Department of land resource management

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Sensitive Vegetation in the Northern Territory


Sandsheet Heath

What is sandsheet heath?

Sandsheets have acidic infertile soils overlaying 

an impermeable deposit of clay or laterite, and are 

flooded during the wet season.

Heath is the term used to describe the community 

of plants found on the sandsheet. 

Sandsheet heath has a mix of species, typically 

with a diverse understorey of herbs and sedges 

and an overstorey of small trees or shrubs such as 

Grevillea pteridifolia, Banksia dentata, Verticordia 

cunninghamii and Melaleuca nervosa. 

These seasonally saturated wetlands are 

important habitat for almost all of the carnivorous 

Utricularia species (bladderwort herbs) found in 

the Darwin region.

Sandsheet Heath is also frequently associated with 

monsoon rainforests, other wetlands and riparian 

vegetation. These are all restricted vegetation 

types in the Territory and hotspots for biodiversity.

Why is sandsheet heath significant?

Sandsheet heath is a rare vegetation type present 

in the Darwin region, covering 56 km


. Although 

not formally listed as threatened, seasonally-

saturated sandsheets supporting a heathland 

or wet herbfield are highly restricted and are 

identified as an ecosystem at risk within the 

Darwin region. 

Many plant and animal species have adapted 

to, and are largely or entirely restricted to this 

habitat type, including the Howard River Toadlet 

(Uperoleia daviesae)

The Howard River Toadlet was discovered in 

2000, and although little is known about the 

species it appears to be confined to these 

seasonally flooded sandy-plains. The Toadlet is 

the only Territory frog that is listed as threatened.


Bladderworts (genus Utricularia) are a 

fascinating group of small carnivorous plants 

which have specialist traps for capturing and 

digesting small insects. These plants are well 

adapted to life in a low-nutrient environment.  

The Top End is among the richest places in 

the world for Bladderworts and their diversity is 

highest on the sand plain habitats in the Darwin 

rural area. At least 26 Bladderwort species 

occur here, especially along the Howard River 

and Adelaide River flood plains. Seven of these 

are officially recognised under NT legislation as 

‘Vulnerable’ or ‘Near Threatened’. 

Other threatened Sandsheet Heath plant 

species include orchids and the herb Typhonium 


Sandsheet Heath


Land clearing for mineral extraction and rural 

or agricultural expansion is currently the most 

significant management issue affecting the 

conservation values of the sandsheet heath. 

Vegetation fragmentation and hydrological change 

in the catchment are also likely to be affecting 

susceptible wetland and rainforest habitats.  

As land use intensifies near Darwin, there is a 

high likelihood that increased nutrient flows from 

nearby areas will have a detrimental impact on 

the plants and animals which are adapted to the 

low nutrient environment of the sandsheets.

Recreational misuse of these sensitive 

environments is increasingly apparent as the 

population of Darwin continues to grow. This 

includes fire-bug activity in the region, leading to 

increased frequencies of fires in some areas. 

Exotic grasses are becoming more widespread 

and fuelling hotter and more destructive fires. 

Recreational use of vehicles in these sandy areas 

leaves deep ruts which affect the local hydrology.

References and Further Reading 

Land Clearing Guidelines

Sites of Conservation Significance 

Threatened Species

What can we do to conserve  

sandsheet heath? 

Ideally for conservation, development should be 

excluded from areas where threatened and rare 

species are known to be concentrated.

Investigate establishing conservation 

agreements on areas of private land 

containing sandsheet heath or developing 

other forms of reservation.

You can make a difference by:

Spreading the word about the importance of 

sandsheet heath areas. They are sensitive to 

disturbance and contain threatened species.

Preventing fire-bug activity in these areas. 

Reduce the frequency of fires.

Preventing the spread of exotic grasses, 

especially mission grasses and gamba 

grass, into new areas in the Darwin region. 

Have an active weed management plan for 

your property.

Reducing exotic grasses in areas with high 

conservation value such as the Howard 

sandsheets, or where fires threaten 


Retaining native vegetation patches, buffers 

and corridors within the horticultural and 

rural lands around and to the east of Darwin.

Preventing recreational activities, such as 

four wheel driving and quad bike riding, in 

these sensitive areas. 

Utricularia hamiltonii

I. Cowie

I. Cowie

Utricularia holtzei

Calochilus caesius

B. Stuckey

Northern Territory Planning Scheme

Other Fact Sheets in this series 

Monsoon Rainforest 

Mangrove Forest 

Old-Growth Forest 

Riparian Vegetation

Further Information 

Department of Land Resource Management 

Ph. 08 8999 3631

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