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Wetland site management and rehabilitation

The management and rehabilitation of wetlands is undertaken for a wide range of reasons. Wetlands are often rehabilitated to return a system to its natural (or near-natural) state, to enhance opportunities for wildlife, to improve ecosystem services or for recreational purposes.

The information below focuses on site management and rehabilitation of all wetlands providing a generic approach which can be used for multiple purposes. Treatment systems for water quality improvement are dealt with here. The following steps take you through a logical process and ensure that any project is properly scoped and the best outcomes are achieved with the resources available.

Queensland Youth Environment Council wetland rehabilitation Photo by Queensland Government

Quick facts

rehabilitation can have economic, social, and environmental benefits to local communities. For example, it has the capacity to improve the productivity of fishing.

Cats claw removal Upper Brisbane Photo by Queensland Government

Undertaking a wetland rehabilitation project, even a small one, can be a lot of work, planning the project properly is likely to save you time, money and frustration by reducing any extra unnecessary steps. From the very beginning, it is important to outline the purpose of the management and / or rehabilitation, which should be linked to a wetland service or value you want to improve e.g. reduce flood impacts, replace wildlife habitat, encourage use of the area and reduce downstream sedimentation? It is also essential to consider policy and legislative requirements as many wetlands are protected and some activities can cause lengthy and costly delays. Don't forget to take into consideration the impacts of the activities on a range of stakeholders as not all community members have the same values and some people might be negatively impacted by the activities.

No matter what the reason for management or rehabilitation the broad steps include:

Step 1: Determine the purpose or outcome
Step 2: Gather and analyse background information (including applicable legislation)
Step 3: Reassess the purpose or objective
Step 4: Develop actions and prioritise
Step 5: Implement
Step 6: Maintenance and monitoring

Key principles for wetland site management and rehabilitation

Upper Tallebudgeraba Smales Park Photo by Gold Coast City Council

  • The wise and sustainable use of wetlands should provide the overarching goal for wetland site management and rehabilitation. This should ensure that the ecological character (e.g. local or surrounding ecology, botany, zoology, immunology or hydrology values) of the site provides the most beneficial outcomes for society. Is the wetland being managed in a way that is compatible with and does not impact on the natural properties of the ecosystem?
  • Maintenance of existing wetland values is more cost effective than re-creation of wetland values. Any management of wetlands need to consider the initial works and the ongoing maintenance activities and factor the costs of these stages into the rehabilitation action plan
  • As no two wetlands are the same, each wetland can provide a number of ecosystem services / values due to their flexible and dynamic nature, which actively responds to surrounding influences and changes. It is important to note, however, that wetlands cannot produce all ecosystem services at all times. So selecting the key services required of the wetland should dictate the rehabilitation and management actions based on pressures to these service e.g. the planting of some vegetation may encourage some birds but make the site unusable for others.
  • Wise wetland site management and rehabilitation should be undertaken in an adaptive management cycle where management is modified as conditions at the site change or new information becomes available
  • All wetland site management should be based on an integrated catchment management approach, where outside influences are considered
  • Stakeholder consultation should be initiated from an early stage in the process including with Traditional Owners. All wetland site management planning should consider impacts on a broad range of stakeholders (beneficiaries). Although everyone values wetlands differently, they have an impact on us all.
  • The management of wetlands can be technically challenging as these are complex systems and any actions should be conducted by appropriately qualified people which may include hydrologists, botanists, ecologists, engineers etc.
  • Any wetland rehabilitation needs to consider the cyclic nature of wetland dynamics and the future impacts of climate change and future development on these dynamics
  • Ensure that the actions taken do not cause environmental harm or break the law. Federal, state and local legislation and policy and planning need to be considered in any rehabilitation and management activities.
  • Consider the degree of documentation required for any project (promotion, communication, rehabilitation plan, site plan and ongoing monitoring)
  • Any site management or rehabilitation needs to integrate monitoring, reporting and review as this information can then lead to the improvement of future management activities
  • Celebrate success but, be careful that outcomes have actually been achieved in the long term (after several hydrological cycles have occurred).

Skills needed

Cundoot rehabilitation, Caboolture Catchment Photo by Moreton Bay Regional Council

Due to the complexity of wetlands, it is important to have an appropriate skill set or the ability consult with experts, if undertaking a wetland rehabilitation project. The sorts of skills needed would include but are not limited to:

  • Identification skills – of both native and invasive species of flora and fauna. If these skills are not available time may be required to learn which species are present on the site. If unsure of the correct identification, check against a site species list, consult with a competent ecologist, or, send the specimen to the Queensland Herbarium. It is important to have the ability to identify species at differing growth stages
  • Knowledge and understanding of ecological processes, how the wetland fits in the landscape, and habitat (particularly hydrology) needs including those related to corridors and refugia and seasonal variations for both species living in the area and those using the area e.g. more mobile or seasonal species such as bats and some birds
  • The ability to assess a site’s ecosystem resilience and expected response (negative or positive) to actions and of the steps that are planned to sustain, improve and / or protect the values of a site
  • Ability to know management and rehabilitation techniques and to understand which should be used to best mitigate degrading processes that are threatening the value of a site and the requirements for future
  • Observation, communication, navigation and first aid skills
  • Understanding of the best timing of follow-up work so as to maximise resources.
  • Knowledge of relevant legislation including occupational health and safety, environmental and heritage protection legislation and chemical use.

Additional information

Guidelines and tools

Queensland has developed a range of tools to help determine the best approach to the wetland rehabilitation project.



Other States, Australia and international

Pages under this section

Last updated: 10 September 2018

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2018) Wetland site management and rehabilitation, WetlandInfo website, accessed 13 May 2021. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science