New Forest lowland heathland

Path cutting through heathland in the New Forest

Lowland heathland is an internationally rare habitat, for which the New Forest is one of the main strongholds in Britain.

These habitats are in man-made landscapes, opened up from the forests, by the use ancient pastoral practices by local commoners throughout history, and as such it requires constant management.

Lowland heathland includes a wide range of habitats found within the New Forest, from bogs and mires to wet heath through to humid and dry heath. This undulating and varied landscape provides habitat for a vast array of rare and diverse wildlife.

Fungi in the forest
Fungi growing in the New Forest, Hampshire

The wildlife across the lowland heathlands of the New Forest is a stunning mix of flora and fauna, changing throughout the seasons, including an array of birds, reptiles, insects and plants, and there’s always something to see.

The New Forest Northern Commons are a feast for the eyes in summer
Sways of heather at Robin Hood Clump, Ibsley Common, New Forest, Hampshire

The beautiful purple of the heather is best viewed in late August, and throughout the summer flowers such as orchids, bog asphodels and an array of heathland and acid grassland species flourish.

In the spring and summer our commons are home to rare ground nesting birds, such as woodlark, nightjar, curlew and lapwing. Our dartford warblers rely on our well managed gorse stands throughout the year, for breeding in the spring and shelter during the winter.

Nightjars, a rare ground-nesting bird, nest on the common near the pond
A nightjar, a rare ground-nesting bird, held by a ranger at night

In April the heathlands are full of the sounds of calling woodlark in the day, and later on in the summer the churrs of nightjar at dusk.

In the colder months, birds of prey head south from their breeding grounds in the north of Britain to over-winter on lowland heaths. Hen harriers and merlin can be seen hunting across the plateaus, as well as peregrine falcons and migrant great grey shrikes.

A peregrine falcon searches the skies, the fastest bird in Britain
A peregrine falcon in flight on the Isle of Wight

Our heathlands are home to five of Britain's six native reptiles. Adders are a common sight across the spring and summer, basking under gorse bushes in the morning sunshine.

The heathlands are awash with butterflies, with green hairstreaks flittering about on the gorse bushes in May and silver studded blues on the heather in July.

A damselfly rests with wings closed, while a dragonfly will hold its wings open
Damselfly by river Avon in parkland at Charlecote Park

Our bogs and pools sustain vast populations of breeding damselflies and dragonflies.