Australian Wetlands Database

Ramsar wetlands

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Gunbower Forest


Key facts and figures:

Date of listing:

15 December 1982

Gunbower Creek has been maintained at flood level during the irrigation season by three weirs (2005), Photo: John Baker

Australian Ramsar site number:



1, 2, 4, 8




19,931 hectares

Drainage Division or IMCRA  region:


Wetland type: 

  • 9 - Canals and drainage channels, ditches
  • M - Permanent rivers/streams/creeks; includes waterfalls
  • N - Seasonal/intermittent/irregular rivers/streams/creeks
  • O - Permanent freshwater lakes (over 8 ha); includes large oxbow lakes
  • Ts - Seasonal/intermittent freshwater marshes/pools on inorganic soils; includes sloughs, potholes, seasonally flooded meadows, sedge marshes
  • Xf - Freshwater, tree-dominated wetlands; includes freshwater swamp forests, seasonally flooded forests, wooded swamps on inorganic soils

Key features of the site:

Gunbower Forest is one of a series of river red gum forests on the Murray River floodplain in northern Victoria. Together with the adjoining Koondrook-Perricoota component of the NSW Central Murray Forests Ramsar site, Gunbower Forest comprises the second largest river red gum forest in Australia. It is also an Icon Site in the Living Murray program. The river red gums rely on regular flooding in late winter or early spring to survive.

River red gums inhabit the low-lying, more frequently flooded areas of Gunbower Forest. Infrequently flooded areas support woodlands dominated by black box, while grey box is found in areas not subject to inundation. River red gum has understoreys of wallaby grass, kangaroo grass, river swamp wallaby grass, and Warrego summer grass. Black box and grey box are associated with terrestrial grasses and shrubs for their understoreys.

The Ramsar site supports several species of waterbirds, including the only breeding colony of intermediate egret in Victoria. Other waterbird species that breed in Gunbower Forest are the Australian white ibis, Nankeen night heron, eastern great egret, and cormorants.

Several species of fish are recorded in the Ramsar wetland including golden perch, Murray cod and silver perch.

Gunbower Forest is an important indigenous cultural heritage area, featuring shell deposits, mounds, scar trees, burial sites, heaths and sacred sites. The Ramsar site is currently subject to multiple land uses including timber harvesting, firewood collection, and conservation. Recreational pursuits include fishing, camping, bushwalking, and bird watching.

Justification of the listing criteria:

The Gunbower Forest Wetlands Ramsar site meets four of the nine criteria:

Criterion 1: Gunbower is part of the second largest river red gum forest in the Murray Darling Basin (the largest being Barmah-Millewa Forest). The size and intact nature of this forested floodplain makes it one of the best representatives of the wetland type Xf in the bioregion.

Gunbower is also internationally important due to its hydrology as it forms an extensive area of intact floodplain between the Murray River and Gunbower Creek, and is one of few such areas with native vegetation in the bioregion.

Criterion 2: Five threatened species listed at the national and / or international level have been recorded within the boundary of the Gunbower Forest Ramsar site: Australasian bittern (Botaurus poiciloptilus); Murray cod (Maccullochella peelii); Silver perch (Bidyanus bidyanus); Swamp wallaby grass (Amphibromus fluitans); and Winged peppercress (Lepidium monoplocoides).

Criterion 4: The site meets this criterion based on the role of the site in supporting breeding of wetland birds, frogs, turtles and fish during periods of inundation. A total of 48 species of wetland bird have been recorded breeding within the Gunbower Ramsar site, which is over 70 per cent of the total wetland bird species richness for the site. In addition, there are records of fish spawning in wetland and stream habitats as well as at least two species of turtle and six species of frog.

Criterion 8: The site provides migratory routes for fish between habitat in the Murray River and floodplains; with Gunbower Creek an important passage for native fish. Native fish of the Murray River main channel utilise anabranch and flood runner channels when they are available. Native fish move into off-stream areas on rising flows, and make refuge movements into deeper waters during low flow periods. Many species spawn on the floodplains. Tagged fish have been recorded moving large distances from the site (up to 300 kilometres upstream and 900 kilometres downstream), which is indicative of pre- and post-spawning behaviour. River red gum forests make a significant contribution to in-stream nutrient accumulation and productivity through litterfall and provide important shelter in the form of coarse woody debris and shaded water.

Please see the More Information page for additional information on this Ramsar site and access to the Ramsar Information sheets and other associated site documents.