Summer heaths

Summer heaths

This week is National Heath Week, celebrating this fascinating habitat and the wildlife that calls them home. In summer there are so many of wildlife delights to look and listen for, we cover a few of them here as well as some simple ways we can all help protect our heathlands for the future

Many of the heaths across north Hampshire are part of the Thames Basin Partnership. This brings together councils, landowners and conservation bodies like the Trust to help conserve heaths in Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. These heaths are home to all six species of native reptile, rare ground-nesting birds, scare butterflies and a host of other invertebrates.

The nightjar, Dartford warbler and woodlark and three bird species which are only found on heathland. Take a trip out after dark and you might be lucky enough to hear the male nightjar’s churring call! They nest on the ground and are especially vulnerable to disturbance by people and dogs. In daylight look out for the Dartford warbler perched on gorse – they have a dark back and reddish-brown front. They nest deep within gorse bushes and have become scarce as heathland habitats have been destroyed. The beautiful, fluting song of the woodlark is another heathland treat, written about in many songs and poems. These birds are also ground-nesters, their small scrapes are almost impossible to spot.

The Thames Basin heathland is protected as a Special Protection Area, but this is not the case for all heaths. These precious habitats are threatened by wildfires, overgrazing and development. These threats can fragment the habitat, making it hard for wildlife populations to move between areas, leading to their decline.

To help protect heaths and their fantastic wildlife remember to always stick to footpaths, especially in the breeding season (March-September). If you are walking a dog then you might consider a different location for your walks during the breeding season, helping to protect ground-nesting birds and reptiles. Never light fires or barbecues on heaths, and also dispose of cigarette butts properly. The dry vegetation means fires spread easily and can burn for a long time underground. Make sure to take any rubbish home and if you can safely do so, then pick up any litter you find. Glass can magnify the sun and start a fire long after visitors have left. If you do spot a fire, please call 999 and explain where the fire is and how big – acting quickly could save the lives of lots of animals.