Abstract Invasive exotic plants are a significant threat to areas of conservation value, with endangered ecological communities being especially vulnerable. We assessed the role of different anthropogenic disturbances in determining the success of exotic plants in the endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland community of western Sydney and examined the impact of these disturbances on soil characteristics that are likely to impact on vegetation, including total P, pH, water retention capacity, organic matter content and electrical conductivity. The disturbance types were: (i) land use incorporating clearing, agriculture and grazing by stock; (ii) creeks draining a developed catchment; and (iii) roads. Remnants that had been cleared and grazed had higher exotic and lower native species richness and cover than all other disturbance types. Areas that had been grazed but not cleared did not have more exotic species richness or cover than uncleared/ungrazed areas, thus retaining high conservation value. Areas within 2 m of a creek edge had higher exotic species richness and cover than areas further from the creek edge. Areas downslope of sealed roads had significantly higher exotic species richness and cover than areas below unsealed roads. No single soil attribute or combination of soil attributes was consistently able to account for variation in exotic species cover under the different disturbance types. Thus it appears that other factors such as site history and propagule pressure may be more important in determining exotic species success than soil characteristics alone, in this vegetation community.