TEST METHOD: Flora Survey Methods

Updated: 9 October 2009 (additional information on vegetation association reference material)


Assess the Quality, Safety and Environmental risks of each step.


When land use is to be changed, flora surveys may form part of the process of determining its end use. The following guidelines shall be adhered to when undertaking a flora survey.


Safety boots and sun protection are mandatory. Wear appropriate clothing and bring wet weather gear.

Ensure you can contact assistance if needed.

Carry locational information (maps, GPS etc).

Ensure drinking water is carried.




Decide what type of information you are looking for and what level of survey is required. The following aspects of vegetation measurement are described in this instruction: Site vegetation histories, vouchered field surveys, quadrat surveys, walk-over field surveys, vegetation community assessment, landscape assessment, significant tree survey.

When should I select a vouchered, rather than a walk-over, survey?

Where a decision on land USAGE is being made, select the voucher method. Walk-over surveys are informational only.

Site vegetation histories

Preliminary research of site history is a historic look at site vegetation. The past history of the site is researched using historic aerial photography and the publicly available results of previous surveys conducted on the site or in the immediate environs. This will include examining records of the State Herbarium, PIRSA Mining Branch, State Records and Lands Titles Office. This type of survey allows changes in vegetation and associated land uses to be documented. These types of studies are generally done during contaminated site assessments or for vegetation assessments where the origin of the vegetation is in question

Where do I find land usage (current and historic) resources?

Mapland - aerial photography, current and historic, orthophoto mapping, topographic mapping, some thematic mapping, online access to flight diagram books through their AirPhotoFinder service.

The SA Department for Environment and Heritage has online vegetation, current land use, vegetation clearance and soils information available through its NatureMaps web atlas. This includes mapping of Pre-European vegetation.

Lands Titles Office - current and historic titles records, current and historic filed (and other) plans and diagram books, original field survey books. Electronic access to some records online via PIERS and PropertyAssist

Carrington Street - Old System documents

PIRSA Mining Branch - mining lease documents, mining returns, groundwater wells and data, geological and mineral mapping, technical reports. Many historic technical reports are available online at SARIG or on CDROM.

State Herbarium - historic records of plant distribution.

State Records - Gepps Cross, archived agency and personal documents (eg Harbours Board Dockets, CPB dockets, farming family histories)

Also consider published information available in the company library, as well as State and University libraries.

Deliverables for a vegetation history:

  • Summary of documents reviewed (early maps, aerial photographs, existing flora surveys, herbarium records, early title documentation)
  • Assessment of the origin of the currently existing vegetation, if the survey relates to the status of existing vegetation.
  • Assessment of possible historic contaminating land uses, if the survey is related to a site contamination study.

Vouchered field surveys

A field survey of each site identifies the diversity of native and non-native flora on the site. The most often recommended methods, for sites subject to rezoning or extensive redevelopment, are the vouchered survey, and the quadrat survey.  


At base: A collection permit is required. Obtain one from the Native Vegetation Branch (SA) or relevant authority in the jurisdiction in which you are working.

An aerial photograph is classified using a GIS package or image analysis software, to determine approximately how many vegetation associations are likely to be present on site. A printout of the classification is prepared for use in the field.

Field equipment is gathered.

What am I likely to need in the field?

Classified aerial photograph, large containers for holding voucher specimens, field tags, rubber bands and pencils, GPS, camera, field notepad with ruler, spare batteries, collection permit. See Field equipment list.

In the field: A sampling area on the site is selected.  At the selected location a GPS is used to record the location (accurate to approximately 5m) and a thirty-metre square (quadrat) is searched for plants. Two vouchers of each species found are collected, tagged and tag numbers recorded in the notebook next to the location details. If using a handheld GPS, log the location as a waypoint.

Voucher survey: A description of the structural formation and vegetation association at each location is also recorded. Then a new location is chosen and the process repeated, except that only species not found so far are collected. Significant species are recorded at each location they are found.

