Where can you experience the yellow 'fireworks' of sweet smelling gorse, crackling in the hot summer sunshine while clouds of butterflies, along with their more fierce dragon- and damsel-fly relatives, hawk to and fro over a carpet of heather blossom extending to the horizon in a shimmering purple haze?
The answer of course is Hampshire's heathlands. Here, rare reptiles such as smooth snake and sand lizard, along with some of our rarer bird and butterfly species - Dartford Warbler, nightjar, woodlark and silver studded blue and grayling butterflies - flourish in a unique environment which is very much a part of the county's landscape.
Heathlands are fantastic places to visit and arguably some of the only places in the south east of England to experience a feeling of 'wilderness'. A visit during the summer months can be particularly rewarding and with a minimum of effort you can often see many rare plants and animals.
Hampshire has approximately 20,000 hectares of lowland heathland, more than any other county in England. The main areas of heathland are the New Forest in the south west of the county and the acidic sand and gravel areas of the north east and east of the county. There is a huge variety of heathlands in Hampshire, no two are the same and a visit to many different sites can give you an insight into the diversity of habitats and flora and fauna found there.
For information about the heathlands in the New Forest see www.thenewforest.co.uk. You can visit the Loddon and Eversley website ( www.loddon-eversley.org.uk) to find out more about the heathlands in the Loddon and Eversley Heritage Area in northeast Hampshire.
Visit a heathland near you
North East Hampshire – Thames Basin Heaths
East Hampshire – Wealden Greensands
The heathland in the north east of Hampshire is mainly found within the Thames Basin Heaths Special Protection Area.
Yateley Common Country Park (near Yateley) managed by project partners Hampshire County Council's Countryside Service. A mixture of heathland, woodland and grassland with ponds that are home to rare dragonfly and damselfly species such as Black Darter and Downy Emerald.
Castle Bottom National Nature Reserve (near Eversley) managed by project partners Hampshire County Council's Countryside Service. Castle Bottom has a very good example of a valley mire system and is home to many rare species of insect. Nightjars are summer visitors.
Hook and Bartley Commons (near Hook) managed by project partners the Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust. The site is grazed by New Forest ponies and is an excellent place to see the rare and beautiful Marsh gentian.
Fleet Pond Local Nature Reserve (Fleet) managed by project partners Hart District Council Countryside Service, Fleet Pond is the largest freshwater lake in Hampshire with an adjacent area of heathland. Amongst the notable species found here are an abundance of silver studded blue butterflies.
Elvetham Heath Local Nature Reserve (near Fleet) managed by project partners Hart District Council Countryside Service, Elvetham Heath.
Hazeley Heath (near Hartley Wintney) has a mix of habitats and an abundance of interesting wildlife.
Tadley Common (Tadley) Tadley Common is a 32ha Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). It is divided into three parts by development, with the largest area bounded by Silchester Road to the north, Tadley Common Road to the west and Pamber Heath Road to the east. Fencing for conservation grazing is now complete, financed by an English Nature Wildlife Enhancement Scheme, and six Dexter cattle are now resident!
Plants such as the heath spotted orchid and bog asphodel can be found on the wetter parts of the common, while the silver studded blue and grayling butterflies make their home on the drier heath. Tadley common is important for its bird population as nightjar, Dartford warbler and woodlark all make use of the heathland. Until recently, birch was collected from the common for use in traditional besom broom making.
There are several access points onto the common, including a car park on Pamber Heath Road, not far from the post office and a car park off Tadley Common Road where the Jubilee Centre used to be.
Newtown Common (Newtown, near Newbury) is a 58ha Site of Importance for Nature Conservation to the south of Newbury. The site can be accessed from a car park at Jonathan Hill SU 477 633 (from Newtown take the B4640 and turn left at the White Swan public house).
Burghclere Common is situated south of Newtown Common and north of the village of Burghclere. The site is known to support a rich flora indicating long continuity of woodland and heathland cover and an unusually diverse fauna of insects and other invertebrates. The site is adjacent to the woodland of Herbert Plantation, a Local Nature Reserve.
Earlstone Common (Burghclere) is a Site of Importance for Nature Conservation located approximately three miles south of Newbury in the village of Burghclere. The open dry heath is dominated by ling and is surrounded by semi natural woodland. There are no car parking facilities but it is a short walk from the centre of the village and can be accessed near to the gates of the Clere School.
