A catchment worth protecting

As you reach for your coffee, reflect on the journey travelled by that precious water from a cloud to your cup. Have you ever pondered why our beautiful bush capital is framed by a stunning mountain vista?

History tells us that a founding principle as to the siting of our city was the life-giving qualities of water originating from the mountains to our west. In 1909, as Surveyor-General Charles Scrivener located a site for the seat of government for the nation, the supply of crystal clear drinking water was decisive.

Astute bushmen surveyors established the bush capital’s border by plotting a course along mountain ridgetops so a rain drop falling on the eastern side of the mountain was determined to be in the ACT.

Thoughts then turned to protecting this valuable catchment. In 1913 a visionary piece of legislation was passed enshrining that the Cotter Catchment would be protected from the threat of impact for time immemorial. Rangers were recruited to protect the intrinsic ecological values of this catchment, ensuring that crystal clear drinking water would flow to a thirsty city.

Wild horses from the 1890’s pastoral era still roamed the mountains. They grazed, bred and, impacted upon the water quality of the Cotter River. Put simply, horses eat a lot of vegetation. With large heavy body weights, hard hooves and a tendency to roll compacting the ground, the resulting damage destroys the sensitive sub-alpine environment.

Under the guidance of Ranger Jack Maxwell and others, ‘brumby running’ became the removal technique of choice. As a gifted bushman Jack built horse yards along the mountain ridgetops, chasing aerial image of the Lower Cotter Catchmentwild horses, herding, corralling these introduced feral animals.

Once captured, horses not suitable for breaking-in were shot.

Today with remote sensing cameras and helicopter surveillance we monitor for any incursions, acting quickly to remove them.

For over 100 years the ACT has been protecting the Cotter Catchment from the impact of feral horses. Feral pigs have been controlled. Endangered Corroboree Frogs have been successfully released into the subalpine wetlands. Platypus swim freely in clear mountain water.

We have been effective in excluding horses from moving from Kosciuszko into the ACT’s high country. But a threat looms on the horizon to our west. Thousands of feral horses roam free and don’t recognise state borders.

We will have a strong interest in whatever control programs NSW adopt, as they have to be effective enough to ensure the ACT’s water catchment is not impacted by horses crossing the border.

As those whose footsteps we walk in did, we will protect the Cotter Catchment.

The only brumbies we want to see in the ACT are on a rugby field.

Brett Mac

Brett McNamara - Regional Manager with ACT Parks & Conservation Service

Brett loves our national parks almost as much as the Gang-gang on his uniform. He is prone to using the word 'majestic' when referring to the bush capital. He loves talking. A lot. His favourite animal is the playful platypus.

Article also appeared on 19 June in The Chronicle