Thomas Hardy used the fictional Egdon Heath in his novels to exemplify untameable nature whose enemy was civilisation.

Since Hardy was born, the area of lowland heathland has shrunken considerably and since he died the rate of loss accelerated.  Some has been lost to housing, some to agriculture and much to forestry plantations.  Where pine plantations have been planted there is still a window of opportunity to restore the land to heath after the crop of trees is harvested.  And government policy has long been for more of this to happen but the Forestry Commission has been slow to move on this subject.

Lowland heath is an internationally important habitat - rare in world terms and unlucky enough to have been common in southern England where decades of human pressure have been greatest.  The Lawton report could easily have had lowland heath in mind when it called for more, bigger, better managed and better connected habitat areas - but then again that is the refrain that applies to most habitats of conservation interest. 

The RSPB has been involved in restoring heathland on many sites - here at The Lodge for one, but also places like Farnham Heath too.  It can be done, and it can be popular too, once one gets over the knee-jerk reaction that any tree is a good tree even if it is an American species planted in sterile rows across a previously nature-rich habitat.

Given the huge scale of loss of heath it is surely time to 'Lawtonise' heathland and make a real difference to its extent over the next few decades.  Think what a cultural asset it would be in the crowded south of England to have more areas for recreation and enjoyment of nature. 

Anonymous
  • Another man made habitat which you have to struggle with to stop nature taking over! The heather itself is a 'pioneer' plant meaning it is there to encourage other species of plants to colonise the area it is living in especially trees like Birch and Scots Pine. Its seed will not germinate under itself but can lay dormant for 100s of years.  Gorse and Broom fix nitrogen to the soil to again allow other species to colonise. An example of heath is fine but!

  • Totally agree Mark.  I will admit that one ggg grandmother was actually paid to remove peat from one of the Wareham Heaths for her local community.  For that I will apologise, although it was in 1840.