Protecting rare and threatened species in Byron Bay

Saving our Species is working to ensure the survival of the endangered Byron Bay diuris and its habitat – the Byron Bay Dwarf Graminoid Clay Heath threatened ecological community, a special remnant assemblage of plants, including some not found anywhere else on Earth.

Byron Bay diuris (Diuris byronensis)

A threatened ecological community

The Byron Bay Dwarf Graminoid Clay Heath (Clay Heath) provides critical habitat for a range of threatened plant species, including the extremely rare and endangered Byron Bay diuris (Diuris byronensis), and provides habitat for several threatened animals including frogs, bats and rodents.

Only 5% of the original Clay Heath remains, occurring in a few small isolated remnants that are still at risk from environmental weeds, fragmentation and stormwater pollution. However, perhaps the greatest threat to this ecological community has been the absence of fire over recent decades.

The Clay Heath habitat, and many of the plants within it, including the Byron Bay diuris, need fire to reproduce; without fire species simply die out. But worse still, the absence of fire allows fernland to encroach on the Clay Heath and trees to spread into it. These forest and woodland tree species can form a shady canopy altering the heathland beneath, and also provide perching sites for birds that further spread invading trees.

Ecological burns were conducted on several large sections of the Clay Heath in 2018. This made a significant difference to the habitat. It was also hoped that these burns would stimulate growth and flowering of the Byron Bay diuris. Unfortunately, this has not been the case, and the species is still only being recorded in single digit numbers. It means we have to again look at our management of this species and the Clay Heath and consider additional management actions, especially the use of smaller but more intense ecological burns.

Restoring light and fire

In response, contractors working under the Saving our Species program have been restoring the clay heath by removing the encroaching trees, such as broad-leaved paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia), swamp box (Lophostemon suaveolens), pink bloodwood (Corymbia intermedia), coastal wattle (Acacia sophorae) and coast banksia (Banksia integrifolia).

Removing these native intruders triggers a rapid recovery of the heathy shrubs, grasses and sedges that form the Clay Heath community. Common species include the fern-leaved banksia (Banksia oblongifolia), hairy bushpea (Pultenaea villosa), kangaroo grass (Themeda australis) and broad sword sedge (Lepidosperma laterale).

Other recovery actions being undertaken include planning for future ecological burns and actions that address stormwater pollution, all of which are helping to ensure the ongoing survival of the Clay Heath into the future.

You can learn more about the TEC on the Byron Bay Dwarf Graminoid Clay Health Community profile page