Nature, culture and history
Climate and geology
The Bellenden Ker Range, the wettest part of Australia, lies to the west of the park. Bellenden Ker records an average annual rainfall of 8313mm. Much of this rain flows to the sea via the Russell River, which passes to the north-west of the park. The annual rainfall for the surrounding lowlands averages around 4000mm. During the wet season the river level rises and causes local tributaries to flow backwards, flooding the park. This creates one of the most important wetland areas between Ingham and Cooktown, crucial for the conservation of wildlife, particularly birds.
The soils found in the park are mostly fertile basalt soils that support a high diversity of plant life.
For more information about the geological formation of the Bellenden Ker Range, Atherton Tableland and surrounding areas, see Tropical Topics No. 63. This publication explains the different rock formations and soil types that directly influence the diversity of plants and animals in the Wet Tropics region.
Plants and animals
The underlying rich basalt soils support vegetation different to other swamps in the region and the park contains some rare plants such as Fimbristylis adjuncta, an endangered sedge; there are no records of this plant outside this national park.
Drainage and soil patterns determine the swamp’s complex environment. Paperbark (melaleuca) trees and sedges thrive in the swampland but on the better-drained areas rainforest dominates with fringes of grassland. This diversity of vegetation types attracts a variety of birds.
Over 190 species of bird have been recorded here. The grassy hill, accessed via the walking track, makes a good vantage point for observing waterbirds such as ducks, herons, cormorants, egrets, ibis and spoonbills. Impressive black-necked storks (jabirus) nest in the park every year. Migratory waders such as sandpipers, dotterels and godwits also visit this busy wetland in the summer months and various birds of prey, such as black kites and whistling kites, circle overhead.
When in flower, the paperbark trees attract large numbers of honeyeaters and other nectar-feeding birds. Fairy-wrens and the vulnerable crimson finch can be seen in the grasslands. Black butcherbirds, flycatchers and kingfishers can be seen along the waterways and in the forest. Different types of kingfisher include the forest, azure, little and sacred, as well as the larger laughing kookaburra. Channel-billed cuckoos appear in the warmer months of the wet season.
The diversity of birds and wetland habitats is internationally recognised. The park also forms part of an important cassowary corridor that links coastal and hinterland areas, and is a significant fish and crustacean nursery.
It is sometimes possible to see turtles and estuarine crocodiles that inhabit the Alice River and the swamps.
When disturbed, wetlands are highly susceptible to invasion by pest plants (weeds). The national park is part of an agricultural landscape and has been heavily disturbed by former land users. Pond apple (Annona glabra), a weed of national significance, is being strategically treated within the park. The Russell River has been badly infested with this plant, introduced from tropical America. It is particularly destructive in paperbark swamps where it can form a dense understorey that prevents young paperbark trees from developing.
Fire is an important part of maintaining the existing wetland system. The grass, sedge and paperbark areas need fire to survive. Ongoing prescribed burning programs, initiated by QPWS in 1984, have been successful in re-establishing diverse native sedgeland and grassland communities. Prescribed fires help to control the invasion of non-native plants, particularly pond apple. Low intensity fire destroys pond apple trees but does not kill the paperbarks as they are protected by their thick papery bark. These programs also reduce the risk of more damaging, uncontrolled fires. Wildfires can ignite the peat soils of the swamp and these fires can burn for weeks.
Prior to becoming a national park, much of this area was used for rice and sugar cane production and cattle grazing. There was also a horse-racing track. A number of drains associated with these past land uses were built but, since the area’s protection as a national park, most of these have been removed and water is now retained within the swamp.
In 2002 the Queensland Government added a crucial section of land to Eubenangee Swamp National Park—a 180 hectare block along the north edge of the park including Dinner Creek, one of the swamp’s most important water sources. Prior to this, much of the water from Dinner Creek was channelled away from the swamp and into the Alice River, reducing water levels in the swamp. With future rainfall levels uncertain, due to our changing climate, securing the swamp’s water source is vital, so a weir was constructed to recapture the water.
In addition to re-establishing water flows to the swamp, the supplementary section of national park links remnants of native vegetation including paperbarks, reeds and sedges to similar communities in the existing national park. This extends and protects habitat for birds such as the black-necked stork and vulnerable crimson finch and also allows local staff to manage the whole area as one ecosystem. The degraded grasslands of the park are being restored and native vegetation is being planted. Seeds are collected from the park and taken to the nursery managed by the Restoration Services Unit at Lake Eacham. QPWS staff, with the help of volunteers and community groups, raise and care for the seedlings, which are then returned to the park and planted in revegetation areas.