heathland in Surrey - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

What is heathland?

Heathland is one of our most threatened wildlife habitats. It is an open landscape of gorse, bracken, heathers and grasses.


Family bird watching on heathland in summer Suffolk Sandlings - David Tipling/2020VISION

Cow in heathland

Cows grazing - Jon Hawkins - Surrey Hills Photography

In the past heathlands were valuable to local people for grazing sheep, goats, horses, donkeys and geese. They also used it for all sorts of useful products, from gorse for burning, bracken for animal bedding, sand and gravel for building. Wild foods such as blackberries, edible fungi and elderberries, used to be gathered from heathland.

Today many heathlands have been lost. Sadly they have turned into farmland or been built upon. Even where they have been left alone they have often naturally turned into woodland once their use by local people as grazing land stopped.

Common foxglove

Common foxglove Digitalis purpurea, a composite image showing foxgloves growing on the heathland of Wingletang Down, St Agnes, Isles of Scilly, June - Ed Marshall

Did you know?

Even rarer than rainforests, heathland is one of our most threatened habitats. Today many heaths are protected as nature reserves and Wildlife Trusts are looking after them. This is important as without heaths a lot of rare and unique wildlife can't survive!

Wildlife to spot



Mammals and birds

Mammals such as rabbits, hares, weasels and stoats live in heathland. Birds include nightjars and the rare Dartford warbler.

Download the heathland wildlife spotter sheet

Amphibians and reptiles

Heathlands are the most important area for reptiles in the UK. All six UK species of reptiles can be found in heathland as it provides the perfect habitat. There are open areas for reptiles to warm themselves in the sun and plenty of food due to all the insects!

Find out more about amphibians

Download the amphibian and reptile spotter sheet 


Many beautiful plants can be found across heathlands. They're important for pollinators, and bees can often be seen buzzing around bell heather and ling heather. The scattered cover provided by plants and shrubs are perfect breeding grounds for birds. Other plants to look out for are gorse, bracken and harebell.

Find out more about trees and shrubs

Butterfly in heathland

Silver-studded blue butterfly by Chris Gomersall/2020VISION

Other habitats