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Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

Field of Mars Environmental Education Centre

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Field of Mars Reserve

Field of Mars Reserve

Dry eucalypt woodland covers much of the Field of Mars Reserve. This vegetation is typical of the dry, infertile sandstone soils found in Sydney’s north and is known as dry sclerophyll woodland. Many of the plants in this area have hard, waxy leaves that tend to be small and narrow. These features help to reduce moisture loss.

Despite being only 56 hectares in size, the reserve contains around 300 species of plants. These plants support an even greater array of animals from the tiniest spiders to possums, birds and wallabies.

Surveys conducted in 2006 found evidence of animals that were believed to be missing from the reserve. These include sugar gliders, echidnas and long-nosed bandicoots. Control of pest species such as foxes may be contributing to the return of animals to the reserve.

Along Buffalo and Strangers Creeks there are long pockets of moist gully vegetation, known as wet sclerophyll forest. Different plant species flourish in the moist conditions found here. Wet sclerophyll forest is characterised by moist rich soils, shadiness and plants with dark green, soft leaves. The cool, moist conditions found within these gullies create the perfect habitat for some of the reserve’s animals such as finches, wrens, whip birds and ringtail possums.

There are many examples of human impact found within the reserve. Positive impacts include the installation of nest boxes, weed removal, bush regeneration and restoration of a section of the Buffalo Creek channel to improve the wetland environment. Negative impacts include exposure of the landfill in some areas, weed invasion, illegal dog walking and mountain bike riding and pollution in the creek.

Field of Mars Reserve walking track overviews

Field of Mars Reserve – A brief history

First Australians

The area is know as Wallumetta and the Traditional Custodians are the Wallumedegal Peoples of the Darug nation. The name Wallumetta was probably derived from the word 'wallumai' meaning snapper fish and 'matta' meaning place, often a water place. 

A smallpox epidemic in April and May of 1789 spread through the Aboriginal population and most of the Wallumedegal population was wiped out by 1790. Scattered middens, artefacts, axe grinding grooves and rock engravings remain in the area.

The name ‘Field of Mars’

In 1792 Governor Phillip granted a piece of land on the north side of the harbour to eight former British marines and named the settlement the Field of Mars. It is believed that Phillip gave it that name with reference to the Roman god of war, Mars, so ‘Field of Mars’ means ‘land of the soldiers’ (field - land; Mars - soldiers). The name ‘Field of Mars’ has been used though history for military parade and exercise grounds.

Field of Mars Common

In 1804 Governor King set aside the Field of Mars Common for the use by the local community to run stock and for firewood collection. It was more than 2500 hectares in area and about 2.2 kilometres wide extending along Lane Cove River from Boronia Park to North Epping. Between 1885 and 1900 most of the common was sold to provide more land for settlement except for 45 hectares of land between Strangers Creek and Buffalo Creek. This was set aside as an area for public recreation and was given to the newly formed Ryde Municipal Council to manage. The land sale funded the construction of the Gladesville and Iron Cove Bridges.

The area remained undeveloped and stayed as a patch of bushland until the 1950s when post World War II housing development spread through the surrounding suburbs and waste disposal became a problem. Some of the low-lying saltmarsh environments beside Buffalo Creek were used as a landfill site for non-putrecible waste (such as building waste) until 1959. These areas can be recognised today as the grassed flats around the current entrance to the Field of Mars Reserve and the general area of the visitor centre and environmental education centre.

In 1965 the threat of re-opening and expansion of the rubbish tip by Ryde Council brought opposition by local residents and the formation of the Ryde Hunters Hill Fauna and Flora Preservation Society (RHHFFPS). After active lobbying by this group and others, the parcel of land was preserved and became the Field of Mars Reserve of today. In 1975 the reserve was proclaimed a Wildlife Refuge under the National Parks and Wildlife Act, 1974. City of Ryde continues to manage the reserve and RHHFFPS provides advice and assistance. The latest Plan of Management was released in August 2009 and the latest Ryde Biodiversity Plan was released in December 2016. Community surveys and feedback were sought in 2020 and 2021 as part of the process of developing a new Plan of Management. 

Pittwater Road, East Ryde, c.1888. Once a common, land sales in the area commenced in 1885. 

State Library of NSW  | CC BY 4.0

Buffalo Creek, East Ryde, c.1888.

State Library of NSW  | CC BY 4.0