Coastal heath habitat Click to enlarge image
Coastal Heath, Royal National Park, NSW Image: Melissa Murray
Courtesy Australian Museum, Public Domain, Photographer: Melissa Murray, Date: [year] (This image is in the Australian Museum collection, but copyright has expired. This licence allows sharing, remixing and use for commercial purposes)

Heathlands form in areas where soil and wind conditions prevent the growth of tall trees. This habitat is found mostly near windswept, salt-sprayed coastal areas; on clay soils, sand dunes and, most typically, sandstone.

Features of heath include:

  • plants that are shorter than two metres
  • plants that cover at least a third of the ground area
  • plants that are mostly shrubs and stunted trees like Banksia, Angophora, Lomandra, Hakea, and Xanthorrea

Heathland plants can grow into dense, prickly thickets, even on the thin soils of coastal headlands. These dense thickets provide excellent cover for birds and reptiles in search of insects and other invertebrates. Also, many of the plants flower, providing a spectacular wildflower display and attracting a diverse range of insects and other animals.

At least ten types of heath plant communities are found in the Sydney area including a number of sandstone, dune and clay heathlands. One type, Dune Heath once stretched from Botany Bay to what is now Centennial Park, but the city has now grown to over run virtually all this area.

Urban development is the main threat to heath habitats and Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub heath is listed as an endangered Ecological Community in New South Wales.