The Orara River catchment covers an area of 41,200ha. The river has been impacted by decades of degradation from land clearing, grazing, and gravel and water extraction.
While the river was severely impacted from past activities, there are vegetation remnants throughout the system. Headwater streams are in good condition, flowing from well vegetated slopes under State Forest and National Park tenures.
The Orara Valley Lowland Subtropical Rainforest and River Flat Eucalypt Forest, both Endangered Ecological Communities, are important habitat for several vulnerable and endangered species, including the Wompoo Fruit Dove, Rose-crowned Fruit Dove, Bush Hen, and Eastern Freshwater Cod.
Healthy riparian vegetation helps maintain good habitat for aquatic animals, including insects and the fish that feed on them. Riparian vegetation provides important food sources including leaves, fruit and stems that fall into the stream.
The roots of vegetation provide essential habitat by protecting overhanging banks, while large branches or trunks that fall into the water also provide shelter from predators and a diversity of flow speeds.
Riverbank vegetation has an amazing capacity to regenerate once invasive weeds are managed resulting in light reaching the ground to trigger growth of seedlings from the dormant seed bank within the soil. Seed is also carried by birds, other animals, and the wind, to provide more viable seed to regeneration sites.
Even cleared or mown areas can sometimes regenerate if the original soil profile is intact.
The project aims to gradually manage weeds to allow natural regeneration. If natural regeneration does not occur on its own, then planting of locally indigenous plant species is carried out. Plant stock for the project is propagated from local seed sources to maintain the genetic diversity and the integrity of Orara Valley vegetation. The project works on sites that reinforce native vegetation remnants and vegetation corridors throughout the catchment.
Vegetation with deep roots helps to stabilise riverbanks, making them more resistant to erosion, and protecting them in times of flood.
Healthy vegetation can trap nutrients and sediment moving from paddocks into watercourses and therefore improve water quality. Riparian vegetation helps to reduce light and temperature levels of stream ecosystems, helping to control the growth of nuisance plants and algae, even when nutrient levels in the stream water have increased.
Native vegetation provides habitat for insect-eating birds and insect parasites that can help to protect pastures and crops from damage. It also reduces the impact of high winds on sheltering stock. Streams are an important recreational fishing resource and can be a source of income for landholders and regional communities.
Orara Valley Rivercare Group
In 1996 a number of landholders from several communities across the district independently formed LandCare Groups to begin addressing river degradation at the local level.
In 1998 the Orara Valley RiverCare Groups Management Committee (OVRGMC) was formed as a steering group for local LandCare groups operating in the area:
The OVRGMC now oversees the distribution from the Coffs Harbour City Council Environmental Levy, NSW Environmental Trust and the Northern Rivers Catchment Management Authority.
Funding is directed towards the exclusion of stock from riverbanks by fencing and the provision of water troughs for off stream watering; weed control; and planting when required.
The project is now working with approximately 90 landholders, which constitutes about 25% of landholders in the valley and there is further work to involve more people in river rehabilitation and enhancing vegetation corridors throughout the catchment.
River Rehabilitation Achievements
The project has achieved significant improvement in channel structure, stock management; reductions in density and distribution of major target weed species; and revegetation.
The project won a Local Government & Shires Association Excellence in the Environment Award for Natural Environment Protection & Enhancement: On Ground in 2012. The project has been previously gained Bronze and Silver RiverCare 2000 awards in 1999 and 2000 respectively, and won the 2001 State LandCare Gold Award in the Natural Heritage Trust RiverCare section.
The project also provides Landholder Education Workshops covering areas such as Rainforest Plant Identification and Rainforest Seed Collecting. Ideas for education activities are always welcomed from landholders in the Orara Valley.
For more information about the Orara River Rehabilitation Project or to get in touch with your local group, contact the Orara River Rehabilitation Project Officer at Coffs Harbour Council on phone 6648 4000.