Heathlands - lowland

Context

Lowland heathlands are characterised by vegetation that has a greater than 25% cover of plant species from the heath family (ericoids).  In the lowlands the habitat also typically includes dwarf gorse Ulex minor or western gorse U. gallii.  It generally occurs on well-drained, nutrient-poor, acid soils.  Heaths do occur on more basic soils but these are more limited in extent and can be recognised by the presence of herbs characteristic of calcareous grassland.  Dwarf shrub heath includes both dry and wet heath types.  Lowland is defined as below the level of agricultural enclosure.  The altitude at which this occurs varies across the UK, typically becoming higher as one travels South. 
 
This habitat type does not include dwarf shrub dominated vegetation in which species characteristic of peat-forming vegetation, such as cottongrass Eriophorum spp. and peat-building Sphagnum species are abundant, or that occurs on deep peat (greater than 0.5m), as these are included in the Bog reporting category.  Heath types on sand dunes or shingle are included in the Dunes, shingle and machair reporting category and heath types on maritime cliffs and slopes that are influenced by salt spray are included in the Sea cliffs reporting category.
 
SSSIs can be notified if they qualify under criteria outlined in Chapter 4 Lowland heathland of the Guidelines for Selection of Biological SSSIs.  In Northern Ireland, ASSIs are selected on a very similar basis – the Guidelines for the Selection of Biological ASSIs in Northern Ireland is an addendum to the SSSI guidelines rather than an alternative. 
 

Summary statistics

  SAC A/SSSI Total
Favourable condition 21% 17% 18%
Main monitoring coverage E, S, W E, S  
Reported assessments 75 299 374
Completeness of assessments 88% unknown  
Distribution of features     UK
 

Number of assessments reported by country and site type

Country SAC SSSI/ASSI
England 52 276
Scotland 10 20
Wales 13 0
Northern Ireland 0 3
United Kingdom 75 299
 

Natura features

List of Natura 2000 interest features within this reporting category

Interest feature name  
Formal name Informal name No. of assessments reported Total no. of features % assessed
Dry Atlantic coastal heaths with Erica vagans Dry coastal heaths with Cornish heath 2 2 100%
European dry heaths Dry heaths 46 52 88%
Northern Atlantic wet heaths with Erica tetralix Wet heathland with cross-leaved heath 23 27 85%
Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix Wet heathland with Dorset heath and cross-leaved heath 4 4 100%
 
Natura 2000 comprises Special Protection Areas (under the Birds Directive) and Special Areas for Conservation (under the Habitats and Species Directive). The list presented here includes all of the qualifying interest features under these Directives, and shows the proportion of these features for which a condition assessment has been made.
 

SSSI features

List of SSSI and ASSI interest features in this reporting category

Interest feature name  
Formal name Informal name No. of assessments reported
Dry heath Dry heath 3
Dwarf shrub heath - lowland Dwarf shrub heath - lowland 276
Lowland dry heath Lowland dry heath 16
Lowland wet heath Lowland wet heath 4
 
This list has not been fully standardised at a UK level yet. It is intended to show the principal constituent "feature types" for this reporting category.
 

Maps - distribution

UK distibution of reported interest features

Distribution of reported interest features.

Map showing the locations of the 10km squares in which at least one condition assessment has been reported. It does not show features that have not yet been assessed.

 

Maps - Natura

Distribution of SAC features showing assessments of favourability Condition of SAC features, with those currently reported as unfavourable-recovering shown as favourable
Current condition of SAC features
Distribution of SAC features showing assessments of favourability (where unfavourable-recovering is counted as unfavourable).
Condition of SAC features, with those currently reported as unfavourable-recovering shown as favourable
The implication of the unfavourable-recovering condition assessments is that at some point in the future these features should become favourable. This map shows the effect of that recovery by counting the favourable and unfavourable-recovering assessments together.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: we do not have information on the timescale of the predicted recovery, which may be influenced by many past, natural and human related factors. A sustained sympathetic management regime is more likely to result in favourable condition being attained.

