Site Description Tool

This tool has been designed to be used with the Florabank Species Navigator.  The Site Description Tool has many uses:

  1. It can be used to describe the environment at a particular site where you want to carry out some vegetation management activity, such as fencing a remnant or revegetating
  2. With this description, you can make full use of the Species Navigator Tool to help you select species for revegetaion
  3. The site description will give you valuable information for property planning for both conservation and production purposes
  4. You can use the site description when you are preparing project applications for conservation incentives
  5. You can also take your site description to your local nursery to make sure the species you order are most appropriate for your site.

How to use the Site Description Tool

Step 1
Download the  Species Navigator Offline Scoring Sheet.xls 

Step 2
Work through the spreadsheet and fill in all the site description fields as instructed. The following content will help you find the information you need to fill in the spreadsheet. It either describes how to find the information, or directs you to a reference or online source.

Part A:  What Bioregion or NRM Region is your site in?

The Interim Biogeographic Regionalisation of Australia (IBRA) divides Australia into 85 bioregions, with 403 sub-regions. Bioregions have similar environmental characteristics for plants and animals and are useful for thinking of clusters or similar environments.

You can find out about which bioregion your site is in, from the IBRA website. To download an ArcView Shape File or an ArcView Export File of the IBRA data, visit the DIG (Discover Information Geographically) website and type "IBRA" into the title field, then select "IBRA 6.1" from the results list.

NRM regions
The Australian Government has identified 56 Natural resource Management (NRM) Regions, based on catchments or recognized bioregions. For more information about NRM regions, or to determine your region, visit the NRM regions website.

Knowing which NRM region a site falls into can provide access to many other types of information. For example, several Catchment Management Authorities (CMA) or Catchment Boards are based on RM regions. The CMAs often have useful knowledge about the native vegetation of the catchment/area, which species are appropriate, and where to obtain seed for those species. Also, many CMAs have funding available for revegetation and related projects. Contact your local CMA or Catchment Board for more information.

Part B: Climate

Three climate parameters are very important for the survival and growth of native vegetation: mean annual rainfall and its distribution throughout the year; mean annual temperature range; and number of frosts in a year.

Mean Annual Rainfall
Mean Annual Rainfall is measured in millimeters. It is derived from those years for which rainfall has been recorded. In many parts of Australia, rainfall has been recorded for over 100 years. Rainfall distribution describes when the majority of the rainfall is received. Winter rainfall dominance is most common in the south of the continent, while the tropical regions are strongly summer dominant.  Areas in the middle may have no obviously dominant rainfall period or may have winter and summer peaks of approximately equal magnitude.

Mean Annual Temperature Range
Mean Annual Temperature Range gives an indication of the range of temperature extremes. Plants growing in environments with big differences between maximum and minimum temperatures have to be very adaptable.

Hottest: ______C
Coldest: ______C

Number of frosts per year
Frosts can kill plants or reduce their growth. Frost is influenced by temperature, humidity and landform, but this measure gives an approximate indicator of the severity of frost and likelihood of occurrence at a particular site. The number of frosts below) deg per year is a useful indicator of severe frost.

Measuring these parameters
To determine the climate parameters for your site, go to the Australia Government Bureau of Meteorology website. Detailed climate information can be found at by clicking on your State/Territory under Climate tables. Locate your town or the nearest locality from the station list.

For Mean Annual rainfall, use the ANN column of Mean Rainfall (mm). Look at the monthly averages to determine when your site receives most of its rainfall.

For Mean Annual Temperature Range, use the highest monthly temperature from Mean daily Max Temp (deg C) for Hottest, and the lowest monthly temperature from Mean Daily Min Temp (deg C) for Coldest.

For a rough estimate of frost days, use the line titled Mean no. Days, Min =<0.0 deg C.

The Bureau of Meteorology can provide this data only for locations where it has a weather station. You will need to choose from the station that is in a similar location and environment to your site. This may not necessarily be the closest station. Alternatively, you can get a very good estimate of the climate parameters for your site by using the Data Drill. You will need to enter the latitude and longitude for your site (see the Location Information section), and Data Drill then uses a range of weather stations to estimate climatic records for your site. There is a fee for this service.

