UK Lowland Heathland Habitats


Heathland images - credits at bottom of page


Heathland is a well-known habitat type in the lowlands of the UK. It occurs on acidic, impoverished, dry sandy or wet peaty soils, and is characterised by the presence of a range of dwarf-shrubs. These include various types of heather and gorse, as well as bilberry/blaeberry, cowberry and crowberry.


Lowland heathland is a priority for nature conservation because it is a rare and threatened habitat. It has declined greatly in extent during the last two centuries – in England it is estimated that only one sixth of the heathland present in 1800 remains – and it still faces major pressures.


The habitat is also home to numerous highly specialised plants and animals. It is particularly important for reptiles, especially large lowland heathland blocks in southern England, which provide prime locations for the rare sand lizard and smooth snake. A number of scarce birds use lowland heathland as their primary habitat, such as the nightjar and Dartford warbler. Many scarce and threatened invertebrates and plants are found on lowland heathland.


The UK has a special obligation to conserve this habitat, given that it supports about 20% of the lowland heath in Europe. It also has high intrinsic appeal and provides a special sense of wilderness.


Lowland heathland is classed as a priority habitat under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan and there are five lowland heathland habitat types listed under Annex I of the EU Habitats Directive.


Use the following page links to find out more about UK lowland heathland habitats:



Photographs credits (left to right): Common gorse spines and flowers © Nigel Mykura [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons; Dartford warbler © Carles Pastor [GFDL ( or CC-BY-SA-3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons; Pink bell heather and yellow dwarf gorse flowers © JNCC; Male adder © Miika Silfverberg (originally posted to Flickr as Adder (S)) [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons; unset over heathland in the New Forest © Jim Champion [CC-BY-SA-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons