Heathland is an internationally protected habitat that has declined dramatically since the 1800s. Only occurring in Northern and Western Europe, the 20% remaining in Britain is a significant amount and needs appropriate management to maintain it and reduce its fragility.
Heathland is dominated by heather or gorse which is often found in upland areas (above300m on unfertile soils which receive regular rainfall). However, heather is also found in small fragmented patches in lowland southern areas including Kent, referred to as lowland heath. 70% of Kent’s 145ha of heathland occur on just four sites – Dartford Heath, Blean Woods, Bedgebury Woods and Hothfield Common.
Over 80% of Britain’s heathland has been lost in the last 200 years due to agricultural intensification, increasing urban development and afforestation. It is important that the valuable areas in Kent are retained and enhanced.
Traditionally, heathland had a significant cultural value with traditional management such as livestock grazing, using gorse for firewood and cutting bracken for use as bedding for animals. This active and appropriate management ensured heathland thrived benefiting a range of wildlife and vegetation. It is one of the most valuable habitats for wildlife particularly birds including the nightjar. The importance of heathland for conservation and landscape has been recognised on an international level, however a lack of appropriate and traditional management continues to contribute to its decline.