Habitats at Headley Heath

Pond on Headley Heath Surrey

As a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Headley Heath provides a rich habitat for many different species of flora and fauna. Find out how we manage and conserve our site to continue to provide a home for some many of our resident and visiting wildlife.

Our special ecosystem

Headley is one of the few places where alkaline or chalk-loving plants (like cowslips) and acidic or chalk-hating plants (like heather) can be found growing together. This mix of geology leads to a great diversity of plants and insects, which creates a rich ecosystem.


Our heathland may look natural, but it is in fact man-made, created many years ago when our ancestors began clearing forests for farming. Heather and other plants grew in the poor, sandy soil, providing people with fuel and thatching materials. Animals also grazed the heath.
Lots of Surrey’s heathland has now been lost, mainly due to the decline in the old agricultural system, which has allowed trees to grow (natural re-afforestation) and change the habitat.
Today we are striving to protect our precious heathland and its many unique plants and animals.

Chalk downland

Chalk downland is a special type of grassland habitat, found on chalk hills such as the North Downs. It’s an extremely rich habitat and supports a great diversity of plants and animals.
The plants are specially adapted to the tough growing conditions (thin, fast-draining soils, low nutrients and high levels of calcium carbonate from the chalk). Because of the difficult conditions, no single plant species can dominate, and so a diverse range of plants live together.


The woodland is a mix of beech, silver birch, goat willow, oak and rowan and is home to many creatures. It’s found mainly on the south and west sides of the heath, where the soil is clay with flints.

Ponds and wetlands

Our ponds are home to a wonderful array of aquatic life, including dragonfly nymphs, newts, grass snakes, toads and frogs. Various grasses and rushes thrive in the damp ground near the water’s edge.

Habitat helpers

To keep all our wonderful habitats they need a helping hand. If we didn’t cut down young trees (especially quick-growing birch), clear bracken and scrub we would rapidly lose our special habitats and the unique wildlife they support.
Our dedicated volunteers help us with this never-ending task and also our munching belted Galloway cattle.

Did you know?

  • only 0.24% of the British Isles is still a lowland heath area; now an endangered habitat
  • without conservation our chalk downland and heathland would be replaced by woodland
  • bracken shades out native heathland plants, such as heather. It grows quickly and needs controlling
  • birds such as the nightjar would lose their heathland habitat if we didn't control invasive plants
  • rare butterflies and wild flowers thrive on chalk downland, including beautiful orchids