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Wild Rivers model

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Australian Heritage Commission

Latest documentation


Designed for use in




Assessment purpose

Prioritisation, Values/Services

Assessment criteria

Physical and chemical, Management and planning

Method type



Short term – Rerunning the model should be fast provided it is compatible with the latest ArcInfo software version.


Landscape/Catchment, Region

Wetland system


Description and method logic

Method purpose

The wild rivers model was developed to identify Australia’s wild rivers.


The Wild Rivers project defines a wild (or near-pristine) river as a channel, channel network or a connected network of water bodies, of natural origin and exhibiting overland flow in which the biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes associated with river flow; and the biological, hydrological and geomorphological processes in those parts of the catchment with which the river is linked; have not been significantly altered since European settlement.

Method logic

When developing a methodology for a national assessment, national, direct measures of river condition disturbance were found to be lacking and indirect measures known to relate to river condition and functioning were used. The wild rivers model was developed to produce indices of river disturbance using a grid-based GIS modelling procedure. These indices indicate the potential of a stream section to meet the definition of a wild river. The model is based on concepts of a disturbance continuum.

The model could be refined with improvements to the drainage analysis, primary disturbance database and varied rather than simple weightings.

Used with "Conservation Management Guidelines for Wild River Values" the wild rivers database provides a basis for maintaining the integrity of Australia's remaining wild rivers.

Criteria groupings of the method

Because of limited national data, indirect indicators were used to rate the wild river status of streams. Wilderness values were related disturbance to natural processes affecting river flow, either directly such as dams or indirectly through human changes to the catchment.

Data required

National Wilderness Index primary database (NWI), topographic data (GEODATA) and mineral occurrence locations database (MINLOC).

Resources required

Expertise required

Database, GIS.

Materials required

A database of the 1998 results of the Wild Rivers model is no longer available.
Improvements using more accurate data available since then would require the Wild Rivers software toolkit, ArcInfo with the GRID module and updated data.

Method outputs


  • Identified Natural Rivers lists with the name (where known) of each river that meets Commonwealth criteria for identification; the length of the "undisturbed" section(s) of that waterway; the total length of the river; and the percentage of the river below threshold
  • Identified Natural Rivers maps


  • To assist management authorities to maintain the natural condition of those few remaining wild rivers, where a decision has been made to manage the rivers for their wild river values
  • River management and planning
  • For use with for "Wild River Values Conservation Management Guidelines"

Criteria by category

    Physical and chemical

    • Stream disturbance
      • Flow division
      • Impoundment
      • Levee bank

    Management and planning

    • Sub-catchment disturbance
      • Infrastructure
      • Land use
      • Point source pollution
      • Settlement


Recommended user

Natural resource managers, government agencies.


  • National assessment of potential wild rivers with a consistent and transparent approach
  • Model is easily explained and interpreted i.e. weighted sum of indices
  • Disturbance data can be updated for local areas. This can be used to model the impact of a proposed development


  • Wild river index values are indicative of disturbance only, not conservation or other values
  • Weightings are notional
  • Results need to be verified using local knowledge

Case studies

(not documented)


  1. Stein, JL, Stein, JA & Nix, HA (1998), The Identification of Wild Rivers  - Methodology and Database Development, Environment Australia., Canberra.

Last updated: 7 February 2019

This page should be cited as:

Department of Environment and Science, Queensland (2019) Wild Rivers model, WetlandInfo website, accessed 1 February 2023. Available at:

Queensland Government
WetlandInfo   —   Department of Environment and Science