Lowland Heathland, heather, Grip Heath, Arne RSPB reserve, July 2000

Heathland

Heathland is home to some of our rarest and most exciting wildlife, from smooth snakes and Dartford warblers in the south of England to the unique wildlife of coastal heaths.

What makes this habitat different?

It's a strange habitat originally created by humans when they cleared native woodland for grazing animals. Now, most heathland is protected by law, and rightly so - heaths are weird and wonderful places to explore with many special birds, insects and plants.

What lives there?

These special places are the best spots to see certain birds. The woodlarks' gorgeous, fluting notes drift down from their tree perches, while Dartford warblers and stonechats scratch away from the heather and gorse.

Stay out late into the night if you want to hear the utterly bizarre, whirring noises that nightjars make in their courtship displays.

Small is beautiful. Look closely and you could see an emerald-green tiger beetle hunting for prey or a silver-studded blue butterfly, a creature every bit as pretty as it sounds. 

Heathland has its own special grasses, spiders and ants. Watch a pond and you might see dragonflies and damselflies, or natterjack toads (the sand loving relative of the common toad) if you're lucky. There's much more than just heather.

Late summer is the time to admire expanses of beautiful blooming purple heather as well as wonderful butterflies and other insects. Winter is a quiet time on heathland, but spring is often filled with birdsong.

Why are they in trouble?

Trees and farms

Many people didn't think these habitats were useful enough to stay as they were. This meant that in the 1900's lots of heathland was changed into forest where only one kind of fast growing tree could live, or farmland which wasn't suitable for heathland plants and animals.
 

Split up  

One fifth of all the lowland heath in Europe is in the UK but it usually exists in small bits surrounded by towns or farms. This means that many plants and animals that live there are trapped. Only one sixth of the old heathland remains in the UK

Where can I see it?

Our heathland reserves are home to some of Britain's rarest and most exciting wildlife, from smooth snakes and Dartford warblers in the South of England to the unique wildlife of coastal heaths. Enjoy the beautiful colours and scent of heather and gorse, or take a stroll on a summer’s evening to experience the magical sights and sounds of heathland.

Heathland reserves

To find out more, pick a marker from the map or zoom in.
    • Arne

      Arne

      This is an unusual and special landscape where you can enjoy a vast expanse of open heathland and old oak woodland. Arne is a fantastic place for family walks at any time of year and we have regular children's days.

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    • Aylesbeare Common

      Aylesbeare Common

      You can enjoy a walk along firm paths over quiet heathland here and have a chance of seeing Dartford warblers and stonechats in summer. The woodland fringes, streams and ponds abound with butterflies, dragonflies and damselflies.

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    • Dingle Marshes

      Dingle Marshes

      Dingle Marshes is a superb mixture of coastal and freshwater habitats bordered by forest and heathland.

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    • Eastern Moors

      Eastern Moors

      A landscape where there's lots to see and do, the Eastern Moors is almost entirely open access with a network of bridleways and footpaths and internationally-renowned climbing edges.

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    • Farnham Heath

      Farnham Heath

      Part of the Surrey Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and an example of heathland restoration in progress. By clearing the dense rows of conifers, we are opening up the land to create bright sunny areas where wildlife can flourish.

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    • Hazeley Heath

      Hazeley Heath

      Explore these last remaining pieces of a habitat that once covered much of southern England.

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    • Minsmere

      Minsmere

      There's so much to see and hear at Minsmere: splendid woodland, wetland and coastal scenery, rare birds breeding and calling in on their migrations, shy wildlife like otters, the 'booming' of bitterns in spring, beautiful bugs and flowers.

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    • Pilsey Island

      Pilsey Island

      This small reserve comprises a wide range of coastal habitats. As well as large numbers of roosting birds, an impressive variety of unusual plants, spiders and insects exist on the reserve, thriving in the undisturbed habitats.

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    • Pulborough Brooks

      Pulborough Brooks

      Set in the heart of beautiful countryside, this reserve is a fantastic day out for people of all ages. Walks lead through hedge-lined paths to viewing areas and hides where volunteers are often on hand to help point out the wildlife.

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    • Rathlin Island

      Rathlin Island

      Rathlin Island has a rare, untamed beauty. The wildlife is evident before you step ashore - the ferry crossing presents many opportunities to spot auks, gannets and gulls with even a chance of porpoises or dolphins.

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    • Snape

      Snape

      Snape is an exciting new reserve where we're recreating important wetland and heathland areas.

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    • The Lodge

      The Lodge

      The nature reserve here opened in 1961. The woodland, heath and acid grassland along the Greensand Ridge are being restored to form the largest stretch of heathland in Bedfordshire.

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    • South Stack Cliffs

      South Stack Cliffs

      Enjoy a close-up view onto a wonderful cliff-side nesting colony, with binoculars and telescopes provided. You'll be able to watch guillemots, razorbills and puffins all raising their young.

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    • Ramsey Island

      Ramsey Island

      This dramatic offshore island has cliffs up to 120 m high, the perfect place for breeding seabirds in spring and early summer. Walk along the coastal heathland and enjoy the spectacular views.

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    • Tudeley Woods

      Tudeley Woods

      Get away from it all with a walk in the woods and through the newly restored heathland. In some areas there are grand old trees; in others the trees have been coppiced to open up the woodland floor.

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    • Broubster Leans

      Broubster Leans

      A diverse mosaic of wet grassland, pools, channels and rush pasture, nestled in farmland, making it an ideal place for wildlife.

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    • Cottascarth and Rendall Moss

      Cottascarth and Rendall Moss

      If you'd like to visit a remote, tranquil wildlife haven, and enjoy the chance to see majestic raptors such as hen harriers and merlins, this is the place to come.

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    • Dunnet Head

      Dunnet Head

      The most northerly point in mainland Britain, Dunnet Head has stunning sea cliffs and coastal grassland. These are home to puffins, razorbills, guillemots, fulmars, kittiwakes, shags and cormorants.

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    • Hobbister

      Hobbister

      This reserve is a magical mixture of land and sea, from sea cliffs to saltmarsh, from moorland to sandflats. Stroll through the moorland and you may well see hen harriers, short-eared owls and red-throated divers, all of which nest here.

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    • North Hill

      North Hill

      Situated on the island of Papa Westray, North Hill may seem remote but it's a very exciting place to come and visit. The reserve is home to an extremely rare plant, the Scottish primrose.

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    Visitor tips

    These tips will help you to make the most of your visit:

    • Heaths are at their most interesting, and colourful, in spring and summer
    • Visit at dusk on summer evenings if you are hoping to see and hear nightjars
    • Scan the tops of gorse bushes - favourite perching posts for Dartford warblers, stonechats and other heath birds
    • Look in sunny spots for basking reptiles, such as common lizards