Savage River National Park is an unfragmented and intact wilderness area where evolutionary and ecological processes are able to occur unhindered by human activities. The park contains a healthy and natural biodiversity, with viable populations of native species and with minimal disturbance from human activities.
Most of the park is characterised by undulating hill country deeply dissected by steep river valleys. The Savage River is one of the more spectacular landscape features of the park. Another dominant topographic feature is Baretop Ridge which is an elevated ridge ranging from 600 to 700m, located on the eastern side of the park.
Most of the park is underlain by Precambrian sandstones and mudstones that were metamorphosed to schists during the Cambrian period.
During the Tertiary period approximately 36 million years ago, a major phase of vulcanism occurred in north-west Tasmania, covering large parts of the area with flood basalts and forming the plateau which now covers the western part of the park. The resulting rich and fertile basalt soils are highly significant as they represent the largest area of basalt soils in Tasmania that have not been cleared for agriculture and which still support undisturbed natural vegetation communities.
The northern section of Baretop Ridge supports an area of blanket bog peat soils and bottongrass moorland vegetation. The soils, part of a more extensive blanket bog soil system in western Tasmania, are globally rare, and therefore of international geoconservation significance.
Simplified Vegetation Map for Savage River National Park
Savage River National Park is dominated by cool temperate rainforest. These forests are of ancient origin and represent the remnants of once widespread rainforests of the supercontinent Gondwana which split up around 50 million years ago. Australia, New Zealand and South America, which were once part of Gondwana, still possess related relict rainforest communities from these ancient times.
The Savage River area contains some of the tallest and best examples of old growth, undisturbed cool temperate rainforest in Tasmania. The park is a major refuge for extensive stands of towering myrtle dominated rainforest.
Five different rainforest communties have been identified in the park:
- implicate rainforest dominated by celery top pine, myrtle beech and Myrtaceae spp. over white waratah occurs on Precambrian mudstone;
- thamnic rainforest dominated by myrtle beech - leatherwood, celery top pine over Horizontal is widespread and favours poorly-drained sites on basalt;
- Callidendrous rainforest dominated by myrtle and sassafras over a tree fern (Dicksonia antarctica) and/or mother shield-fern (Polystichum proliferum) understorey is widespread and favours well-drained basalt soils;
- Intermediate rainforest dominated by myrtle beech, sassafras, leatherwood over hard water-fern (Blechnum wattsii)- tree fern favours steep-sloped basalt soils and characterised by the absence of horizontal and the presence of leatherwood. The understorey is dominated by tree fern and or mother shield-fern, and
- Intermediate rainforest dominated by myrtle and sassafras over horizontal favours level sites.
The area contains a a rich diversity of higher plant species, many of which are endemic to Tasmania and several species classified as rare or threatened under the Tasmanian Threatened Species Protection Act 1995.
The area also has an even richer diversity of little known lower plants. Two hundred and thirty nine bryophyte species representing 93 mosses and 146 liverworts have been identified so far with the region.
A significant component (2500 ha) of the park is comprised of communities such as buttongrass moorland and wet scrub communities. Buttongrass vegetation is adapted to low fertility soils and have characteristics which facilitate their regeneration after fire. These communities are isolated and confined to Baretop Ridge and have probably originated from a natural fire regime.
The rainforests of the Savage River National Park are an extremely valuable habitat for many species including wet forest birds, unusual reptiles and amphibians such as the Tasmanian tree frog. The park is a refuge for many rare and threatened species, as well as primitive and relict species that are of great antiquity.
Twenty-two mammal species are known to occur in the rainforest including the endemic Tasmanian devil, dusky antechinus and the rare broad-toothed mouse. Old growth eucalypt forest provide hollows and cavities for arboreal (tree-dwelling) mammals, and at least five bat species.
The large tracts of rainforest provide the most important refuge for wet forest birds in Tasmania, including the threatened Tasmanian wedge-tailed eagle, swift parrot and grey goshawk.
The range of invertebrates is large and of great scientific interest containing as it includes many groups of Gondwanan descent. The endangered giant freshwater crayfish, the largest of its type in the world, lives in the numerous creeks and rivers that run through the area. Rotting logs, moss-covered surfaces, soil and leaf litter are important microhabitats for abundant and diverse endemic, archaic invertebrate groups in the area. Land snails, flatworms, onychophorans (velvet worms), spiders, centipedes, millipedes, collembola and beetles occur in such environments.
Aboriginal sites and the cultural landscapes of Tasmania have a strong and continuing significance to the Tasmanian Aboriginal community.
Savage River National Park lies within an area that was part of the tribal territory of the Big River and North tribes at the time of European contact. The Big River people were an inland group who largely occupied the mountainous plateau of the Central Highlands. The North tribe occupied the central north of Tasmania from the coast south to the base of the Western Tiers.
It is highly likely that the two tribes would have visited one another’s country travelling by well defined routes. Many of these routes were later used by European explorers.
It is thought that the dense rainforest offered little incentive for human occupation, unlike other areas of Tasmania. It has been suggested that the area may have formed part of an extensive source of chert for the manufacture of stone tools, however, to date no Aboriginal quarry sites have been identified.
The first Europeans to explore north-west Tasmania were the Van Diemen’s Land Company surveyors. In 1827, their chief surveyor Henry Hellyer explored and surveyed the land along the upper course of the Arthur River for suitable sheep grazing country. One of these areas, to the east of the present day township of Waratah, came to be be known as the Surrey Hills block.
In January 1864, explorer Gordon Burgess cut a track from the Surrey Hills block through to the west coast with companions Savage and Heazlewood. They explored the country south and west of Mount Cleveland. Burgess and Savage later identified a route through to the coast. The Heazlewood and Savage Rivers are named after these two explorers.
Early mineral exploration during the period 1876-77 led to the discovery of iron ore deposits in the Savage River area. The inaccessibility of the region precluded development of these deposits until the early 1960s when investigation into the ore body were undertaken, resulting in the establishment of the Savage River open cut mine in 1967.
Mining in the region outside the national park has left the most visible remains of the most economically significant activity undertaken by European settlers to the region. Much of the early European history of the area is associated with mineral exploration and the establishment of various small mining operations. Many examples of this early mining activity are still apparent in the Heazlewood mineral field and Magnet Mines area, south of the park. Mineral prospecting tracks were established from the southern mineral fields into the regional reserve and possibly the park, however no mines were ever established as a result. The difficulty of the terrain probably deterred much would be mineral exploration of the area. There are no known historic sites or historic uses of the park.