Natural Temperate Grassland - An endangered ecological community
When European settlers first arrived in Australia they found large areas of natural grassland-naturally open areas covered with grass and other herbs but with few or no trees. In temperate southern Australia most of the original grassland has been replaced by cereal crops, pasture grasses and town and cities. These natural temperate grassland communities are now probably the most threatened ecosystem in Australia. Only 0.5% remains in good condition.
Natural temperate grassland occurs in areas where few trees grow because of factors such as low temperatures, low rainfall and infertile or clay soils. In the ACT they generally occur in valleys below 625 metres in altitude.
Perennial tussocks which may grow up to one metre in height give a characteristic appearance to natural temperate grassland. Below and between these tussocks grow other grasses, wildflowers and sometimes mosses an lichens.
Only about 5% (1000 ha) of the ACT's original natural temperate grassland remains in moderate to good condition. Thirty nine locations have been identified but most are very small, with only four sites having an area greater than 100 ha. Threats to their continued well-being include urban development, change in rural land use, weed invasion and unplanned fires.
Species that depend on a threatened community for habitat may themselves be at risk of extinction. Threatened grassland species in the ACT include the Striped Legless Lizard, the Eastern Lined Earless Dragon and the Button Wrinklewort.
Several mechanisms are employed to introduce conservation measures to land containing natural temperate grassland. Nature reserves have been established in Gungahlin and West Belconnen. Memorandums of Understanding are being developed with Commonwealth landholders. Property Management Agreements with rural lessees identify conservation requirements and special management measures are applied to small urban open spaces.