A meeting of minds to help our heathlands

Katy Sherman, Engagement Officer for the National Park’s Heathlands Reunited project, gives an update on a conference of partners that explored how to better protect these popular reptile-rich habitats.

The Heathland Forum 2019 took place at the Ministry of Defence’s Longmoor Camp and focused on the topic of conservation grazing on lowland heaths.

The Heathland Forum provides a platform to share knowledge and best practice to help conserve this threatened and fragmented habitat. We all share the same vision:

‘Bigger, better, joined-up heathland that people know about, care about, and use responsibly and sustainably.’

In total, 120 heathland managers and experts joined us from across the South East of England for a packed agenda.

Over the course of the day we learnt that conservation grazing undoubtedly increases species diversity – although timing is critical to this.

We heard that the diversity of grazing animals is an important tool and we should consider rare breeds. And we were reminded that grazing is not the only answer.

Replicating historical management is also a vital tool where appropriate, such as bracken harvesting, turf stripping, heather baling, and gorse.

We asked ourselves, how do we judge success for people and for nature in conservation grazing? One size doesn’t fit all, a multi-pronged approach is critical, land managers should celebrate the uniqueness of their individual sites and champion diversity.

Agro-ecological farming can also be highly beneficial. Key takeaway messages included the importance of planning ahead, good animal husbandry and the need to develop integrated management plans.