Browndown Common and Browndown Ranges (Lee-on-Solent/ Gosport) These two sites are a botanist’s dream come true with an abundance of rare and unusual species including little robin, pale toadflax and Nottingham catchfly. Browndown Common to the north, is home to a significant population of grayling butterflies. To the south Browndown Ranges are an intriguing mixture of habitats and provide a fine example of rare ‘shingle heath’. The site is also home to the extremely rare Gilkicker weevil (Pachytychius haematocephalus). The Solent Way coastal path runs through the site which has been used for military training for over 300 years. Please note that access may be restricted due to military use. There is a car park at the western end of Stokes Bay Road.
Netley Common (Netley, Southampton) managed by project partners Hampshire County Council's Countryside Service. Netley Common has a rich social and natural history and a visit to this little oasis of calm is well worth a visit any time of the year.
Hamble Common (Hamble) managed by project partners Eastleigh Borough Council. This is the only place in Southampton or Eastleigh Borough where may find silver studded blue butterflies. It is also home to grayling butterflies and the scarce blue-tailed damselfly. Hamble Common is grazed for conservation purposes.
Woolmer Forest (near Bordon) is the largest area of lowland heathland in Hampshire outside the New Forest. It once covered a much greater area than the 700 hectares found there today. Kingsley and Shortheath Commons to the north, Longmoor Inclosure to the south and Bramshott Common to the east were all once part of the same continuous heath.
WARNING: Woolmer Forest is a Range Danger Area and it is illegal and dangerous to enter when the red flags are flying. Access is NOT permitted most weekdays between 8am and 4pm and some weekends.
Shortheath Common Nature Reserve (near Oakhanger, Bordon) is managed by project partners Hampshire County Council's Countryside Service. The site is a remnant of Woolmer Forest and has a variety of habitats. Part of the site is designated under European law as a 'Special Area of Conservation' (cSAC) for the valley mire and 'quaking bog', which is a floating mass of moss and cranberry. The site is also home to a large population of field crickets. There is a small car park off the minor road between Kingsley and Oakhanger. OS grid ref SU 775 369. Call 01252 870425 for more information.
Broxhead Common (Near Lindford and Bordon) is part of the Broxhead & Kingsley Commons Site of Special Scientific Interest once part of Woolmer Forest. Broxhead Common is mostly open dry heathland and has some pools important for their dragonfly and damselfly populations. It is also an excellent place to see silver studded blue butterflies. The site is protected under UK and European law and is of national importance for its bird and insect life.
Broxhead Common is bisected by the B3004 and the A325. The easternmost part is owned and managed by Hampshire County Council Countryside Service who maintain a car park off the B3004 road adjacent to Lindford cricket pitch (OS grid ref SU 806370). For more information call 01252 870425
The other two thirds of the site are owned by the Ministry of Defence and managed by Defence Estates. The area is used for training as well as being managed for it’s heathland interest. The Hampshire Heathland Project and the Herpetological Conservation Trust undertake heathland restoration work here liaising closely with Defence Estates.
Kingsley Common (Kingsley, near Bordon) occupies a commanding position above the village of Kingsley, sloping down steeply to the Oxney stream on its southernmost edge. The site was once managed by village commoners who would have grazed their animals and taken gorse and birch from the heathland. Today the site is owned by the Ministry of Defence and is part of the Army Training Estate. An area of mostly dry heath with limited wet heath and some acid grassland Kingsley Common has some beautiful and interesting lichen species and Dartford warblers can be heard and seen flitting about amongst the heather. Kingsley pond in the north western corner of the site supports seventeen species of dragonfly, including two notable species, the small red damselfly and downy emerald. The site is archeologically important, containing a bronze-age round barrow and Mesolithic remains. There is a car park at Kingsley Pond next to the Cricketer’s pub on the B3004.
Mention of a site on these pages confers no public right of entry to any land without the permission of the landowner.
Public access to any sites owned by the Ministry of Defence is permitted subject to the provisions of the Aldershot and District Military Lands Byelaws 1976 and the Longmoor Ranges and Demolition Training Areas Byelaws 1982 which are advertised at various entrance points to the Defence Estate.
It is an offence under Section 28 P(6) of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981 (as incorporated by the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000), without reasonable excuse, intentionally or recklessly to destroy or damage any of the flora, fauna, or geological or physiographical features by reason of which land is of special interest, or intentionally or recklessly to disturb any of those fauna. A person found guilty of any such offence may be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding £20,000 or on conviction on indictment to a fine.
Some species of plants and animals may also be subject to special protection under Part I of the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981, or under the Habitats Regulations 1994.