They occur in areas of impeded drainage with the water table constantly at, or near, the soil surface, where a thick mat of peat moss (Sphagnum) and other species leads to the slow accumulation of peat. Due to their high conservation value, alpine peatlands are listed under the Commonwealth's Environmental Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999, as well as Victoria's Flora and Fauna Guarantee Act 1988.

Peatlands are sensitive to fire and other disturbance, but most on the mainland have been burnt in the past decade, with particularly large areas burnt in 2003 and 2007, and those at Lake Mountain being burnt in 2009. The Baw Baw plateau now remains the only part of alpine Victoria that has not been burnt at least once since 2003. Peatlands recover from disturbance very slowly, and many that have been burnt, particularly those that have experienced multiple fires or a long history of grazing, require active management, without which they may not fully recover.

A collaboration with Parks Victoria and environmental consultants Ecology Australia has drawn on ARI's knowledge of peatland ecology and threats to develop an action plan for all Victorian alpine peatlands across all land tenures. This long-term plan will assist land managers to identify the threats and management actions required within their region and jurisdiction, thereby helping to preserve the extent and condition of this important vegetation type. These actions include post-fire rehabilitation (including revegetation, erosion control and blocking of drainage lines to help retain water), weed control and feral animal control. Weeds such as Grey Sallow willow (Salix cinerea) have the capacity to fundamentally change the structure and hydrological functions of peatlands, while trampling and pugging by deer, cattle and feral horses can lead to substantial areas of bare ground and mud. Management needs differ by region, but common threats to peatlands include climate change and increased rates of fire as a consequence of climate change.

Unburnt mossbed at Mt Baw Baw

Burnt mossbed at Lake Mountain after the 2009 fires

For more information contact: arn.tolsma@delwp.vic.gov.au