Much of the lowland heathland in the UK has been lost to agriculture, tree planting, mineral extraction and road and housing development.
Outside the New Forest, ninety percent of Hampshire’s heathland has been lost since 1800. Remaining areas are fragmented and often small in size. Care needs to be taken to ensure that there is no further loss of lowland heathland.
Under the UK government’s ‘Biodiversity Action Plan’ (BAP) programme, lowland heathland is a ‘priority habitat' for conservation. Many heathland areas are also protected under European law for their value to wildlife (see Natura 2000).
The greatest threat to the survival of remaining heathland is a lack of suitable management. Heathland is a ‘semi-natural’ habitat and, like all land- based habitats in the UK, it has been created and maintained mostly through the influence of people. In the case of heathland this influence has spanned thousands of years (see ‘What is heathland’).
To maintain and enhance the special ecological value of heathlands, land managers must attempt to re-create the traditional practices that maintained heathland over the past five thousand years.
Without the influence of traditional management, heathlands will revert to woodland, a valuable but more common habitat.