As heathlands were formed by the activities of man in the past it is necessary to actively manage them to maintain their wildlife value. The lowland heaths of southern England would quickly become woodland if no management occurred.
There are two main aims to heathland management, the first is to have a range of different aged heather and the second is to stop the colonisation of invasive plant species.
The main management plans involve grazing by animals and some mowing of the heather to create mosaic patches of different ages and height. Grazing also helps in the control of the invasive species.
Grazing promotes a wide range of plants, helps to reduce some unwanted plants and produces a variety of heathland micro habitats which encourage different heathland wildlife.
Mowing and cutting heather and gorse helps to maintain a range of vegetation heights suitable for different wildlife. Scrub which threatens to overtake the heather and gorse is also cut or mown. Scattered groups of trees provide shade and homes for wildlife but need to be managed to prevent them shading the heathland plants.
Management to reduce fire risk and help fight fires is important on heathland. Fire defendable lines may be cut at strategic locations, where vegetation is cut very low to help reduce the spread of fires. Other areas may have tall gorse and invasive rhododendron removed to reduce vegetation which will easily burn.
During the winter, controlled or ‘prescribed’ burns are carried out on the heathland. This helps reduce the amount of ‘fuel’ on the heath by removing older vegetation. It also promotes new growth, which in turn provides food and habitat variation. These prescribed burns only take place in the winter months during periods when reptiles and invertebrates will be hibernating, and birds are not nesting. The fires at this time of year are very different to accidental or deliberate fires which threaten wildlife and people.