From paddock to park: removal of licensed grazing in Warby-Ovens National Park

C. Pascoe
Published: 16 June 2021
Last edited: 16 June 2021
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Warby-Ovens National Park was established in 2010 with the addition of over 4,000 hectares of riverine woodland and forest along the lower reaches of Ovens River to Victoria’s parks estate. This state-owned land had been used under license as a resource to water and graze stock since European settlement in 1838. The lower Ovens River and floodplain is a place of significance to the Yorta Yorta people as it was a source of food, fibre and medicine and provided places to camp, hunt, fish, swim and connect with traditional cultures and stories. Creation of the park led to the removal of grazing rights to protect this area of cultural and conservation significance, with grazing licenses successfully phased out by 2013. The park now protects some of the best examples of iconic River Red Gum vegetation in the state, with the Ovens River being one of only two unregulated rivers in Victoria.


Scale of implementation
Forest ecosystems
Freshwater ecosystems
River, stream
Temperate deciduous forest
Access and benefit sharing
Erosion prevention
Habitat fragmentation and degradation
Land management
Local actors
Outreach & communications
Land and Forest degradation
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Changes in socio-cultural context
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Sustainable development goals
SDG 3 – Good health and well-being
SDG 6 – Clean water and sanitation
SDG 14 – Life below water
SDG 15 – Life on land
Aichi targets
Target 11: Protected and conserved areas
Target 15: Ecosystem restoration and resilience


Warby-Ovens National Park, Victoria
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The removal of grazing from Warby-Ovens National Park was undertaken as part of a large, complex project to revoke grazing licences in a number of newly declared parks protecting River Red Gum Forest. This was a highly contentious land management change.


Many adjoining landholders and licensees believed it was their right to graze the Ovens River floodplains, given the practice had occurred over many generations. There was poor understanding of licence conditions with licensees often believing they had 99-year leases rather than the one- or five-year grazing license they held. Boundaries between public and private land were poorly understood, with many encroachments onto public land. Other challenges included fencing park boundaries within a floodplain, lack of alternative water sources for stock, and fears around compulsory land acquisition.


Grazing had resulted in significant impacts on environmental values including trampling of wetlands, reduced water quality and erosion of the river bank.


  • Natural and cultural values that are now protected.
  • Graziers who received funding for new fencing and water infrastructure
  • Community and park visitors who gained access to the river for recreational and social activities such as camping, canoeing and picnicking.

How do the building blocks interact?

The legislated processes and clear recommendations from VEAC set the basis for the Government to commit to the removal of grazing and the creation of Warby-Ovens National Park and other new River Red Gum parks. Funding provided essential support to affected grazers and significantly reduced the financial impact on most of the affected farmers. This, coupled with strong engagement, including many hours of discussion and getting to know farmers on a personal level, facilitated the transition of grazed land to national park, with many in the farming community previously opposed to the park becoming strong advocates for its continued protection.


The removal of grazing has seen a significant improvement in the condition of habitat and water quality along the lower Ovens River and associated floodplain. The park boundary is clearly established, with fencing erected along practical lines to ensure damage from flooding is minimised and boundary markers have been installed where this is not possible. The river frontage is now accessible for public use.  A positive working relationship has been established with most neighbours, resulting in greater community support for the park and understanding of the values it protects.


Parks Victoria

Who would have thought that native fish would be scared of the dark?


In 2017, following significant research and planning, North East Catchment Management Authority, Parks Victoria, the Department of Environment, Land, Water & Planning, Yorta Yorta Nation Aboriginal Corporation and the Arthur Rylah Institute for Environmental Research undertook a project to restore native fish passage within the Warby Ovens National Park by constructing two purpose-built fish-ways.


The fish-ways were needed to support migration of 15 native fish species up and down the Ovens River and its adjoining tributaries following a flood event in 2012 that closed fish migration pathways. Research  revealed that historical concrete culverts and corduroy (log) crossings were restricting native fish migration and breeding, as native fish are often reluctant to swim into a dark tunnel.


During the design phase of this project, it was decided that not only was fish movement key to the success but also the need to incorporate emergency / tourism access and structural longevity into the final design. The result was a structure designed to allow sunlight to enter the fishway that had purpose-built fish refuges to facilitate the needs of different size native fish as they moved upstream and that could support heavy firefighting equipment and the needs of tourists and their recreational vehicles.


Developing solutions for fish passage was identified as one of the key factors for success in the recovery of native fish populations.

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Andrew McDougall Parks Victoria