A Short Story About Australia's Native Grasslands

When European settlers first arrived in Australia, much of the continent was covered by grasslands and grassy woodlands. Many of the explorers referred to grasses as the dominant plants in the landscape. They glowingly reported the richness of the countryside. Kangaroo Grass

For thousands of years, the grasslands and grassy woodlands had been periodically burned, either as the result of lightning strikes, or by the firestick farming of native Australians. As a result, shrub and tree growth was suppressed, and grasses - mostly tussocky, persistent perennials - flourished.

Since then, altered land-management - land-clearing for European-style cropping, intensive grazing and the introduction of ‘improved’ pastures, and the suppression of fire - has changed these grasslands. Now, less than 1% of the original temperate grasslands and grassy woodlands remains intact.

What is a Grassland?

A grassland is a mixture of grasses, bulbs, lilies, daisies, hardy ferns and small shrubs with pea flowers. There are few or no trees. Weeping Rice Grass

What is a Grassy Woodland?

Grassy woodlands have scattered mature trees as well as younger trees ‘in waiting’. As well as the grassland plants, a grassy woodland will have a selection of scattered larger shrubs.

Why Are Native Grasslands and Grassy Woodlands Important?

Grasslands are complex systems. Above ground, they support diverse and interdependent plant, insect, bird and animal communities. Underground, vital soil organisms such as earthworms enhance the infiltration of water. As these animals and plants break down, they add to the soil's fertility. Plants also protect the soil surface from erosion.

Across Australia, large areas of our best farming land are being made unusable by increasing soil salinity and acidification. If we want to be able to rehabilitate our degraded soils and water courses, we need to learn much more about our grassland communities. In addition, in a world where climate change is highly likely, grasses - which are very adaptable plants - are bound to have an important role in future land management.

More information is available in the brochures below as well as in our publications available to order.

Brochures available to download

> Benefits of Conserving and Using Native Grasses (pdf 254kb)
> Native Grassy Habitats of the Mount Lofty Ranges (pdf 999kb)*
     * (produced by the Nature Conservation Society with the support of NGRG)

> Understanding C3 and C4 native grass species (pdf 181kb)
> Get the free Adobe Acrobat Reader (required to view these files).