Heath Week 2023
Did you know Greensand Country contains all of Bedfordshire’s remaining heathland? These habitats are part of the area’s distinct identity, but are some of our most threatened habitats. As part of #HeathWeek2023 we want to celebrate these amazing habitats.
Most heathlands developed during or after the Stone Age (some 3,500 years ago) in areas with poor soils, where trees were removed and grazing or burning prevented their regrowth. Open heaths have been used by humans for centuries for grazing livestock, rabbit warrens, cutting gorse for fuel and collecting bracken for livestock bedding.
Heathland is much more than just heathers and gorse. They may also contain grasses, flowers, some trees, bare ground and, in some cases, ponds or running water. In many sites, heathlands form part of a bigger landscape with grasslands, woodlands, mires or scrub habitats. The dry, warm soils of heathlands make them very important for reptiles. A mix of open, sunny and sheltered areas for basking, together with cover for shelter, is vital. Many insects have heathlands as their primary habitat, feeding on grasses and flowers typical of the heaths or relying on areas of bare sandy ground for their burrows, for example, solitary bees and wasps. Few birds are restricted to heathlands, however there some specialists such as Dartford warblers and nightjars which are primarily associated with lowland heathland. Many others live in areas where heathland is one of the components of the landscape, such as kestrels, hobbies and stonechats.
As well as a habitat to many different species, vital for preserving our biodiversity, heathland also helps to store carbon, with an average of 100 tonnes of carbon stored above and below ground per hectare of heathland.
These habitats are under threat from many different angles. Tree planting, agricultural and building development, lack of management leading to heathland being wooded over, and visitor pressures all contribute to areas of heathland being lost. Conservation work throughout Greensand Country has begun to restore heathland at a landscape level, with 113 hectares being created or restored.
Are you interested in discovering Greensand Country’s heathland? Take a look at the map to see where you can explore these fascinating habitats, such as at Rushmere Country Park, Cooper’s Hill, and The Lodge, Sandy.
If you’re interested in finding out more about lowland heath habitats, why not take a look through our habitat resource pack.