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Clearing native groundcover

This fact sheet provides guidance for rural landholders in understanding the various forms of native groundcover and how it is considered under the NSW Land Management Framework.  It outlines the circumstances where approval to clear native groundcover may be required.

Clearing native groundcover

What is native groundcover?

The term native groundcover includes various types of non-woody (herbaceous) vegetation. Native groundcover is most often dominated by native grasses. In some areas such as native grasslands, the native groundcover grows on its own with no associated woody vegetation. In other areas, such as grassy woodlands, it grows as the groundlayer under native trees and shrubs.
What types of native groundcover are there?

Native grasslands are naturally occurring native vegetation communities, dominated by native grasses and with less than 10% tree or shrub cover. Many native grasslands have a rich diversity of native grasses and other native herbaceous plants such as wildflowers, sedges and rushes.

Secondary grasslands are non-natural grasslands created by clearing of native trees and shrubs, leaving only the native groundcover component of the natural vegetation. They can be difficult to distinguish from natural grasslands when there is little remaining evidence of the original tree or shrub cover.

The native groundlayer within woody vegetation such as grassy woodland or grassy forest is another form of native groundcover which is often used for livestock grazing. In these cases, the trees and shrubs are still present, but the native groundcover supports grazing livestock.

Many native pastures have been created by clearing of woody vegetation.  They are often highly modified from their natural vegetation structure and composition, and bear little resemblance to the original natural vegetation. The trees and shrubs have often been largely or completely removed, they have different dominant native grass species, and have lost much of their plant diversity.

Where is native groundcover found?

Native groundcover can be found throughout much of NSW. The species making up this groundcover vegetation varies from one region to another, but most are dominated by native grasses. Native groundcover is found in the open with no trees, or in lightly or heavily timbered country, in areas that were originally open grassland, woodland or forest.

What native groundcover can I clear?

Native groundcover varies widely in condition, largely as a result of the way it has been grazed, fertilised or cleared since European settlement. Its condition reflects how modified it is from its original natural state. This is indicated by the dominant grass species, plant species diversity and abundance of weeds. The Land Management Framework recognises three condition states - Low, Moderate and High Conservation Value.  What you can clear and the approvals needed depend on the condition.

Under the Framework the following regulations apply:

Low Conservation Value (LCV) native groundcover is not regulated (Category 1 - exempt) and may be cleared without approval. In many situations you can self-assess LCV groundcover (see table below for more information).  We can give you expert help to identify LCV areas. Note: groundcover vegetation can not be cleared from areas mapped as Vulnerable land, except under certain limited circumstances. See this map.

Moderate Conservation Value (MCV) native groundcover is regulated (Category 2 - Regulated) and may be cleared under certain conditions, with approval from us. This approval would require you to establish a set-aside area.

High Conservation Value (HCV) native groundcover is categorised as sensitive (Category 2 - Sensitive) regulated land. Clearing this type of vegetation will generally not be approved. However  you can still sustainably graze these areas.

What condition is my native groundcover in?

LCV native groundcover can be identified in any of several ways including: less than 50% native cover, Significantly Disturbed or Modified, or with the Interim Grassland and other Groundcover Assessment Method (IGGAM). LCV native groundcover areas may then be cleared with no approval required from Local Land Services. See table below for more detail.

MCV and HCV groundcover can only be identified using the IGGAM which can only be applied by someone with suitable expertise. Local Land Services can provide expert assistance in applying the IGGAM to help you identify the condition of native groundcover.
What about Commonwealth laws?

In addition to the Land Management Framework which regulates native vegetation management at the state level, there are Commonwealth laws to consider when making native vegetation management decisions. Some natural grassland and grassy woodland communities in NSW, and some plant and animal species within them, are protected under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act (EPBC Act).

Applications to clear groundcover may therefore require referral to the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy for assessment under the EPBC Act. Local Land Services is available to help you identify whether the EPBC Act applies to your landholding and guide you through the referral process. Where an EPBC Act referral is required, clearing should not take place until approval has been granted by the Commonwealth Department of Environment and Energy.

Where can I get help?

Local Land Services can help you with expert advice on identiying native groundcover, assessing whether and under what conditions it may be cleared or information on possible  funding assistance for conservation.

Identification methodCondition thresholdAssessment by
Low Conservation Value (LCV)<50% native groundcover

self assessment OR

with Local Land Services' help

Compromised Native Groundcover<50% native groundcover

self assessment and Local Land Services' notification OR

Local Land Services voluntary Certificate

Significantly Disturbed or Modifiedevidence of substantial modification
by repeated disturbance

landholder decision to clear with Local Land Services technical support

Interim Grassland and other
Groundcover Assessment Method (IGGAM)
IGGAM Calculator determines
conservation value - LCV or MCV or HCV

Local Land Services OR

suitable expert

More information

To find out more about native vegetation and your options under the Land Management Framework:

  • contact Local Land Services on 1300 795 299
  • email
  • go to
  • call in to your nearest Local Land Services office and ask for a Sustainable Land Management officer.

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