Mornington Peninsula volunteers and staff save Tootgarook, a bittern hotspot

Tootgarook Swamp, on Victoria’s Mornington Peninsula, is a hotspot for Australasian Bitterns, a nationally Endangered species, and it’s been saved from development after the local council acquired the last remaining unprotected section of this important site.

Satellite tracking has shown that bitterns regularly undertake seasonal movements from the ricefields of the Riverina district of New South Wales to Tootgarook Swamp, and it is thought that the species may have attempted to breed there in recent years.

It’s the most significant habitat for Australasian Bitterns on the Mornington Peninsula and one of the most significant sites in the Port Phillip and Westernport catchments. And it’s not just important for bitterns — 122 species of birds (including seven EPBC-listed migratory species and 13 species listed on the Victorian Advisory List of Threatened Species) and more than 240 indigenous plant species have been recorded there.

Staff from BirdLife Australia and volunteers from BirdLife Mornington Peninsula have conducted hundreds of regular surveys of the birds that occur at this coastal wetland since 2013 (building on earlier ad hoc surveys). The ecological knowledge gained from these monitoring activities has proved invaluable, as the site has been a target for developers, who view the wetland as a prime location for a new housing estate in this ever-expanding municipality — an entirely inappropriate use of such an important site.

When news emerged that part of the swamp (known as 92E) was about to be placed on the market, BirdLife Australia and its local Mornington Peninsula branch, together with other local community groups such as Save Tootgarook Swamp Inc., sprang into action, encouraging the Mornington Peninsula Shire Council to protect this regionally important habitat.

Fortunately, the council listened, and acquired the parcel of land recently to safeguard the swamp, integrating 92E into the larger, surrounding wetland system to be managed for its conservation values.

Chrispy Toongorook.JPG


“This parcel of land has high wetland values suitable for rehabilitation and integration into the broader Tootgarook Wetlands area,” said Mornington Peninsula Shire Mayor Councillor Bryan Payne.

“Together with local residents and community groups, we are determined to protect this important area,” he continued. “As the local council, it is our responsibility to protect and enhance these important areas of our environment for future generations.

BirdLife Australia’s and BirdLife Mornington Peninsula’s ongoing study into the ecology of Tootgarook Swamp has been facilitated by partnerships with Mornington Peninsula Shire, Melbourne Water, Port Philip Westernport CMA, Trust for Nature, local land holders and special interest groups. 

You can watch a video to find about more about Tootgarook Swamp and its bitterns and other birds by clicking here.

Images: Chris Purnell, BirdLife Wetlands project manager,  Mornington Peninsula branch volunteers.