Woodleigh Station protects the Reef

June 8, 2018

It is 130km from the ocean but a fifth-generation cattle station near Ravenshoe is becoming a Far North Queensland leader in protecting the Great Barrier Reef.

Woodleigh Station, which has been in the Williams-Waddell family for 105 years and is known for its cattle and camping, is one of the first sites to benefit from a $3 million program focused on improving water quality in the Herbert River catchment.

Funded by the Australian Government and delivered by Terrain NRM, the new program aims to reduce fine sediment run-off to the Great Barrier Reef lagoon. It includes major earthworks to reshape gullies, changes to grazing practices, new fences to keep stock from streambanks, off-stream watering infrastructure, revegetation projects and weed management.

The Herbert catchment, which extends 340km from the Herberton and Ravenshoe areas to the coastal region of Ingham, is one of the three biggest contributors of sediment loads to the Reef.

This is something Woodleigh Station’s Williams-Waddell family wants to help change.

Third-generation grazier Kate Waddell said excitement was building about the new project, which began with gully monitoring and botanical surveys and escalated this month when fencing started and earth-moving equipment arrived for gully remediation work.

She said it was important to the family to “leave the land in a healthy state”.

“Woodleigh has been run by our family for more than a century and we want our young ones who are coming on to see the benefits and to love the land as much as we do,’’ Mrs Waddell said.

"Even with good grass cover and light stocking rates, some of our soil types erode easily during heavy rainfall. To improve our sustainability, over the last 10 years we’ve started wet season spelling – where we fallow paddocks – and we’ve stopped burning.

“We've noticed a big improvement in our grasses and soil biology. This project is the next big step."

Sediment is one of the major materials affecting the health of the Great Barrier Reef.

Fine sediment poses the highest risk to reef ecosystems, smothering corals, seagrasses and other plants, affecting their growth and survival. This also affects the survival of turtles, dugongs, fish and other animals that depend on them for food and shelter.

Fine soils such as silt and clay, and the nutrients attached to them, travel even further into the reef, forming ‘flocs’ that attract and grow organic material, and reduce the light to corals and seagrass meadows.

Remediation work at Woodleigh Station will include eroded gullies and tailings dams from old alluvial tin mines. Terrain NRM’s Jen Mackenzie said a tailings dam complex was the first earthworks project on the property.

“During high rainfall periods the dam complex is a source of fine sediment from super fine crushed rock,” she said. “We have just started remediation including rock-lining work and new wall structures.”

The $3 million Herbert River Gully and Grazing Program is funded through the Australian Government’s Reef Trust Phase IV program.

Terrain NRM will be undertaking projects on a number of properties in the Herbert River catchment over the next three to five years in partnership with landholders.

Construction work has also begun on another property in the Upper Herbert area. The whole Woodleigh Station project – from earthworks to fencing, revegetation, watering system improvements and grazing practice changes - will continue for a number of years.