Farm dams – wetland refuges during heatwaves

Wetlands are a critical part of our natural environment and vary widely in their definition. When you think of a wetland, a farm dam may not be the first thing that comes to mind. However, their importance as a water source for farming properties to maintain healthy stock is coupled with the provision of essential habitat for native wildlife, particularly during periods of low rainfall or in drier regions where they provide critical refuge.

Farm dams provide water for stock, irrigation, gardens, and fire management. They are an attractive asset to any property, contribute to the long-term viability of a farm, and can be used for recreation. A healthy farm dam can also provide habitat for a large diversity of wildlife including insects, fish, crustaceans, frogs and birds.

To properly manage a farm dam, you need to think not only of the dam but divide it into zones that surround the dam i.e. the catchment zone, shade zones, shelterbelt zones, filter zones, as well as the actual dam zone. For example, shade zones such as paddock trees or tree clusters should be located away from drainage lines and waterways in order to prevent stock from congregating in one area.

Evidence shows that farm dams with good quality water support healthy livestock. Limiting stock access to dams and the drainage lines that feed into them minimises the chance of diseases being transmitted through water by dung.

Making a dam wildlife friendly will help improve the biodiversity across a farm. It’s accepted that increases in biodiversity lead to improvements in productivity. For example, some species of waterbird contribute to pest control, such as those that damage crops.

Agriculture is the dominant land use in our region. Permanent change and loss of wetland and stream habitats means that many native species rely on farm dams for water and shelter during heat. To make your dam more wildlife friendly there are a number of things that you can do:

  • choose native plants that are local to your area
  • plant a variety of species
  • don’t have straight edges, be irregular
  • provide hollow logs around the dam, and woody debris within the dam
  • rocks and boulders are good habitat for frogs and reptiles
  • create a shallow (littoral) zone around the dam edge
  • consider constructing an island for nesting water fowl
  • limit or exclude stock access
  • retain dead trees

The Farm Dam Handbook published by the NSW Government is an excellent resource with more detailed information on how you can improve your farm dam. Please send us an email if you’d like a copy. Also a great resource is this downloadable report from Murrumbidgee Landcare.