Quadrat survey: As above, with the addition of recording all species, including weeds, found in the 30m x 30m quadrat, soil or geology of the quadrat, vegetation cover class, slope, aspect, altitude, and comments on weediness.

This process continues until sufficient sampling areas have been surveyed to ensure adequate representation of all vegetation associations occurring on the body of the site. Try to sample several sites within each vegetation association consecutively, if possible.

As a precaution where similar species are difficult to determine in the field, some vouchers will be replicates. There will be more vouchers collected than there are species on the site.

How do I know I have sampled adequately?



How do I ensure my field assessments are regular and how do I fit all that information into a field book?

A graph of new species found at each site should show the reduction in new species encountered at each sample location as sampling progresses, with occasional increases as new vegetation units are encountered. This is the sampling adequacy graph and is a test for survey thoroughness.


Use field assessment diagrams and tables, and reporting codes, derived from the Australian Soil and Land Survey Field Handbook, or the NSW Wildlife Atlas Field Data Book, or similar field reference appropriate to the jurisdiction within which you are working.

Back at base: All vouchers are returned to the lab for identification, as some species may only be determined using microscopic features. The vouchers are then pressed and dried. One of each voucher pair is sent to the Herbarium as required under the collection license, and the other of each pair is retained. This voucher is mounted on a herbarium sheet and provided to the client for their reference.

Data colected in the field is transferred to the computer and analysed, to develop information on vegetation communities occurring on the site, weediness, significant plant species etc.

I may not know all the plants' names.




How do I record the vouchered plants?

Immediate reference is available from the small Herbarium maintained at the Delta office or through various published Floras held in Delta's library. Online information is available through several state herbariums that maintain online photographs and records, the Australian Virtual Herbarium and the online publications of the Flora of Australia series.

The Eric Jackson public access Herbarium at the Plant Biodiversity Centre (Adelaide Herbarium) is open on weekdays to allow reference to dried herbarium specimens, and further assistance may be available from the staff of the Herbarium.

Spreadsheets containing the date, locational data, common and scientific names and the conservation status of the vouchered plants are contructed in a standard format. See the shared documents directory, under biodiversity, for examples. The finished spreadsheet is merged with a label document to produce determination slips for each pressed plant. Please remember to check all spellings and the currency of each species' name against the SA Vascular Plant Census in the company library or the online Census of SA Plants, Algae and Fungi. For other regions of Australia, the Australian Plant Name Index contains the most current names.

Deliverables from a vouchered vegetation survey may include the following (depending on the type of vouchered survey):

  • Species list for the site,
  • GPS locations for each sampling location,
  • List of locations with vouchers collected at each location,
  • Sampling adequacy graph,
  • 2 sets of voucher specimens: 1 for landowner (pressed, dried, mounted), 1 for State Herbarium (pressed, dried),
  • GPS locations of significant species,
  • Digital graphics (maps, photographs),
  • Details of the quadrats surveyed,
  • Summary of habitats, vegetation structural formations or vegetation communities present on the site,
  • Summary of conservation status of identified native species, with respect to regional, State and National significance, and
  • Summary of the condition of the vegetation communities present on site (typical cover, weediness)
There are many, finer resolution vegetation communities than the bare bones outlined in the field manuals - where do I go to find out about vegetation communites in specific regions?

http://www.anra.gov.au/topics/vegetation/overview/index.html is a national site that covers native vegetation mapping for each state, at a relatively coarse resolution. A summary book (Australia's Native Vegetation) and CDROM containing the national Major Vegetation Groups (broad floristic formations )and Major Vegetation Subgroups is located in the Delta library (581.9 GOV). A more detailed discussion of the larger structural formations can be found in the book Australian Vegetation (581.9 GRO).

