles and marsupials). Follow-up inspection has confirmed a very large number of native seedlings (from local native seed sources) are now establishing themselves into the vacant ‘light zone’ created.

In addition a large area of MZ1A has received a program of intense hands-on ‘Cut and Painting’ of woody weeds with the weeds removed being stacked into mulch piles. Weeds specifically targeted for rehabilitation work here include Lantana, Camphor Laurel, Ochna, Senna, Small and Large-leaved Privet and Coral Tree.

Site rehabilitation activities have opened up the understorey and revealed a new character to the creek margin including a unique hidden ‘Billabong’ feature and a multi-channelled waterway mosaic – both of which add a complexity to the creek system as a living waterway.

Before Weed Removal Works After Weed Removal Works
Figure 14 - "Before" Weed Removal Works Figure 15 - "After" Weed Removal Works

Bush regeneration works have also recently commenced in Management Zone 2, located to the west (and upstream) of Management Zone 1. Management Zone 2 has been broken into for sub-zones to assist in the staging of rehabilitation works in this area. On-ground works in this Management Zone have focused on weed poisoning and removal as well as some replanting activities using locally endemic species. The majority of work has so far been undertaken in Sub Zone 2C, working in a northerly direction along both side of the Creek from the South Street Bridge crossing. Work in this area has largely been undertaken by a Green Corps Team, with some assistance and in principle support from adjoining businesses.

Location of Management Zone 2
Figure 16 - Location of Management Zone 2 - Bush Regenerator Work Site.

Green Corps Team

Council has formed a partnership with Conservation Volunteers Australia and Central West Community College to set up a Green Corps Team to assist with the rehabilitation works along the GBrCk corridor. Green Corps teams consist of a Conservation Volunteers’ Team Leader, qualified in bush regeneration work and a group of job seekers who wish to make a difference to the environment while gaining personal and practical skills that will place them at best advantage in joining or rejoining the work force.

The Green Corps Team set up in the Kempsey region will be working on a number of environmental rehabilitation projects currently underway throughout the Shire, including GBrCk. The Team has already commenced rehabilitation work in the GBrCk corridor and made substantial progress on a section of creek bank near the South Street Bridge crossing.

The Green Corps program funding is provided by the Australian Government through the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).

Environmental Review and Education Program for local businesses

Implementation of the Environmental Review and Education Program for local businesses in the catchment has significantly increased the level of understanding for environmental management practices for local businesses. Through a review of current practices and provision of education material, the Program sought cooperation with owners and operators of commercial and industrial premises to help:

  • reduce the impact operational activities may be having on the environment;
  • meet legal responsibilities in relation to environmental legislation;
  • identify current or potential sources of pollution; and
  • provide recommendations for achieving improved environmental performance.

Council Officers also sought feedback on specific problems businesses owners / operators were experiencing in meeting environmental regulations, and on the opportunities they saw for environmental improvements in their specific business or industry sector. A prioritised list of recommendations (with proposed timeframes) was then provided and agreed to by businesses owners / operators, with the understanding that follow-up reviews will be taking place in the future to assess their progress towards the recommendations.

Waterwatch Program for local primary school

In conjunction with Kempsey Shire Council, Macleay Landcare Network and the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority, Kempsey South Public School have become involved in a Waterwatch Program on Gills Bridge Creek. The students are meeting with staff from each of the agencies to test the water quality in the Creek. The students are checking for the presence of aquatic water bugs and recording the levels of pH, electrical conductivity, temperature and turbidity, all of which give an indication of water quality. The results obtained by Kempsey South Primary School will add to the baseline water quality data already collected by Council and help provide a measure of any changes in the condition of the Creek as the rehabilitation program progresses.

Stormwater management

Council has engaged a consultant, specialising in stormwater planning and design, to assist with the development of an overarching Stormwater Management Strategy for the GBrCK catchment. The Strategy, focussing on the industrial area in South Kempsey, will use MUSIC (Model for Stormwater Improvement Conceptualisation) to identify and document the current hydrological conditions of the GBrCk Catchment, and provide recommendations for best practice stormwater management to achieve a net positive environmental outcome for the Creek.

Using the MUSIC modelling, the Strategy will be looking at how to improve the water quality discharging from the various stormwater outlets that currently enter the Creek. Depending on the results of the modelling and the area available between the discharge point and the Creek itself, it is anticipated that the Strategy will put forward a number of recommendations for treatment of stormwater through constructed vegetated swales and bio-retention systems.

Project communication and promotion

Project communication and promotion is essential to ensure the project aims, objectives and progress are clearly communicated to key stakeholders. A Community Newsletter has been developed and is being rolled out on a regular basis to provide an update to stakeholders, including any interesting results/findings and major achievements. A copy of the newsletter is delivered to key stakeholders and circulated through Council’s network of outlets and community groups.

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