Waterbird nests in a gum tree beside a lake
Cormorant nests crowd the branches of a River Red Gum on the edge of Loorica Lake, Gayini Nimmie-Caira © Peter Stephen

Land & Water Stories

Exploring Gayini Nimmie-Caira

A new way to manage Country for conservation and sustainable agriculture

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Is there a better way to manage country in the Murray-Darling Basin – a way that provides food and water for people while protecting natural habitats for wildlife? Can a food bowl also be a habitat haven? At The Nature Conservancy we believe the answer’s ‘yes’ and at Gayini Nimmie-Caira, in south-west New South Wales, we’re demonstrating how.

Since taking over management in May 2018, a consortium led by TNC is managing Gayini Nimmie-Caira for better outcomes for nature and people. Together with its Traditional Owners represented by the Nari Nari Tribal Council, and in partnership with the Murray Darling Wetlands Working Group and the Centre for Ecosystem Science at the University of NSW, we’re conserving precious wildlife, developing sustainable agricultural practices and protecting significant cultural heritage over this vast 87,816 hectare property.     

enjoying their Country with TNC and ANU visitors
Nari Nari children enjoying their Country with TNC and Australian National University visitors © Peter Stephen

A global conservation priority 

As a result of a major study published in 2018, The Nature Conservancy’s team of scientists identified four global priorities if we are to achieve a sustainable planet for 10 billion people on Earth by 2050. The Gayini Nimmie-Caira Project addresses two of these priorities – protecting land and water and providing food and water sustainably.

Gayini Nimmie-Caira and the Great Cumbung
Map location Gayini Nimmie-Caira and the Great Cumbung © TNC

This is one of Australia’s most magnificent wetlands. When boom times come, the system overflows with water and life. Spectacular colonies of tens of thousands of ibises and spoonbills are very special.

Professor of Environmental Science, University of NSW, Sydney

An abundance of Australian birds

Gayini Nimmie-Caira is part of the Lowbidgee floodplain – the largest remaining area of wetlands in the Murrumbidgee Valley, within the southern Murray-Darling Basin. It’s an area of national and international conservation significance.

Native Australian birds are particularly abundant here ranging in size from the tiny, hard to see Spotted Pardalote to big, impressive Emus in large numbers.   

Of highest significance, the wetlands provide feeding and breeding habitat for many different species of freshwater birds which can amass in large nesting colonies when conditions are right – species like the Straw-necked Ibis, Royal Spoonbill, Little Pied Cormorant and Australian Pelican.

an endangered species
Australian Painted-snipe an endangered species © Patrick Kavanagh/Wikimedia Commons

Nationally listed threatened species are also protected at Gayini Nimmie-Caira including one of Australia’s largest frogs – the Southern Bell Frog – and two endangered bird species – the Australasian Bittern and Australian Painted-snipe. In November 2019, the critically endangered Plains-wanderer was seen and photographed - a first for Gayini Nimmie Caira. This unique species relies on native grasslands that are well managed with not too much grazing but not too little. 

While around half of the property was previously used for cropping and grazing before being handed over to TNC by the New South Wales Government, the majority of it remains covered with significant native vegetation in good or recovering condition including:

  • Lignum shrublands
  • River Red Gum forests and woodlands
  • Black Box woodlands
  • Mid-floodplain shrublands
  • High floodplain shrublands
  • Aeolian rise shrublands and woodlands
  • Marshes and sedgelands

Our management plan for the property will permanently protect these habitats for the wealth of species that rely on them for their survival. 

Exploring Gayini Nimmie-Caira A new way to manage Country for conservation and sustainable agriculture

Aboriginal People reconnecting to Country

The entire Gayini Nimmie-Caira area is a rich cultural landscape that has supported Aboriginal people for 50,000 years. ‘Gayini’ is the name given to the area by the Nari Nari people. The property is home to a wealth of Indigenous cultural features from sacred canoe trees to ancient burial mounds and camp sites.

For thousands of years the First Australians in this area made interventions to boost the productivity of their Country – enhancing fish and bird stocks, and vegetation growth. Now part of the team managing Gayini Nimmie-Caira, Nari Nari are once more in possession of their lands caring for it using a combination of traditional and modern techniques to improve its productivity and enhance its values.

Land management activities at Gayini Nimmie-Caira have started with roads and infrastructure being assessed and maintained, Culture and Heritage protection works carried out, and the removal of feral pests. Feral animals (those that have been introduced) present a serious threat to both the conservation of native species (either through predation, competition for limited resources or destruction of habitat) and the ongoing productivity of agriculture on Gayini Nimmie-Caira and neighbouring properties alike. In the second half of 2018 a total of 2,655 feral pests were removed including almost 1,500 pigs, more than 1,000 deer and many foxes and cats.

We have two land mangers working full time at Gayini Nimmie-Caira overseeing these activities and organising contractors.

Two major works programs are scheduled for early 2019 including reinstating a more natural flooding regime across Gayini Nimmie-Caira. We’re also laying 371 kilometres of pipes delivering water to parts of the property where stock will be run into the future.

We’re also conducting Healthy Country Planning with the Hay and Balranald Aboriginal Communities.

It’s critical that we find sustainable ways to grow the food that we need to eat so that agriculture can thrive well into our future.

Maria Myers TNC Australia Advisory Board Memeber

Sustainable agriculture 

Managing a property for conservation as vast as Gayini Nimmie-Caira after decades of agricultural use, is an expensive business. To fund this work we’re demonstrating exemplary food production in balance with nature, through responsible low-impact grazing and, when appropriate, opportunistic cropping.

We anticipate that responsible low-impact grazing will be the primary driver of income to maintain the property while it transitions over time to a more balanced nature- and culture-based business model.

Discovering Country Ian Woods, Nari Nari Tribal Council Chairperson and Maria Myers, TNC Australia Advisory Board Member © Peter Stephen

Future opportunties

Over time, we plan to introduce other sustainable land uses at the property including:

  • Carbon farming like we’ve done before in northern Australia, we plan to develop a new carbon sequestration methodology to generate verified Australian Carbon Credit Units able to be traded through the Australian Government’s Emissions Reduction Fund.
  • Education – we’ll establish the Gayini Nimmie-Caira Centre for Two-Way Learning in partnership with a leading university to share traditional ecological knowledge and western science, bridge Indigenous and non-Indigenous cultures and generate income from course participation and visitation. 
  • Ecotourism – we plan to build a world-class environmental and cultural visitor experience catering for private guests as well as volunteers and education groups. 

Strong support for Gayini Nimmie-Caira

We’ve already received outstanding support from a range of Australians inspired by the Gayini Nimmie-Caira project including a foundational gift from John B. Fairfax AO to establish the John B. Fairfax Conservation Fellowship.

I was so inspired by its ambitious vision, including enhanced Aboriginal cultural heritage, sustainable agriculture, management of environmental water and conservation of waterbird breeding habitat, that I wanted to support it.

Business Leader and Philanthropist