Heathland in the Brecon Beacons

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Bees buzzing, butterflies and dragonflies skimming to and fro, skylarks calling as they rise and fall, and peregrines and merlins racing overhead – heathland is a rich and varied habitat.

The central massif of the Brecon Beacons has plenty of heathlands – wide, open landscapes dominated by plants including heathers, gorse and a range of different grasses.

What is heathland?

There are several types of heathland, but they all have one thing in common: a community of plants growing on poor soil of which heather is part of or the most dominant plant.

In August and September it’s the glorious flowering heather that gives so many of our mountains and moorlands their rich purple glow – this is our archetypal dry heath of the UK’s uplands.

There are several types of heathland:
• Montane – the highest and most exposed, and the only type not found in the Brecon Beacons
• Upland and lowland dry heath
• Upland and lowland wet heath
• Heathland on bog

But heathlands aren’t just about heather.

Dry heath typically has bilberry (fantastic purple berries), gorse, lichens and mosses, while wet heath has cotton grass, bobbing heads of white and bog moss and sphagnum in wetter patches.

Blanket bog isn’t strictly heathland as it’s classed as mire, but it does have heather in some places.

Where can I find it?

The UK holds the largest amount of heathland in western Europe and the world and you don’t have to wander far to find it in the Beacons, with wet and dry heath and blanket bog found throughout the area.

All the uplands in Britain have some component of heathland, so you’ll be able to find it at plenty of our other places, including the Sugarloaf, Skirrid Fawr and Abergwesyn Commons.

A habitat created by humans

Heathland is a habitat very much created and maintained by human activity. In the past, it was often burnt, grazed and cut and gorse was used for winter fodder for stock and fuel for bread ovens.

Heathland is still widely managed today, often for red grouse for shooting. Many sites are changing though, through less grazing, repeated wildfires and encroachment of trees and bracken.

But here in the Brecon Beacons, it’s still cared for by us for the wonderful wildlife it supports, and for you.