The endangered Growling Grass Frog is continuing to thrive at Bendigo Water Reclamation Plant in Epsom thanks to the diverse and protected habitat the plant provides.

Our plant has 67 hectares of lagoons, treatment ponds and dams that have a high biodiversity value.

Our treatment lagoons provide an ideal habitat with plenty of algae and ample rocks for protection from predators. This allows the frogs to emerge, feed and bask.

Both the treatment process and the treated water are providing excellent habitat and environmental benefits for this endangered species.

We are committed to protecting the species and give special consideration for its habitat when planning projects at the plant or making significant changes to our operational activities.

Growling Grass Frog Annual Survey

Taskforce Growler

We have joined forces with the Winton Wetlands to translocate some of the Growling Grass Frogs from the Bendigo Water Reclamation Plant to the Winton Wetlands. This project is known as Taskforce Growler.

Growling Grass Frogs were once common in wetland ecosystems but are now regarded as an endangered species in Victoria (FFG Act) and elsewhere in their natural range. They were once present at Winton Wetlands and have not been recorded in recent years and are now locally extinct. However, they are important species in an ecosystem as they are predators of other frogs and insects.

They are also large and know to be a crucial food source for predatory wetland birds, which the wetlands are also trying to support. Ultimately, rewilding of the species will help secure this species status locally and regionally, increase biodiversity on site and will restore critical ecological functions and processes to Winton Wetlands.

Growling Grass Frog relocation

Taskforce Growler - Your questions answered

Growling Grass Frogs were once common in wetland ecosystems but are now regarded as a vulnerable species in Victoria, Australia, and elsewhere in their natural range. They were once present at Winton Wetlands but have not been recorded for many years and are now considered locally extinct.

However, they are an important species in the wetland ecosystem as they are predators of other frogs and insects, functionally different from other frog species. They are also large and known to be a crucial food source for predatory wetland birds, which the Winton Wetlands Committee of Management wants to support and encourage.

If a healthy population of ‘growlers’ can be re-established on the reserve, the benefits will be three-fold. It will:

1) help restore ecological function and biodiversity to the wetlands

2) help prove the method being used to rewild the species in a wetland

3) create a valuable local ‘source’ population for further rewilding events in other wetlands within the region.

In short, rewilding of this species will help secure the species’ status locally and regionally, increase biodiversity on-site and will restore critical ecological functions and processes to Winton Wetlands. This in turn will make a contribution to the health of the broader natural environment in which human communities live.

Growling Grass Frogs occupy a distinctive place in the wetland eco-system, one not occupied by other frog species. They help to maintain population balance, being both predator and prey for other species. They are particularly attractive as prey to some larger birds and reptiles.

They might well be described as an iconic species.

Consideration of the re-introduction of growlers goes back to 2012, not long after the establishment of Winton Wetlands as a wetland restoration project, when preliminary work got under way to assess causes of the decline of the species across its traditional territory.

Each year a Science Forum is held on-site at Winton Wetlands. A workshop held as part of the 2016 Science Forum identified that a return of the Growling Grass Frog to Winton Wetlands would be feasible and worthwhile as part of the overall wetland restoration program.

Leading Growling Grass Frog expert Dr Geoff Heard confirmed the Mokoan Ponds area of the reserve as suitable habitat for the species in 2021.

Winton Wetlands Committee of Management has been collaborating and sharing knowledge with other groups working on the species including the Nature Glenelg Trust in South Australia, Melbourne Water, Taronga Zoo and the Victorian Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action.

Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority, North Central Catchment Management Authority and West Gippsland Catchment Management Authority all have ambitions to expand growler habitat with possible translocations and these agencies have maintained contact with one another.

Winton Wetlands’ overall ecological renewal program is guided by an Environmental Strategic Advisory Panel and key strategic planning documents. Panel members are:

  • Professor Max Finlayson (Charles Sturt University)
  • Professor Peter Gell (Federation University)
  • Dr. Michelle Casanova (Federation University)
  • Dr. Catherine Allan (Charles Sturt University)
  • Susan Campbell (Community Member)
  • Geoff Barrow (Friends of Winton Wetlands and Community Member)
  • Suz Christison (Winton Wetlands Committee of Management)
  • Dr. Dennis O’Brien (Chair, Winton Wetlands Committee of Management)
  • A representative from the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action

Not quite. The process of investigation, planning and preparation has been extensive, with careful scrutiny and approvals required at both State and Federal levels.

These approvals take into account the skills and expertise of the people involved, the precautionary measures in place to deal with potential incidents such as the outbreak of disease, and other health, safety and animal welfare considerations.

The final approval requirement, under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity

Conservation Act (1999), was provided by the Federal Environment Minister, Tanya Plibersek, in February 2023, on her department’s recommendation.

The translocation from Bendigo to Winton involved many steps along the way.

At Bendigo, frogs were captured by hand and assessed for general health. Swabs were done to check for chytrid fungus and genetic samples were taken, using ethically approved protocols. For transport, animals were housed in individual sealed and disinfected containers. Transport containers were stored in climate-controlled eskies placed into climate-controlled cars. To minimise the time between capture at Bendigo and release at Winton, animals were transported overnight. Health checks of all transported animals were conducted every hour during transport and then again on arrival at the Winton facility. This translocation involved a team of 12 people including Winton Wetlands staff, researchers and volunteers (six at each end).

The project has involved three stages, recognising risks and the need to proceed with care.

The first stage assessed habitat suitability and disease risks, and entailed the set-up of a system of monitoring using audio recorders and software. The risks in translocation were also examined, and facilities designed to enable the breeding and re-introduction of the species.

The second stage saw the establishment of translocation protocols, approvals and quarantine facilities; a breeding and feeding system; development of a research plan, and monitoring equipment being put in place.

With the arrival of the first growlers, a third stage is commencing (see below).

Very much so. A key part of the third stage of the project is the launch of Taskforce Growler, a citizen science and engagement project.

It seeks to achieve community interest and involvement in the return of growlers to the region, through activities which include helping to provide food for growlers by supplying edible insects and other bugs, as well as the establishment of a network of practitioners able to share their knowledge about all aspects of growler conservation.

Taskforce Growler will support the success of this project long term across northern Victoria.

The initial preparatory stages were funded by Wettenhall Environment Trust and the Ross Trust (philanthropic trusts), along with the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority and the Murray Darling Basin Authority. Funding for subsequent stages is being sought through philanthropic sources and (it is hoped) from Federal Government grants. Further community fund-raising is also under way.

If you wish to help fund this important work, donations can be made via the links provided on the Winton Wetlands website - Donations are tax deductible.