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North Head is a large, iconic sandstone “tied” island that stands guard on the northern side of the entrance to Sydney Harbour. Covering 385 hectares, it is a site of high ecological value incorporating the largest remaining area of endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub as well as a threatened population of Long-nosed Bandicoots.
AWC works in partnership with the Sydney Harbour Federation Trust to deliver a suite of science projects within the North Head Sanctuary. The Sanctuary, comprising 74 ha of land held by the Trust, is managed in an integrated manner with the adjoining Sydney Harbour National Park. Together, the Sanctuary and the National Park protect most of North Head, representing one of the most important sites for biodiversity conservation within the Sydney Basin.
Due to its geography and history, North Head is relatively isolated despite its proximity to Sydney. This and active management has allowed a number of species to persist in the area, with North Head Sanctuary home to a diverse array of flora and fauna. Notable species include an endangered population of the Long-nosed Bandicoot (Perameles nasuta), as well as threatened species such as the Eastern Bentwing-bat (Miniopterus schreibersii oceanensis), Grey-headed Flying-fox (Pteropus poliocephalus), Powerful Owl (Ninox strenua) and Barking Owl (Ninox connivens).
However, like the rest of Australia, North Head has suffered local extinction of a suite of species since European settlement, most notably Brown Antechinus, Eastern Pygmy Possum, Eastern Quoll, Spotted-tailed Quoll, Swamp Wallaby and Bush Rats. The reintroduction of locally extinct species and the resumption of ecological processes in which these species participate (e.g. seed and spore dispersal, pollination, herbivory, predation) is an important component of the ecological restoration of North Head.
AWC’s primary focus at North Head Sanctuary is the conservation of surviving native species and the return of locally extinct species such as the native Bush Rat. AWC also implements a range of science projects relevant to the restoration of the biodiversity of North Head including the Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub.
North Head is an outlying remnant of the Hornsby Plateau with a diverse range of habitats. The sandstone headland is connected to the mainland only by a sand spit. North Head Sanctuary is located on the highest part of the peninsula and encompasses shrub, open banksia heath, sections of fern and wetland vegetation communities.
The white quartz covered sand dunes at the centre of North Head are some of the last examples of undisturbed, vegetated high level sand dunes in the Sydney region. Characteristic of the Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub community, nutrient poor soils of Aeolian dune sands overlay the Hawkesbury Sandstone throughout much of North Head Sanctuary.
Sydney has a temperate climate, with warm summers and mild winters. Rainfall is spread throughout the year, with peaks in February, March and June. Bushfire season runs from October to March, however most of North Head has not been burnt for over 50 years.
North Head Sanctuary is located on Sydney Harbour Federation Trust land and was historically used by the Australian Defence Force prior to and during WWII and the School of Artillery up until 1998 and opened to the public in 2007.
The dominant habitat of North Head Sanctuary is the endangered ecological community Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub. Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS) now covers less than 3% of its original distribution. North Head is home to half of all the remaining ESBS, with 49 ha within the North Head Sanctuary and 28 ha on surrounding Sydney Harbour National Park. This ecological community contains a wide composition of flora species including Banksia spp., Leptospermum laevigatum, Xanthorrhoea resinifera and small native forbs, grasses and shrubs. However, sections of the ESBS are highly senescent, with Tea Tree (L. laevigatum) dominating and excluding the regeneration of other plants.
There is a network of hanging swamp wetlands in North Head, with pockets of heath, fern, shrubland and forest. Several rare and endangered flora species also persist here including Camfields Stringybark (Eucalyptus camfieldii), the Sunshine Wattle sub-species Acacia terminalis ssp terminalis and Hairy Geebung (Persoonia hirsuta).
The science program is delivered by AWC Wildlife Ecologist, Dr. Vinyanna Leo, with the assistance of researchers, students, interns and qualified volunteers. AWC works closely with staff of the Sydney Harbour Trust and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service as well as North Head Foundation volunteers.