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© Amy Rogers
© Amy Rogers
© Amy Rogers
© Carl Corbidge
Heathland – conservation
and management
• You are going to be learning about a
very important habitat – lowland
• You will be looking at case studies and
trying to weigh up the pros and cons of
different developments – should they be
chosen over heathland?
© Lauren Gough
• You will be learning about conflicts in
land use and some of the pressures that
heathland habitats face.
The decline of heathland in the UK
• About 200 years ago (c. the year 1800)
there was about 290,000 hectares of
heathland in the UK. Nowadays, only
about one-sixth of the heathland
present in 1800 remains.
• That means that from an area the size
of Cornwall, only the equivalent of the
Isle of Wight remains.
• Despite these losses the UK still has
20% of the world’s lowland heathland
The decline of heathland in Dorset
• Heathland in Dorset was created
following the clearance of woodland in
or before the Bronze Age.
• The heathland remained largely intact
until the 17th Century.
• Since the 17th Century the extent of
Dorset’s heathland has decreased from
c. 50,000 ha to 7,000 ha (a decrease of
The decline of Dorset’s Heathland (1759-1987)
The image shows the
loss of 86% of Dorset’s
heathland between 1759
and 1987. Areas of
heathland are shown in
Where did 86% of Dorset’s heathland go?
18th Century
Reclamation of heathland
for agriculture
19th and 20th Century
Loss of heathland to
Poole-Bournemouth urban
20th Century
Forestry Commission plant conifer
plantations as part of post-war
timber sustainability programme
Threats to heathland
• In previous decades the main threat to heathland was the replacement
of the habitat with other land uses (e.g., agriculture).
• Nowadays, the main threat to heathland is changes to the habitat due
to external influences and mismanagement, including:
Nitrogen deposition
Over-use (recreation)
Overuse of Dorset’s Heathland
• 96% of the remaining heathland in Dorset is covered by
international designation (SPA, SAC and Ramsar) and 97% is
covered by the SSSI designation.
• However, Dorset's remaining heathland is within easy access of
over half a million people.
What impacts could people living near the heathland have on
the ecology of the heathland?
Overuse of Dorset’s Heathland
Impacts include:
• Trampling;
• Fire (accidental and deliberate);
• Disturbance of animals and ground-nesting birds by walkers,
dogs etc.
• Nutrient (nitrogen) enrichment of soils by the deposition of
fumes from traffic, industry and intensive agricultural practices.
• Predation of reptiles and birds by domestic cats.
Overuse of Dorset’s Heathland
Trampling by foot, cycle, motorbike and/or
horse can:
• Damage plants;
• Cause soil erosion;
• Injure/kill animals using sandy areas (e.g.,
destroy eggs laid by sand lizards and
mining bee burrows).
Photo shows damage by motorcycles at
Upton Heath SSSI, Dorset (1989).
Overuse of Dorset’s Heathland
Heather is highly flammable. Fire (accidental
and deliberate) can result in:
• Death of plants and animals;
• Subsequent invasion of less desirable
species (scrub and bracken).
Photo shows fire at Winfrith Heath SSSI,
Dorset (1990)
Fire at Upton Heath (Dorset) on 9th June 2011.
Overuse of Dorset’s Heathland
The population of Dorset is expected to grow by 10% between 2001
and 2026 – over 40,000 new homes may be needed.
What effect might the predicted increase in population (and
housing have on Dorset’s heathland?
How could you minimise/manage the impact the increase in
population might have on Dorset’s heathland?
To explore some of the conflicts between urban developments
and heathland conservationists please complete Activity A
and/or Activity B.
• Heathland creation (or recreation) to replace
the heathland lost to other land uses (e.g.
development, agriculture, forestry);
• Heathland management/restoration to prevent
the degradation of existing heathland habitats.
© David Glynne Fox
© Roger Key
There are two main approaches to heathland
© Tracey Farrer
Conserving Heathland
Conserving Heathland
The UK Biodiversity Action Plan has targets for the both the
recreation and management/restoration heathland:
• Reduce the amount of heathland in unfavourable condition in
the UK from 33,992 ha (in 2010) to 12,762 ha by 2015.
• Increase the extent of lowland heathland in the UK by 7,600 ha
by 2015.
Conserving Heathland
It is expected that most of the recreated heathland will be reclaimed
from conifer plantations and farmland where heath has previously
been recorded.
To investigate some of the arguments surrounding heathland
creation please complete Activity C.
Managing Heathland
Heathlands are plagioclimax ecosystems – without continual
intervention from man they will undergo succession and convert to
areas of woodland or scrubland.
To be conserved, heathland must be managed.
Managing Heathland
Heathland management should satisfy the following requirements:
• Control the nutrient content of the soil;
• Control trees, scrub and bracken (however, leaving some areas of
scrub, or some trees may be beneficial to wildlife by increasing
the habitat/structural diversity);
• Produce age diverse vegetation (e.g., stands of heather of
different ages)
• Meet the specific requirements of rare species.
Managing Heathland
Several techniques are used to manage heathlands, including:
Chemical control
of bracken
Controlled burning
Tree removal
To find out more about the various heathland management
techniques please complete Activity D.