The Importance of Wetlands
In recent ecological baseline assessments of the Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project area the importance and abundance of wetlands were highlighted as a key resource in a water constrained area. Wetlands, together with riparian zones, are highly valuable terrestrial systems and provide invaluable services. Wetlands are well known for their ’sponge’ functionality – their ability to absorb and dissipate floodwaters, regulating stream flow through both wet and dry periods. Managing these rich and valuable resources can be a daunting task for many landowners and managers if the current condition of the wetland or the potential threats in the catchment of the wetland are unknown.
The health of a wetland should inform the management actions of the specific site and a strategy for the landscape. A need to enable landowners and managers to assess the health of wetlands was identified during discussions with landowners while Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project team collected baseline information in the area.
On 17 September 2020, Dr Donovan Kotze, a wetland specialist, presented training on a wetland heath assessment tool to the Gondwana Game Reserve and Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project staff. The WET-Health is a refined suite of tools for assessing the present ecological state of wetland ecosystems. Whilst wetland features vary from one wetland to the next, wetlands are all broadly influenced by three inter-related drivers, namely hydrology, geomorphology and water quality. The vegetation of a wetland responds to changes in these drivers and to the activities within and around the wetland.
Figure 1. The four key components considered in WET-Health (V2.0).
The tool assesses the impacts on each component based on the intensity of each stressor. Impact scores generated are translated into Present Ecological State (PES) scores which identifies the management requirements necessary to restore benefits to the landowner.
Applying a standardised tool to determine wetland health equips landowners to measure how healthy wetlands are, identify the threats to the wetland health and make informed decisions on how to maintain or improve the resource to restore the desired benefits.
The technical guide is available here.
Figure 2. Active erosion will have an impact on the health of a wetland. To improve the health and hence the wetlands ability to deliver services, this threat will need to be addressed in the management plan.
Compiled by Halcyone Muller, Herbertsdale Corridor Co-ordinator and member of the Gouritz Ecological Corridors Project team.
Photos courtesy of Halcyone Muller