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Making progress in Byron’s rare Clay Heath

Ecological restoration work to restore the rare Byron Bay Graminoid Clay Heath is in its third year of a proposed ten year program.

To date, the works have included removal of weeds, non-native and native trees, planned burns and community workshops.

“The work is being undertaken as part of the Byron Clay Heath Restoration project with funding from the NSW Environmental Trust,” Byron Shire Council’s Biodiversity Officer, Clare Manning said.

Council’s appointed project officer and fire ecologist Andy Baker said the Clay Heath is a rare plant community found in only a two locations in Byron and Tweed Shires and provides unique habitat to a range of threatened flora and fauna.

“Less than 5% of the Clay Heath remains and it is now listed as an Endangered Ecological Community in NSW.

“It is also a significant cultural landscape for the Arakwal Aboriginal people who used fire to maintain the Clay Heath as a vital source of bush foods including edible tubers,” he said.

Why does it need restoration?

The biggest threat to the heathland’s future is the lack of fire over recent decades. 

Mr Baker said nearly all heath plants need fire to reproduce and to prevent taller trees from shading them out.

 “Without fire many species are at risk of local extinction. Fire can also inhibit weed and trees from spreading, and so offers an alternative weed control method.”

“Without restoration, all Clay Heath was on track to be gone by 2040,”

“The response of the heathland to planned burns in 2015 has been amazing, with mass germination and flowering of many plants that were previously rare, and at least one native plant species never before found in the Clay Heath.” he said.

The Office of Environment and Heritage (OEH) list tree encroachment as one of the main threats to clay heath.

How is the recovery progressing?

Clare Manning said the ecological restoration work is well underway and has been guided by a detailed Clay Heath Management Plan.

The aim of the plan is to restore the structure, function, dynamics and integrity of the Clay Heath vegetation and the natural processes it relies on to survive,” she said.

There has been input and support from the Paterson Hill Trust, NSW Fire & Rescue, NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service and local community.

“Over the last three years, several key weeds have largely been eradicated including Camphor Laurel, Watsonia and Singapore DaisyOther weeds such as Bitou Bush, Winter Senna, and Molasses Grass have also been significantly reduced,”  Ms Manning said.

Supported by the NSW Fire & Rescue and NSW Rural Fire Service several planned burns have been implemented between 2008 and 2015. 

“The planned burns have promoted Clay Heath recovery as well as provided hazard reduction benefits to the adjacent interface and created a ‘clean slate’ in terms of weed mass, significantly reducing hours of work and funds needed to manage weeds,” she said.

Some non-native and native trees shading out the Clay Heath have been carefully removed or controlled in-situ.

“Following planned burns and weed control, carefully selected planting has been carried out which is aiding the restoration process and providing the natural habitat of the animals and birds,” she said.

“New interpretative signage has also been installed in the Byron Bay area, near Clarkes Beach and at Paterson Hill,” she said.

“The aim of the signage is to raise public awareness of the rare Clay Heath and its importance to biodiversity and culture and how Council is managing these values,” she said.

Where to next?

“In partnership with the NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service, Council will be hosting a Clay Heath Community Field Day 1July 2017,” Ms Manning said.

The aim of the field day is to showcase the restoration works and how prescribed burns can reduce bushfire risk to neighbours while at the same time improve biodiversity and cultural outcomes.

Based on the success of previous planned burns, Council plans to undertake additional planned burns at other sites in the near future and will liaise with the NSW Fire & Rescue, the NSW Rural Fire Service, NSW National Parks & Wildlife Service and the local community.

 New interpretative signage at near Clarkes Beach. Photograph: Andy Baker

Media contact:

Media Communication Officer
Byron Shire Council
Ph: 02 6626 7320

Byron Shire is located at Australia's eastern-most point with a population of almost 29,000. It is a thriving community where residents and visitors live, work and play in a sustainable environment and where Council strives to deliver the highest standard of local government services and infrastructure.