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Published September 30th 2019
Learn about a rare natural habitat unique to Western Sydney
Have you heard about the endangered Cumberland Plain Woodland? It is a rare natural habitat which is unique to Western Sydney. In fact, Cumberland Plain Woodland once covered 125,000 hectares of the Sydney basin, from Parramatta to Penrith, north-west to Kurrajong and south-west to Picton. However, due to heavy clearing for farmland and urban growth, there is now less than 9% of the original Cumberland Plain Woodland remaining. Unfortunately, this means it is now listed as a Critically Endangered Ecological Community.
Explore the Cumberland Plain Woodland on this walk
Fortunately, there are natural remnants of Cumberland Plain Woodland vegetation within the Australian Botanic Garden at Mount Annan and visitors can experience this unique habitat on the Woodland Walk The self-guided walk is approximately 4 kilometres long and is classified as easy. There are a number of interpretive signs and various sculptures along the way and you should allow around an hour to complete the walk.
The Cumberland Plain Woodland is a type of grassy woodland which has a predominance of grasses and herbs in the understorey, as opposed to shrubs. It also features three main eucalypt species - the Forest Red Gum, Grey Box, and the Narrow-leaved Ironbark. The woodland is home to wildlife such as the Tawny Frogmouth, Wallaroo, Swamp Wallaby and Bearded Dragon as well as a variety of birds. Since 1988 scientists have been studying the ecology and monitoring change in the remnant vegetation at the Australian Botanic Garden, which is being managed for long-term protection as well as for scientific research.
The lush Connections Garden was the starting point for my walk
I started the Woodland Walk from the beautiful Connections Garden which is adjacent to the Visitor Centre. The Connections Garden showcases the development of plants over time and examines the connections between people and the natural world. You can explore this lush setting as you head up to the top of the Connections Garden, along the pathways or via the stairs. Behind the Connections Garden there is a path leading to the reservoir at the top of the hill. From here you can view the urban development surrounding the Garden.
The track then heads down the hill and leads you to the Ironbark Woodland, which runs along the western boundary of the Garden. The woodland features Eucalyptus crebra, commonly known as Narrow-leaved Ironbark. This tree is recognisable from its thick, rough, greyish-black bark. You may also notice a native climber, Clematis glycinoides, known as Headache vine, which has white spring flowers and fluffy seed heads.
Further along the track you will pass the back gates of the Garden. In this section of the walk you will find a number of interpretive signs, which outline the use of fire to manage the ecology of the woodland, the importance of the grass understorey, and the woodland wildlife. One species which is unique to this habitat is the Cumberland Land Snail, an endangered species that only occurs in Western Sydney. They live under logs and debris such as leaf and bark litter and feed on fungi, unlike common garden snails which eat plants.
Features of this section of the track are the dry creek bed and a large ants nest. At the end of this section of track, you will also come across the Snails sculptures. They were produced by Ken Polsen in 2005 to raise awareness of the rare Cumberland Land Snail. The sculptures were carved out of solid Radiata Pine using a chainsaw.
Sculptures raise awareness for the endangered Cumberland Land Snail
To continue on the walk you must cross Cunningham Drive. Here you will pass another sculpture called Figures in the Landscape. This sculpture was designed and created by Gary Christian and uses laser and oxy cutting to explore the connection between people and nature.
The trees in this section appear to be denser and taller and it is here you can find all three eucalypts that make up the Cumberland Plain Woodland - the Forest Red Gum (Eucalyptus tereticornis), Grey Box (Eucalyptus moluccana) and the Narrow-leaved Ironbark (Eucalyptus crebra).
Can you spot the three eucalypts that make up the Cumberland Plain Woodland?
As you pass the billabong take the boardwalk to the Stolen Generations Memorial. The sculptural centrepiece of the memorial was designed and carved by Badger Bates, a Paakantyl artist from western NSW. It is a quiet, beautiful and peaceful place to sit and reflect.
The memorial is located in a small remnant of rare Sydney Coastal River Flat Forest along Mount Annan Creek. The soil here is more fertile alluvial soil and it supports very large Forest Red Gums, some of which are up to 30 metres high. It is certainly a lot greener in this section than in earlier parts of the walk.
In this final section, the boardwalk will lead you back towards the Australian PlantBank. Alternatively, you can veer left and the track will take you through to the overflow car park and back to the Visitor Centre.
I found the most noticeable animals on this walk were the birds. You will undoubtedly hear their calls and will probably see some as well. I came across Cockatoos, Rainbow and Musk Lorikeets and Superb Fairy Wrens during my walk.
The vegetation is a lot greener in this section of the walk
The walk is a loop which you can join anywhere, however, I found the easiest place to start was at the Visitor Centre. There is a Woodland Walk brochure available from the Visitor Centre or you can download a copy here.
However, even with the brochure in hand I still had trouble finding the track, until I realised I should be looking for the trail markers illustrated by a green bushwalker. Once you know what you're looking for, the track is fairly easy to find. The walk is rated as easy and is mainly flat with only a few small hills. It is advisable to wear enclosed shoes, a hat and take water with you on this walk.
Follow me - Look for this trail marker
While the bushland of Western Sydney was once thought of as unsightly scrub, it is now recognised as a unique type of habitat which is not found anywhere else in Australia. The Woodland Walk at the Australian Botanic Garden will give you a new appreciation for the unique environment of the Cumberland Plain Woodland.
For more information about visiting the Australian Botanic Garden, click here.
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The garden is open every day of the year. During Summer opening hours are from 8am - 7pm, while during Autumn, Winter and Spring the garden is open from 8am - 5pm.
Entry to the garden is via Narellan Road, Mount Annan.