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Its only been six months since feral buffalo were fenced out of Weemol Spring in central Arnhem Land, but there has already been a stunning transformation.

The once degraded Northern Territory wetland has sprung back to life, with native plants and animals rapidly recolonising its bare and muddy creek banks.

Indigenous ranger group, Mimal Land Management, fenced the spring after local Dalabon traditional owners raised concerns about damage being caused by feral buffalo, donkeys and horses.

Women’s ranger coordinator, Julia Salt, said the rate of recovery had taken everyone by surprise.

“We’ve seen that bare earth, which was around the banks and the muddy areas, just recovered at an amazing rate — even before the rains came — it was so quick,” she said.

“It just shows how country can really benefit from reducing numbers or eradicating feral animals.

The 1.3 kilometre fence was installed in July 2018 to protect 10 hectares of the culturally significant waterhole near the remote Top End communities of Bulman and Weemol.

Ms Salt said camera traps and photo monitoring points had documented the rapid change in wetland health, even before wet season rain had fallen.

“The other thing we’ve really noticed is the water lillies coming back, those are really significant, not just for the ecosystem but culturally as well,” she said.

Balancing industrial, cultural and environmental values

The central Arnhem Land region provides a major source of feral buffalo for the NT live export industry, with up to 9,000 head mustered across the Top End each year.

With buffalo providing a significant source of income to local residents, Ms Salt said fencing was one of the few management options available to protect the waterway.

“Having buffalo companies in the area makes it difficult for us to do proactive things such as culling,” she said.

“What we’re hoping to do is educate the community on how much country can benefit from not having those animals there, so this is a great demonstration site to show the improvements.”

Ms Salt said the rangers would continue working to educate local communities about the destructive impact of feral animals in the region.

“We have a long way to go in discussions around this because there are so many different stakeholder views involved, and we respect that,” she said.

“They do have a financial value to people and a lot of people have been working in the buffalo industry for most of their lives.

“The issue is to make people aware of the damage that can be done — some of the areas out on our land have been decimated by these animals”.

Traditional owner, Dudley Lawrence, is among the locals who see the benefits of reducing buffalo activity in sensitive wetland areas.

Mr Lawrence said the fence had made a huge difference to the spring environment.

“I worry about buffalo making a mess around here,” he said.

“Now you don’t see anything — buffalo or donkeys around here — it’s really good.”

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