Heathland at the Lodge RSPB reserve, UK headquaters of the RSPB, Sandy, Bedfordshire

Heathland Extent and Potential (HEaP) maps

The RSPB has developed unique maps that show the potential to rebuild some of our lost heathland heritage.

What are HEaP maps?

Lowland heathland is a scarce but hugely important wildlife habitat and cultural landscape.

The area that survives today is a small fraction of what existed 100 years ago and is fragmented into thousands of small patches. This puts immense pressure on the rare wildlife that relies on it.

The RSPB has mapped the extent of all the lowland heathland in England, something never done before, and has mapped the expansion potential of the surrounding land. The resulting Heathland Extent and Potential (HEaP) maps are made available as a tool for planning heathland conservation.

These maps will help the targeting of financial and grant support for habitat recreation initiatives, and allow planners to review the location of future developments to ensure the areas of best potential for heathland recreation are not lost or compromised. They can also help with designing heathland for the future that provides for both wildlife and people.

The RSPB has developed unique maps that show the potential to rebuild some of the lost heathland heritage, which are provided free for download to assist with planning heathland restoration, available on this page.

These show:

  • The distribution of existing heathland.
  • The potential to recreate lowland heathland.

They are available to download in MapInfo v7.8 format. If you need them in ArcGIS format, email: HEaP@rspb.org.uk.

Rebuilding heritage

Lowland heathland continues to face significant threats, despite intensive conservation action over the last 15 or more years.

Small isolated areas are vulnerable to the effects of scrub encroachment and fire, and to increased atmospheric pollutants that encourage coarse grasses to replace heather, and potentially to the effects of climate change.

However, there is significant potential to return it where it has been lost relatively recently, making sites bigger and reconnecting them, which makes dependent wildlife more resilient to the pressures of a changing environment.

Ling heather Calluna vulgaris amidst seeding grasses, Farnham Heath RSPB reserve, Surrey, England

Why more heathland?

The biodiversity that depends on heathland is very special and very rich.

Many of the species only occur on heathland, tied to features unique to the habitat. The loss and degradation of heathland has caused many to become rare and isolated.

Heathland is also a popular and important recreational space for potentially millions of people, with recognised benefits to their health and wellbeing. Much is designated as open access land, with a right of access for quiet recreation. This brings people and wildlife together, and it is increasingly evident from research that heathland birds are vulnerable to disturbance, which is affecting their breeding success.

Restoring heathland in suitable places that join and expand existing heathland will make it more sustainable, providing more space for birds and other wildlife, as well as helping people and wildlife to co-exist by reducing disturbance pressures. It will also be more cost-efficient – maintaining small heaths is expensive and difficult to sustain, but bigger heathlands require a lower intensity of management and there is a greater economy of scale.

Sunset over heathland at RSPB Arne nature reserve