Heath

Heath vegetation sceneHeath is usually found close to the coast on highly infertile sandy plains. The most extensive areas of heath in the state are found in the Furneaux Group of islands and in the north east. Small areas of heath are occasionally found on poorly-drained inland sites and rock-plate hill tops. Heath is dominated by shrubs less than 2 m tall in the tallest layer. The most common dominant species are tea-tree (Leptospermum species), paperbark (Melaleuca species), banksia (Banksia marginata), casuarina (Allocasuarina species), and grass-tree (Xanthorrhoea species).

Where to see heath

Heath can be seen alongside roads in Rocky Cape National Park, Waterhouse Point Protected Area, Mount William National Park, the Friendly Beaches section of Freycinet National Park, and at Remarkable Cave on the Tasman Peninsula.

Biodiversity values of heath

Heaths are well reserved in the state. However, the few surviving heaths in the driest parts of the state are significant because of their local rarity. The inland heaths of the north-east coastal plains and the Furneaux Group include some vegetation communities that are unreserved or poorly reserved.

Refer to Threatened Species for more information.

Management issues in heath

Heath vegetation sceneHeath is relatively resistant to invasion by weeds, provided that the nutrient levels of the soils are not raised. However, this vegetation type is particularly susceptible to shrub dieback caused by Phytophthora cinnamomi (cinnamon fungus) which has the potential to eliminate some heath species, such as the cone-bush (Isopogon ceratophyllus), from Tasmania.

Heath would be replaced by taller vegetation over almost all of its range in the long-term absence of fire. However, frequent fire will convert heath to sedgeland or bracken fernland.

Some of the more fertile heaths, particularly those in the north east, are used for grazing, especially after burning. However, fire followed by stock grazing appears to degrade these heathlands and encourage the invasion of weeds.

Grazing

Stock grazing is not appropriate in heath managed to maintain biodiversity. However, if you wish to continue using such areas for stock consider leaving the areas ungrazed for a couple of years following a fire as this will give the palatable species a chance to re-establish.

Fire

The general recommended fire frequency for heaths 10-30 years. However, the appropriate frequency for particular areas is best judged from the growth rates of the shrubs and the rate of decline in the number of plant species. If there appears to be no danger of heath converting to scrub and there is no loss of the smaller plant species, there is no biodiversity reason to burn.

Conversely, if the growth rate of the shrubs looks set to convert the heath into scrub, or if the smaller plant species are disappearing, burning will be beneficial.

Autumn burns are preferable to spring burns as they avoid harming ground-nesting birds such as the ground parrot. Ideally, fires should be intense enough to kill all the foliage but not so intense that they burn into the peat.

Weeds and disease in heath

Where there are no weeds in heath take care not to increase the fertility of the site through drift from aerial top-dressing, dumping of material, or diversion of drainage from higher nutrient areas. Increasing the fertility of the area will encourage weeds to colonise.
If there is some penetration of weeds into your heath there is little you can do apart from counteracting the possible causes such as nutrient drift or stock grazing. In some extreme cases it may be possible to restore heath by scraping off the nutrient-rich upper few centimetres of soil. If your heath is badly invaded by woody weeds eliminate the invading shrubs.

If the cinnamon fungus has invaded your area of heath make sure that you do not transfer any soil from infected areas to uninfected areas. If your heath is free of the fungus, clean all your boots, vehicles and machinery before entering the area as the fungus can be transported in mud and water.

See also:
Weeds on this site for more information


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