Standing up for Waterbirds

The Murray–Darling Basin Plan provides our best chance for a healthy river system that services communities and provides critical habitat for birds. Yet, as revealed by the ABC’s Four Corners program, water destined to restore the health of wetlands, rivers and the birds that depend on them, is being siphoned off by big agribusinesses.

The Murray–Darling Basin Plan is our best chance for a healthy Basin for communities and birds, but it’s being undermined by the interests of a powerful few.

From wetlands to woodlands, the Murray–Darling Basin provides important habitat for hundreds of native bird species. Indeed, many of the wetlands in the Murray–Darling Basin are of international conservation significance for birds—16 of Australia’s 65 Ramsar wetlands are within the Murray–Darling Basin.

However, there is compelling evidence that bird populations are continuing to decline across the Basin—a recent study by Richard Kingsford revealed that waterbird numbers in the Murray–Darling Basin have declined by 70 per cent in the last 30 years.

Yet we’ve known for some time that the Murray–Darling Basin Plan is under threat, with the Federal Government considering a significant reduction to the volume of water allocated to the rivers and other wetlands in the Murray–Darling Basin.

BirdLife Australia is concerned about the proposed changes to water allocation in the Northern Basin that could see the amount of water recovered for the environment reduced by 70 gigalitres per year. This would significantly reduce habitat quality for waterbirds in places liked the Ramsar-listed Macquarie Marshes and Gwydir wetlands, with particularly dire consequences for species like the Endangered Australasian Bittern and Australian Painted Snipe.

BirdLife Australia profiled the Macquarie Marshes in our Key Biodiversity Areas in Danger Report, highlighting the dire consequences for our native birdlife if the Federal Government endorses proposed amendments to the Basin Plan that would see the amount of water allocated to our rivers and wetlands significantly reduced.

Our birdlife is at risk of losing the water it needs to survive. But we can turn it around. When environmental water is used appropriately, we’ve seen bird numbers and breeding success increase. We need to secure and deliver the 3200 gigalitres already committed under the MDB Plan to safeguard future of our rivers, floodplains and other wetlands, and the birds that depend on them.

The Four Corners episode simply demonstrates how important it is that governments commit to delivering the Murray-Darling Basin Plan on time and in full.

You can help make this happen by signing our petition, calling on the Federal Government to stand up for the birds of the Basin.

If you missed it, you can watch the episode of Four Corners here.


BirdLife Australia and the lifeblood alliance (environment, indigenous and community groups) have a series of town hall meetings throughout the Basin in September, the aim is to galvanise community concern around the river, and to take their voices with us to Canberra for the National Water Week Summit in October.

The event would be a part of a series that builds towards the same moment (National Water Week), but has local ownership. The ultimate aim is to mobilise people to attend the training and lobbying event in Canberra, but to also raise awareness about the proposed changes to the Murray Darling Basin plan and the dire consequences this will have on our environment (especially birds!) for more info contact