Heathland habitats

4. Heathland habitats

Heathland is fundamentally a transitional habitat: it is not the end point of natural succession and must be maintained through human intervention.  Heathland habitat was created through forest clearance for agriculture thousands of years ago.  Removing the protective tree cover left the soil exposed, leading to nutrient leaching and acidification of the soil. This impoverished soil was colonised by acid-loving dwarf shrubs such as heather, gorse, broom and bilberry with supporting acid grassland dominated by species such as purple moor grass and matt grass.  The presence of woodland elements such as bracken and pioneer tree species such as silver birch are signs of the continual transition of the site towards a woodland community.

Over time the birds, insects and mammals that adapted to the new heathland environment have become dependent on it.   Many heathland species can survive in several different habitats, but some, such as Dartford warbler, woodlark, slow worms and smooth snake, can live only within heathland habitat.

The well-drained soils which support heathland habitats are inherently suitable for golf. Similarly, heathland plants can thrive in a golf course environment, where low vegetation is required close to play and where golf course presentation requires that the vegetation be maintained in good health.  However, while a golf course can provide a niche for heathland plants, there are significant threats to heather and heathland plants on golf courses, e.g. example trampling pressure, grass, gorse and bracken encroachment, tree and shrub regeneration, inappropriate cutting regimes and ill-advised tree planting.

This resources section looks at the management of heathland elements on golf courses: heather, gorse, bracken and heathland trees.

4.1 Heather species
4.2 Reducing trampling pressure in heather
4.3 Heather management techniques
4.4 Bracken and fern species
4.5 Heathland trees
4.6 Gorse Management