Lowland Heath – Norfolk Coast Habitat Information
- Nightjar (spring and summer)
- Woodlark (spring and summer)
- Black darter dragonfly (summer)
- Glow worms (summer)
- Silver studded blue butterfly (summer)
- Adders (summer)
- Common lizard (summer)
- Bell heather (flowers July-August)
- Ling (flowers spring-autumn)
- Western gorse (flowers August and September)
Heathland was formed when poor sandy soils were deforested, often thousands of years ago, and were kept open through subsequent centuries by grazing domestic livestock, often as commons. The dominant plants of heather heathland are common ling, bell heather, European gorse and in some areas western gorse. Associated with them are many other heathland specialist plants including heath bedstraw, purple moor grass, common dodder and heath milkwort.
Among the characteristic reptiles of the area’s heaths are viviparous (common) lizard, slow worm and adder. Nesting birds include woodlark, tree pipit, nightjar, linnet and yellowhammer. Among many typical invertebrates of heather heaths are green tiger beetle, minotaur beetle, emperor moth, silver-studded blue, small heath, mottled grasshopper and common groundhopper.
Where water occurs on heaths, acid bogs or alkaline fens may develop, depending on the water’s origins. These wetlands are frequently home to highly adapted plants including sundews, butterworts and cross-leaved heath, and rare invertebrates such as raft spider, keeled skimmer, bog bush-cricket and black darter.
Lowland acid grassland is also found interspersed with heathland to create a mosaic of open and short shrubby habitats.
Where can I find this habitat?
Heather heathland and acidic grassland is found on poor sandy soils in several parts of the area, principally the western parts and the Holt-Cromer Ridge in north Norfolk. Winterton Dunes National Nature Reserve also has heathland characteristics.
On the Lower Greensand in the west, there are three substantial areas of heath which can be accessed. These are at Ken Hill, Dersingham Bog National Nature Reserve and Ling Common east of North Wootton (although large areas of Ling Common have succeeded to secondary woodland).
On the Holt – Cromer ridge several extensive blocks of heathland remain and are accessible. The largest and most significant are at Salthouse and Kelling Heaths with smaller areas around West Runton / Roman Camp. A smaller area of heathland at Wiveton Downs is also accessible.
How is this habitat managed?
Until the First World War heathlands played a vital role in sustaining the economy of local communities and people. They were used as a source of grazing for stock, sand for building and wood and peat for fuel. It is these practices which over the centuries inadvertently helped to create the rich mosaic of habitats which our present-day heaths still possess.
Today heathland is managed using both traditional techniques, such as grazing by hardy breeds of livestock, and modern technology including cutting using heavy machinery. The aim of such management is to retain a mosaic of vegetation types and prevent and reverse encroachment by scrub and the resulting loss of open areas of heather heathland. Without this management heaths can rapidly be colonised by bracken, scrub or woodland, or become so uniform in age class that many species lose their niche.
There is some re-creation of heathland habitat on selected known former heathland sites which have had pine woodland planted on them.
Norfolk Coast Integrated Landscape Guidance – Rolling Heath and Arable
This document from the Norfolk Coast Partnership contains details about the rolling heath and arable landscape in the Norfolk Coast.
Norfolk Coast Integrated Landscape Guidance – Wooded Slopes with Estate Land
This document from the Norfolk Coast Partnership contains details about the wooded slopes with estate land landscape in the Norfolk Coast.
Natural England National Character Area Profile – 76 North West Norfolk
This document, produced by Natural England, contains further detail about the North West Norfolk landscape.
Natural England National Character Area Profile – 78 Central North Norfolk
This document, produced by Natural England, contains further detail about the Central North Norfolk landscape.