Heathlands are largely artificially created habitats. They only persist if they are managed. Many of the heaths in England would quickly become woodland if no maintenance occurred. 

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Where are the UK's Heathlands?

There are different types of heathland depending on climate and altitude as well as the type of underlying soil. 

Upland heath is found growing on peat and mineral soils in the north and west of the UK, as well as in the southern uplands such as Exmoor and Dartmoor. These areas of heathland are sometimes known as moorland. Lowland heath is found below about 300m on more freely draining sands and gravels. Much upland heath has now been overgrazed and has been replaced with poor quality grassland. 

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. One fifth of the planet’s lowland heathland is found in Britain.

Both upland and lowland heaths require some human intervention to prevent them turning into forests. Two further types of ‘true’ heathland which do not need intervention are montane and maritime heath. Montane heath develops at high altitudes, around 700 metres above sea level, where taller shrubs and trees are prevented from growing by exposure to the wind. Maritime heath is found on cliffs such as those along the Atlantic coast. Here, the salty air and sea wind helps keep plants from growing too tall and provides ideal conditions for heathers and gorse.

Read More: What methods are Used to Manage Heathland?

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