Poor recovery of woody vegetation on sand and gravel mines in the Darwin region of the Northern Territory


  • Owen Price,

  • Damian Milne,

  • Charmaine Tynan

  • Owen Price, Damian Milne and Charmaine Tynan work in the Biodiversity Conservation Unit of the Department of Infrastructure, Planning and Environment (PO Box 496, Palmerston, NT 0831, Australia. Email: owen.price@nt.gov.au, damian.milne@nt.gov.au, charmaine.tynan@nt.gov.au). This study was part of a conservation planning project for the Darwin region.


Summary  Sand sheets near Darwin support a distinct heathland vegetation type which includes the habitat of several threatened species. Sand and gravel are extracted from shallow mines in this region. Woody vegetation recovery in 31 small, shallow former sand or gravel mine sites near Darwin that were up to 27 years old was assessed and compared to paired unmined control sites. Recovery in vegetation structure within each mine was calculated as the percentage of that in the control site. Mined sites recovered about 50% of their stem count and canopy cover, but only about 10% of basal area and mature tree count. Gravel mines showed poorer recovery than sand mines. Time since mining had no significant effect on the extent of recovery, but deeper mines had significantly poorer recovery. Only 35% of woody species in sand controls were present in mine sites, and 41% of gravel control species were present in former mine sites. It is unlikely that recovery will significantly improve in coming decades. Sand mining affects about 40 ha of land per year in this region, but is likely to increase in the future. If Darwin expands to a population of 1 million people, and mine sites are not fully rehabilitated, all of the sand-sheet vegetation in the region could be removed in the next 100 years. Improved rehabilitation and protection is crucial for the conservation of heathland vegetation in this region.