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$55 million deal to protect Murray-Darling swamp from irrigation

Not-for-profit organisation The Nature Conservancy (TNC) and investment firm Tiverton Agriculture have joined forces to protect one of the Murray-Darling Basin’s most important wetlands from irrigated cropping.

The pair purchased the Juanbung and Boyong cattle stations in western New South Wales (NSW) for $55 million, in a deal that has been described as the most valuable private conservation-focused purchase in Australia’s history.

The aim is to protect the Great Cumbung Swamp, which covers about 60% of the 33,000 hectare purchase. The swamp is located at the confluence of the Lachlan and Murrumbidgee rivers and is home to 131 bird species and more than 200 types of plants.

It will be managed in conjunction with the adjoining 87,000 hectare Gayini Nimmie-Caira property, which was purchased for conservation by the NSW Government in 2012. This is currently managed by TNC in partnership with the Nari Nari Tribal Council.

In addition to wetland conservation and water recovery, Tiverton Director Nigel Sharp said the project will support economic development and jobs in the Riverina.

He said Tiverton will manage the property with the dual aims of conservation and developing sustainable agriculture.

The Great Cumbung Swamp The Great Cumbung will be managed in conjunction with the adjoining 87,000 hectare Gayini Nimmie-Caira property. Image: Tim Roberts-Thomson

“We look forward to managing this outstanding property and exploring future sustainable land use options such as carbon, biodiversity offsets and stewardship, and ecotourism,” Sharp said.

In a video announcing the purchase, Professor Jamie Pittock from the Australian National University said it was important to work with traditional Indigenous owners of the land to “put some things right”.

“Wetlands were severely degraded by this ‘dig ‘em up and ship ‘em out’ culture of irrigation,” Pittock said.

“... What we’re talking about is a plan that brings together the best science, the best traditional ecological knowledge [and] adds jobs [and] economic diversification to regional areas that desperately need them.”

The purchase comes as water management in the Murray-Darling Basin is debated, with an independent panel preparing to investigate recent mass fish deaths in the Darling River.

The NSW Department of Primary Industries (DPI) has also revealed it is investigating another fish kill at Lake Inverell, on the Macintyre River.