Altitude (or Elevation)

Altitude (or Elevation) affects climate and is measured as metres above sea level.  Altitude indicates broad scale effects such as climate.  To determine your altitude, you can use a contour map, or Google Earth (see the Location Information section near the bottom of this webpage).

Part C:  Soils

Soil is one of the most important factors in growth and survival of native vegetation. Understanding the type of soil at your site and some of its physical and chemical properties is important for successful vegetation management.

General information on Australian Soils can be found at the Australia Soil Resource Information Service website. This provides soil maps and associated information, however it is often at a scale too broad to be useful for site assessment or description.

At the site level, soil usually needs to be described from inspection and testing in the field. The Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook (McDonald et al, 1990) describes the methods for testing and describing soils. The most important soil parameters for native vegetation are:

  • texture
  • depth
  • ph
  • electrical conductivity
  • bulk density

A full description can also be used with the Australian Soil Classification to give the soil a standard classification.

Reference: Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook, RC McDonald et al, 1990 (CSIRO Publishing).

For more detailed information: DW Jacquier et al, 2001. Australian Soil Classification - An Interactive Key. (CSIRO Publishing).

Part D: Landform

This is additional information not needed for the Species Navigator, but it may be useful for your site description and helpful for planning revegetation on your site.

For more detailed information about recording Landform, including definitions, see the Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook, RC McDonald et al., 1990 (CSIRO Publishing).  A new version of this handbook is due for release in 2008. 

The principle landforms relevant to the management of native vegetation are: element, slope position, elevation and aspect.

Landform element

Landform element affects microclimate, moisture and nutrient availability.  Terms used to describe Landform element include:

  • Crest
  • Hillock
  • Ridge
  • Slope
  • Flat
  • Open Depression
  • Closed Depression

Position on Slope:

Position on Slope affects microclimate, soil formation and moisture availability.  Terms used to describe Position on Slope include:

  • Crest
  • Upper Slope
  • Mid Slope
  • Lower Slope
  • Flat
  • Creek/River

Altitude (or Elevation):

Altitude (or Elevation) affects climate and are measured as metres above sea level.  Altitude/Elevation indicates broad scale effects such as climate, while slope position indivates more localised microclimatic affects.  For example, a site with high elevation located on a crest is likely to be cold, but not as cold as a high elevation, lower slope site.


Aspect affects the amount of solar ratiation received and describes the predominant direction that sloping land faces.  Terms used to describe Aspect include:

  • Northerly
  • Northeasterly
  • Easterly
  • Southeasterly
  • Southerly
  • Southwesterly
  • Westerly
  • Northwesterly
  • N/A (for a site on less than 1% slope) 

Part E: Vegetation

This information is not needed to use Species Navigator, but will help you to identify the major vegetation groups and vegetation communities in your location.


Major vegetation groups
Australia comprises 23 major vegetation groups as defined by the Australian natural resources Atlas. Descriptions of each of these major vegetation groups can be found in the summary of the National land and Water Resources Audit's Australian Native Vegetation Assessment 2001.  A vegetation map is also available from this site.  


Specific vegetation communities

  • EVCs (Victoria)
  • QLD Regional Ecosystem maps
  • Other

Ecological Vegetation Classes in Victoria (EVCs)
Native vegetation in Victoria has been classified according to Ecological Vegetation Classes (EVCs), of which there are approximately 300 statewide. More information on the EVCs can be found at Victoria's Department of Sustainability and the Environment has an interactive mapping tool that allows users to zoom into their locality and site to determine the EVC of their site. From the link above, this map tool can be accessed by clicking on Biodiversity Interactive Map. Zoom into your area, then open the Vegetation folder. Tick the box for either 'Ecological Vegetation Classes' or '1750 EVCs', then click on Refresh map (note: you must be zoomed in fairly close before the layer can be ticked). Select the legend tab from the top of the map window, and scroll down the legend until you find the matching EVC.  Note the corresponding number and name - be sure to scroll through all the colour choices, as some are very similar. We recommend using the '1750 EVCs' layer; it represents what is believed to be the historical vegetation type, and it gives 100% coverage of the State.


