DEPARTMENT OF LAND RESOURCE MANAGEMENT
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.
Sandsheet heath is a rare vegetation type present
in the Darwin region, covering 56 km
saturated sandsheets supporting a heathland
or wet herbfield are highly restricted and are
identified as an ecosystem at risk within the
Many plant and animal species have adapted
to, and are largely or entirely restricted to this
habitat type, including the Howard River Toadlet
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
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.
Ideally for conservation, development should be
species are known to be concentrated.
Investigate establishing conservation
containing sandsheet heath or developing
other forms of reservation.
You can make a difference by:
Spreading the word about the importance of
disturbance and contain threatened species.
Preventing fire-bug activity in these areas.
Preventing the spread of exotic grasses,
grass, into new areas in the Darwin region.
Have an active weed management plan for
Reducing exotic grasses in areas with high
sandsheets, or where fires threaten
Retaining native vegetation patches, buffers
rural lands around and to the east of Darwin.
Preventing recreational activities, such as
these sensitive areas.
Department of Land Resource Management
Ph. 08 8999 3631