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Heathland plants

Heathland is probably the most iconic scenery of the New Forest National Park, with large swathes of open land turning a beautiful purple colour from August as the heather flowers.

The lowland heathland of the New Forest, and other parts of southern England, is very special because of the warm, dry climate and the fact that it is on sandy soil. These conditions favour many species and create a different type of heath to the moors (upland heath) of northern England, Scotland and Wales.

Worldwide, lowland heath is mainly found in north-west Europe, with the majority in the UK, Denmark and Holland. The UK has lost over 80% of its lowland heath since 1800, and now has about 20% of the world’s lowland heath, making it a very rare habitat.

Relatively few species of plant can tolerate the acid conditions of the sandy soils. In order for these special plants to thrive, trees and scrub need to be prevented from spreading or be pushed back.  This work is best done by grazing animals that like to eat the shoots and leaves of young trees.

The heathland habitat is also maintained by controlled burning or cutting and baling the heather. These can appear very destructive, but they are very important management methods. Burning revitalises many of the plants on the heaths, removing old growth and allowing a nutritious flush of new young growth for animals and wildlife to graze.

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