Woodlands were once common in the ACT region, covering most lower hill slopes. Since European settlement, they have been altered in various ways, with some threatened by extinction.
Woodland trees are of medium height (10-30m) with wide, spreading canopies which are clearly separated from one another. In south-east Australia, woodland trees are usually eucalypts with an understorey of shrubs, herbs and grasses.
Lowland woodlands occur below 1000m and grade into native grasslands in valleys below 650m. Upslope, woodlands merge into forests which have closely spaced trees.
Examples of ACT woodlands include:
- snow gum grassy woodland, which can be seen at the Aranda Snow Gums Heritage Site
- yellow box–red gum grassy woodland, which occurs on many nature reserves in the ACT, including Mt Ainslie–Mt Majura, Red Hill, Callum Brae, Murrumbidgee River Corridor
- dry shrubby box woodlands (which contain eucalypts such as mealy bundy, broad-leaved peppermint and red box), which can be seen at Wanniassa Hills, Tuggeranong Hill and McQuoids Hill nature reserves.
White box–yellow box–Blakely’s red gum grassy woodland is protected nationally under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act). Although the ACT has no white box eucalypts, this classification includes our yellow box–red gum grassy woodland, which is protected under the ACT Nature Conservation Act 1980.
- Map of endangered species/communities of the ACT
Protecting lowland woodlands
As some of the biggest, best connected, most botanically diverse examples of their type, ACT woodlands are nationally significant.
The critically endangered white box–yellow box–Blakely’s red gum grassy woodland is particularly important. Since settlement, the ACT has lost over two thirds of its yellow box–red gum grassy woodland. However, these areas comprise about half Australia's remaining lowland woodlands.
To ensure woodlands continue to survive well into the future, the ACT Government’s Woodlands for Wildlife – ACT Lowland Woodland Conservation Strategy (Action Plan 27) sets out how landholders, government and the community can help conserve lowland woodland and the species that depend on its habitats. This includes management of feral animal and weeds, strategic grazing, controlled burning and slashing, and revegetation.
A recent review of the Strategy found that the amount of woodland under – or identified for – conservation management has increased and that major woodland restoration is happening.
The ACT Government and local community groups regularly hold guided walks and restoration activities to help local residents learn more about woodlands and participate in their restoration.
Major woodland restoration projects include Restore ACT and Greater Goorooyarroo Woodlands, and the ACT Woodlands Restoration Project.
More than just trees
Most plant diversity in lowland woodlands resides in the understorey. Woodlands on deep, fertile soils tend to have grassy understoreys, while those on less fertile soils are more shrubby.
A variety of native tussock grasses such as kangaroo, wallaby and spear grasses and the soft-spreading weeping grass can be found. Shrubs may include the sticky-leaved Cassinia, silver wattle, hop-bush, bitter cryptandra and the spikey Australian blackthorn.
In spring and summer, wildflowers such as early nancys, billy buttons, bulbine lilies, orchids and bluebells add splashes of colour to the woodland floor.
Birds and animals abound
A woodland is a rich environment for the wide variety of animals, birds, insects and reptiles that use the different layers of trees, shrubs, herbs, native grasses and fallen timber. While many can be difficult to see, they often leave clues to their presence. For example, echidna scratchings at ant and termite nests, kangaroo and wallaby tracks in damp or sandy areas, and frog and bird calls.
Mulligans Flat Woodland Sanctuary, Campbell Park and Callum Brae have excellent woodland bird watching opportunities.
A home to threatened species
Some lowland woodlands provide habitat for threatened plants and animals.
Birds such as the brown treecreeper depend on fallen timber in woodlands for feeding sites. The hooded robin feeds on insects in the open woodland glades within lowland woodlands. Some swift and superb parrots nest in the trees during summer.
A long history of disturbance
Kangaroos and other native animals have been grazing woodlands for thousands of years. With European settlement came additional grazing by livestock. Some woodlands were cleared for settlements and eventually suburbs. Firewood collection, rock removal and weed and pest invasion continue to destroy animal and plant habitats and so threaten our remaining woodlands.
It is important to both restore the woodland areas and to ensure they are connected to each other through existing native vegetation corridors or ‘stepping stones’ of native trees. These corridors encourage species to move, contributing to biodiversity and woodland health.
While visiting woodlands:
- Bring your binoculars to better see the birds and the views.
- Pets can disturb native animals, so check whether they are allowed or if they need to be on leashes.
- Leave animals, plants, fallen timber and rocks where you find them.
- Leave only footprints. Take your rubbish home with you.