Lowland Heath

Lowland Heath -

Current Status

Lowland heath is characterised by the dominance of heather species (primarily ling in Kent). Heathland sites often also include patchy or scattered gorse, acid grassland areas, bare ground scrub and occasional trees, open water and Sphagnum-dominated bogs and fens. Heath develops on acidic sand and gravel substrates, and is normally maintained by light grazing or cutting.

Heathland is a very rare habitat in Kent, now more or less confined to Hothfield Common, Dartford Heath, Pembury Heath near Tunbridge Wells, and areas within the Blean Wood complex. Heathland was previously much more widespread in the county, with some 1910 ha being present in 1798, and may have been a dominant vegetation type on many of the (now wooded) commons in the west of the county. Only some 110-145ha or so now remains (including heathland recently restored by Kent BAP partners at Pembury, Blean and Hothfield), representing more than a 65% decline since the mid-1940s, and more than a 90% decline since heathland was at it peak extent in the late 1700s.

Since the first Kent BAP was prepared, both woodlark and Dartford warbler have returned to breed in the county, though the latter not on a heathland site, and Dartford Warblers overwinter at Pembury Heath. Other species have not fared so well, and sundew, a plant of the acid bogs associated with heathland, is now present at only one site.

Factors

The protection of the few remaining sites means that direct loss or damage is unlikely to be a significant factor at present. However, the following are all likely to continue to contribute to further declines in heathland extent and quality:

  • Habitat fragmentation and isolation as a result of past losses.
  • Lack of appropriate management, resulting in both tree and scrub encroachment and a reduction in the structural complexity of the vegetation.
  • Increased visitor pressure leading to excessive disturbance of vegetation and soils, and to direct disturbance of sensitive species such as heathland birds.
  • Nutrient enrichment, including deposition of sulphur and nitrogen oxides from vehicular and industrial emissions.

Positive factors include:

  • Existing restoration and management schemes at Hothfield Common and Dartford Heath.
  • Heathland restoration projects at Pembury Heath and in the Blean.

Current Action

  • The most significant remaining blocks of heathland in the county are now protected as SSSI (at Hothfield Common and the Blean), as a Local Wildlife Site (SNCI) (at Dartford Heath), or as a nature reserve (the RSPB's reserve at Pembury Heath).
  • Restoration and management schemes are in place for Hothfield Common, Dartford Heath, Pembury Heath and the Blean.
  • There is an ongoing heathland restoration project at Pembury Heath and Cinderhill Wood near Tunbridge Wells.

Objectives

  1. Maintain the extent of all existing heathland sites.

  2. Significantly increase the extent of heathland, particularly at or close to existing sites at Dartford and Hothfield, and in the Blean and the High Weald.

  3. Secure the appropriate conservation management of all existing and restored/recreated heathland.

Relevant Habitat Action Plans

The relevant UK Habitat Action Plans: