Wild info: heathland

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Please join your local wildlife trust today

Heathland is rarer than rainforest!

The result of thousands of years of grazing and scrub-clearance, heathland is a bleak but beautiful landscape of heather and gorse. Because the acidic soil was of little use for farming, heathland sites often formed parts of royal hunting forests or commons where 'commoners' were allowed to graze their animals, to cut gorse, bracken, peat and heather for fuel and bedding, and to dig gravel.

However, more than 80% of our lowland heaths have been destroyed since the 19th century, making this a very rare and precious habitat. Find out why heathland is under threat, and what you can do to help.

Where to see heathland

In late summer heathland blooms.  The glorious pinks and purple of the heather are peppered with yellow gorse. Bees buzz around the flowers, and if you are lucky you could even catch a glimpse of an adder or common lizard basking in the sun. The Berks, Bucks & Oxon Wildlife Trust has several nature reserves where you can see this special habitat.

Heathland species

Heathlands are brimming with astonishing, hidden wildlife. This special and fascinating community of plants and animals has adapted to the harsh conditions of heathland's acidic soil and seasonally dry conditions. 

Birds

Nightjar by Amy Dennis

Heathland is home to some very specialist ground-nesting birds which can be found in no other habitat.

Heathland habitat is ideal for certain species of birds because of its open nature, with just a few scattered trees and bushes for them to use as singing posts or look out points.

It is also relatively warm and dry and has an abundant food source in the form of invertebrates.

Reptiles

Adder by Andy Fairbairn

Heathland is the only habitat which can support all six species of the UK's native reptiles.

Heathlands are great for reptiles because they have warm, south-facing banks for basking in the sun, plenty of insects and spiders to eat and lots of places to hibernate.

The ideal reptile habitat has mature heath for food and shelter; bare, sandy areas for basking, water for swimming grass snakes and a mixture of holes and rock piles to hide from predators.

Invertebrates

Elephant moth by BBOWT

Over 5000 invertebrates can be found on heathlands. Many of these species are heathland specialists, requiring specific microhabitats to survive, but there are also a number of more generalist species. 

55 species of moth and butterfly caterpillar rely on heather as their main food source. Heathland ponds are also home to a number of dragon and damselflies, as well as our largest native spider, the raft spider.