Key: Proportion of assessed features on 10km squares that are favourable:

Natura map legend - Key: proportion of assessed features on 10km squares that are favourable

 

Details of how these maps were produced

 

Maps - SSSI

Current condition of SSSI/ASSI features Condition of SSSI/ASSI features, with those currently reported as unfavourable-recovering shown as favourable
Current condition of SSSI/ASSI features
Distribution of SSSI/ASSI features showing assessments of favourability (where unfavourable-recovering is counted as unfavourable).
Condition of SSSI/ASSI features, with those currently reported as unfavourable-recovering shown as favourable
The implication of the unfavourable-recovering condition assessments is that at some point in the future these features should become favourable. This map shows the effect of that recovery by counting the favourable and unfavourable-recovering assessments together.

 

IMPORTANT NOTE: we do not have information on the timescale of the predicted recovery, which may be influenced by many past, natural and human related factors. A sustained sympathetic management regime is more likely to result in favourable condition being attained.

Key: Proportion of assessed features on 10km squares that are favourable:

SSSI map legend - Proportion of assessed features on 10km squares that are favourable

 

Details of how these maps were produced

 

Condition summary

Reporting category condition summary on Natura 2000 sites and SSSI

This lists the 10 different condition assessments and presents a bar chart showing the number of features within the SSSI series and the Natura 2000 series (either SPA for bird features or SAC for features other than birds). Note that for Natura 2000 we are able to estimate the number of features that have not been assessed during the 6 year reporting period - we are unable to do this for SSSI/ASSI because we do not have an overall list of notified interest features for these designations.

 

NB favourable unclassified and unfavourable unclassified have been used in this first six year cycle to get around difficulties in identifying trends in condition as common standards monitoring is implemented. It is expected that these categories will not be used for subsequent assessments of a feature.

 

Condition assessment - Natura 2000 features

The number and proportion of assessments for Natura 2000 (SAC and SPA) interest features falling into each of the condition categories
The number and proportion of assessments for Natura 2000 (SAC and SPA) interest features falling into each of the condition categories. Note that the �unfavourable� category includes all reports of unfavourable condition except �unfavourable recovering� which is shown as a separate segment.
 

Condition assessment - SSSI features

The number and proportion of assessments for SSSI/ASSI interest features falling into each of the condition categories
The number and proportion of assessments for SSSI/ASSI interest features falling into each of the condition categories. Note that the �unfavourable� category includes all reports of unfavourable condition except �unfavourable recovering� which is shown as a separate segment.
 

Adverse activities

The number of interest features where an activity has been reported as being implicated in the "unfavourable" condition of a feature
The number of interest features where an activity has been reported as being implicated in the "unfavourable" condition of a feature. More than one adverse activity may be reported for each feature.
 

Management measures

The measures summary bar chart lists the management measures relevant to the reporting category
For each "measure" the chart shows the number of interest features where that measure has been taken on a site to improve or maintain the condition of an interest feature. More than one measure may be reported for each feature assessed.
 

Interpretation

Overall, 18% of lowland heathland features reported are in favourable condition.  Heathlands are the habitat category in worst condition, and this result is well below the average for terrestrial habitats, all habitats and all features combined.  17% of A/SSSI and 21% of SAC features reported are in favourable condition. 
 
This is a habitat type which has received major funding in the past decade – the effects of that funding are shown in the number of features reported in unfavourable-recovering condition (47% of A/SSSI features and 43% of SAC features reported).  Nevertheless, actual recovery to favourable condition will require further effort over a considerable period.
 
The patterns of adverse activities are similar in both A/SSSIs and SAC sites.  Lowland heathlands still lack appropriate management (including grazing and control or eradication of invasive species) in many sites.  These problems lead to scrub and bracken encroachment, both of which require much work to bring under control.  Water quality and management are cited as problems in wet heaths; these factors typically affect the nutrient status of heathland habitats, allowing more rank vegetation to invade.  Management agreements with owners or occupiers are the most common way of trying to bring sites into favourable condition.  This situation may change from now on, with agri-environment schemes having a larger role to play.  
 
There are significant differences by country in the results.  In Northern Ireland there are only three features, reflecting the relatively small amount of this feature type in the Province.  Two are in favourable condition.  The other site is in unfavourable condition due to under-grazing as a result of difficult access.  In England and Scotland two thirds or more of the monitored features (both SSSI and SAC) are in unfavourable condition.  All lowland heathland SACs reported in Wales are in unfavourable condition.