Lowland Heathland

Lowland heathland is a largely open landscape occurring on impoverished, acidic soils. It is characterised by plants such as heathers and dwarf gorses of varying height, and usually occurs with areas of other habitat such as acid grassland and open water.

Lowland Heathland at Stedham Common

Photo: Sussex Wildlife Trust

Why is it important?

  • Heathland is often interspersed with bare ground, acid grassland, gorse, bracken, bog and scattered trees. This provides a range of habitat, increasing value to wildlife.
  • A diversity of invertebrates is found with rare species including wasps, beetles and spiders. Areas of bare ground are often particularly important to invertebrates.
  • There is a relatively low number of plants; however many rare species are found, particularly in the wetter areas, including White-beak Sedge and Bog Asphodel.
  • The rare Smooth Snake and Sand Lizard are found on some West Sussex heathlands.
  • Several uncommon birds thrive on heathland including Nightjar and Stonechat.

Heathland in Sussex

Sussex has over 3000 hectares of heathland. This occurs mainly on the Wealden Greensand in West Sussex and in the High Weald of East Sussex, where Ashdown Forest contains the largest area of heathland remaining in South East England. The South Downs retain areas of chalk heath, a rare habitat that develops on acidic deposits overlying chalk, on which an interesting mix of chalk grassland and heathland plants are found.

What are the threats?

  • Lack of management results in a simplified vegetation structure and dominance of scrub.
  • Agricultural improvement, including use of chemicals and intensive-livestock farming.
  • Isolation and fragmentation of sites reduces dispersal opportunities making species more susceptible to extinction.
  • Development including mineral extraction and conversion to conifer plantation.
  • Recreation can cause disturbance to breeding birds, enrichment of soil and a danger of fire damage.

Some associated species

  • Dartford Warbler Sylvia undata
  • Sand Lizard Lacerta agilis
  • Bog Bush-cricket Metrioptera brachyptera
  • Heath Tiger Beetle Cicindela sylvatica
  • Bog Pimpernel Anagallis tenella
  • Heath Bedstraw Galium saxatile

Dartford Warbler at Iping Common

Photo: Sussex Wildlife Trust

Advice on heathland

The Grazing Advice Partnership

Sussex Targets

Biodiversity Action Reporting System Website

Download the Lowland Heathland Habitat Action Plan