New South Wales Vegetation Classification & Assessment (Benson et al) comprises several books and a database on CDROM with the detailed NSW vegetation associations that have so far been completed.It is located in the Delta library at 581.9 BEN. This should be used in combination with Ocean Shores to Desert Dunes (Keith), shelved at 581.9 KEI.

In South Australia, vegetation association definitions have been developed from a range of Biosurvey of SA surveys. The resulting association definitions are still being refined. The Floristics layer of Naturemaps contains all the agreed associations. This layer is available on the Delta GIS, or small areas may be reviewed online using NatureMaps. A distillation of the dataset (SA Vegetation Associations) is available in the Delta library, shelved at 581.9 DEH.

Many of the associations have been derived from earlier work including Specht's Vegetation of South Australia (581.9 SPE), Boomsma & Lewis' The Native Forest & Woodland Vegetation of SA (582.1 BOO), the Biodiversity Plan series (333.9 DEH) and published Biological Surveys from BioSurvey of SA (eg 582.1 OPP, 582.1 ATK). Often these earlier works contain more descriptive detail and can be used in combination with the SA Vegetation Associations. To check whether there is a published survey of an area you are working in, check the Biosurvey of SA website.

http://www.naturebase.net/content/view/960/1397/ is the Biodiversity Audit site for Western Australia.Several papers detailing the Beard and Hopkins Vegetation Associations for WA, along with a paper on the vegetation associations for the Northern Territory are shelved at 582.1 MIS.

Neldner et al have produced Methodology for Survey and Mapping of Regional Ecosystems and Vegetation Communities in Queensland. It is shelved at 582.1 NEL.

Other jurisdictions have similar projects underway. The amount of data that is being made available on the internet from public agenices is expanding rapidly, so it is always worthwhile to undertake a web search to determine whether there are more recent resources available.

Walk-over field survey

Walk-over surveys are precisely that. Usually one or two botanists walk over a site looking at which species occur. All plants are identified to the level practicable in the field. These types of surveys are useful when initially looking at a site, for sites of low biodiversity value, for sites where most vegetation occurs in areas that can’t be developed for other reasons (slope, tree size or zoning) or for sites where no development is going to take place.

If the area is found to be in good condition, or further questions arise, a vouchered survey may be required.

What am I likely to need in the field?

Regional plant identification information (eg books), GPS, camera, field notepad with ruler, pencils, magnifying glass, spare batteries

Deliverables from a walk-over survey:

  • A species list for the site with annotations providing the location of significant species.
Landscape assessments

Landscape assessments are a rapid assessment of the site landscape, including the native plants occurring in areas to be preserved, slope, geological features and species for potential plantings.

What am I likely to need in the field?

Regional plant identification information (eg books), GPS, camera, notepad, spare batteries, compass, site drawing or map, slope clinometer or other method for estimating slope.

Deliverables from a landscape assessment:

  • The aesthetic values of these habitats are discussed, along with methods of preservation, aesthetic enhancement and recreational improvement.
  • A site map is provided with annotations.

Significant tree surveys

In areas where significant tree legislation applies, sites can be assessed for the numbers and locations of significant trees. An aerial photograph is examined to estimate the likely number of significant trees on the site. All trees that may meet the legislative requirements are measured. Each stem is measured in the case of multi-stem trees. Tree girth(s), species and GPS location are recorded in a table. An assessment of the habitat value of scattered native trees should be conducted at the same time, using the Native Vegetation Council's Guidelines.

What am I likely to need in the field?


This tree survey is for DTEI - do I do it the same way?

Regional plant identification information (eg books), GPS, camera, notepad, spare batteries, compass, site drawing or map, metre rule for determining height to measure trunks, long tape for measuring circumference of trunks.

DTEI have their own methodology. When conducting work for DTEI, use the methods manuals and reporting forms they provide.

Deliverables from a significant tree survey:

  • A georectified aerial photograph is supplied to the client with the locations of all significant trees marked on it so that exclusion zones can be developed surrounding major stands
  • A table of each significant tree, its species and location

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