Factsheet

Heathland

Heathlands are human-made habitats. They only persist if they are managed. The lowland heaths of southern England would quickly become woodland if no grazing occurred. 

Formation

Heathland is distinctive amongst British habitats in that it is dominated by low-growing shrubs, the heaths that give it its name, rather than by trees, grasses or herbaceous plants.

Heathlands are man-made habitats. They only persist if they are managed. The lowland heaths of southern England would quickly become woodland if no grazing occurred. They were probably created as forest clearance began several thousand years ago to make way for crops. Primitive farming techniques could not prevent the leaching of nutrients, rain washing the nutrients out of sandy soil. Crops failed, the land was abandoned and these poor soils provided a fine habitat for the heathers.

Lowland Heaths of Southern England

Most of the lowland heathlands have developed on freely-drained sands and gravels. The nutrient-poor sandy soil is well-aerated and sun-warmed, giving rise to a unique set of environmental conditions.

There are also a few wet areas, with acidic peat bogs, dominated by Sphagnum moss. Shallow heathland pools are inhabited by many plants and insects (especially dragonflies) that are rare elsewhere.

Heathland Plants

Dry Areas

HeatherLing
Bell heather
Gorse (Common, Dwarf, Western)
Tormentil
Milkwort
Bedstraw
Slender St John’s Wort
Dodder (parasite twining over gorse and heather)
Bracken
Bilberry (whortleberry)
Silver birch
Rowan
Aspen
Scots pine



Wet Areas

beeley moorCross-leaved heath
Purple moor-grass
Sphagnum moss
Bog asphodel
White & brown beak sledge
Sundew (round-leaved and oblong-leaved)
Lesser Bladderwort
Cranberry
Bogbean
Bottle sedge
Marsh St.John’s Wort
Lousewort
Bog myrtle
Downy birch
Alder buckthorn

Animals of the Heathland

Birds

KestrelWheatear
Linnet
Whinchat
Stonechat
Dartford warbler (rare)
Swallow
Red-backed shrike (Britain’s rarest breeding bird)
Great grey shrike
Nightjar
Hobby
Kestrel
Sparrowhawk
Hen harrier

Reptiles

AdderCommon lizard
Adder
Sand lizard
Smooth snake
Grass snake
Slow-worm

Amphibians

Natterjack toad

Invertebrates

Butterflies:

ButterflySmall heath
Grayling
Green hairstreak
Dark green fritillary
Silver-studded blue
Small copper

Others:

Emperor moth
Grasshoppers
Ants
Aphids
Beetles
Wolf spiders
Dragonflies
Heath bumblebee

Threats to the Heathland

1. Little or no grazing exists to halt the spread of birch and Scots pine scrub.
2. Recreational use is leading to erosion.
3. Fires kill animals and cause development of a degraded habitat dominated by bracken and gorse. Also, frequent fires mean that heather is burnt before it can form woody clumps, favoured by sand lizards and an important source of insect food.

Conservation Efforts

The Wildlife Trusts are helping to conserve heathland by clearing encroaching scrub, re-instating grazing regimes and reseeding heathers
throughout the UK.

Credits

Image: Heathland by Colin
 

Infomation sourced from:

The Wildlife Trusts, Heathland, How we’re helping [online], Available from: http://www.wildlifetrusts.org/wildlife/habitats/heathland [accessed 28/06/2015].

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