Once you have established which EVC your site belongs to, you can get the Benchmark Description sheet associated with that EVC. Go to this page and scroll down to the Victorian bioregions map. Choose the bioregion for your site, and then find the associated EVC by either number of name. You will need Adobe Reader to open the file.


Regional Ecosystem Maps in Queensland
Queensland has regional ecosystem maps which provide maps of vegetation associations within different land zones and bioregions.


Other sources of vegetation maps
ESCAVI (Executive Steering Committee for Australia Vegetation Information) is supporting the establishment of an environment portal to improve public access to vegetation and mapping information. This site will be accessible through




Additional information

This additional information is not needed for using the Species Navigator, but may be useful for your site description and helpful for planning revegetation on your site.


Location Information

It is common practice to describe locations by using a grid system. Your location is described by the intersection of two lines, running perpendicular to each other. The most common examples of grid systems are latitude and longitude, and map references.


Latitude and longitude

The Earth is approximately spherical in shape. Points are measured in degrees, minutes and seconds. Latitude measures position from the equator, while longitude measures position from a fixed north-south line. Latitude lines run parralel to each other and begin at 0 degrees (Equator) and end at 90 degrees (the poles). Longitude lines begin at the south pole and end at the north pole, so are further away from each other at the equator than at the poles. The most practical way to measure  latitude and longitude is using a GPS. 


Latitude:     DDD___MM___SS___(GDA94)
Longitude:  DDD___MM___SS___


UTM Datums and Map Grids in Australia

There are numerous mapping grids in use across the globe and there has been a concerted effort to standardise these grids so locations can be compared easily. If you have a GPS, you can use it to specify your location from a standard map grid. You will need to set your GPS to use a specific grid. 


"Australia now uses the GDA94 datum (Geocentric Datum of Australia 1994) for latitude / longitude and the MGA94 map grid (Map Grid of Australia 1994) for UTM (Universal Transverse Mercator) coordinates. This supercedes the AGD66 (Australian Geodetic Datum 1966) and the AMG66 map grid (Australian Map Grid 1996), and their very similar counterparts AGD84 and AMG84 which were used in some parts of Australia. The change in map grid results in UTM coordinates moving about 100 - 200 metres to the North-East, so it is important to always specify the datum when recording or publishing UTM coordinates. GDA94 is the same as the WGS84 (World Grid System 1984) for most practical purposes. The differences are of the order of a few centimetres. For Australian GPS users this means that they should switch the datum / grid on their GPS receivers from AGD66 (Aus Geoid '66) or AGD84 (Aus Geoid '84) to use WGS84, and replace their old topographic maps with new ones which are being updated and published with the new map grid."

To convert from from AGD66 & 84 to GDA94, or from UTMs to Latitude and Longitude, go to Geoscience Australia's web conversion page.


If you don't have a GPS

If you don't have a GPS unit, you can still determine  your site's coordinates with relatively good accuracy.  Here are two ways:


1. Regional paper maps

Each state or territory has a government department that can provide paper maps, often at 1:25000 scale, which is good enough to see individual farm boundaries.  These maps are usually detailed enough to determine your site's location.  The coordinate information can then be obtained by reading the latitude from the sides of the map, and the longitude from the top or bottom of the map. Contact information for each State or Territory is as follows:


 NSW: Sydney Map Shop

Land & Property Information NSW


Qld: Sunmap Centre

Dept of Natural Resources


NT Land Info Centre
(08) 8999 7032

 Vic: Information Victoria

1300 366356

 Tas: Department of Primary Industries

(03) 6233 3382

 SA: Mapland

Dept of Environment & Heritage


 WA: Dept of Land Administration

(08) 9273 7075




2. From the internet
Google Earth, an interactive map website, has a tool which enables the user to zoom into their site and view an aerial photo, often at very high resolution ( The software is free to download for a basic version.  Panning and zooming tools come in view when the mouse is held over the upper right-hand side of the image.  By holding the mouse over the site, latitude and longitude coordinates are displayed in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen.  Google Earth can also be accessed (without having to download the software to your computer) via the ASRIS website: Another on-line source of coordinate information comes from Geoscience Australia.  Their Place Name Search Tool  will bring up the coordinate and location details of most named localities in Australia.