A heathland valley rarer than a rainforest

Misbourne Valley heathland Ashdown Forest A visit to a friend’s house last week admiring and picking her heather reminded me that I needed to take my twins for a walk exploring the heathland in Ashdown Forest. Nearly two thirds of it is heathland.

“More than 80% of our lowland heaths have been destroyed since the 19th century. Even rarer than rainforest, heathland is one of our most threatened habitats.” The Wildlife Trusts

I knew where to take them. A heathland valley located in Ashdown Forest where the walk is known as the Southern Slopes and the Airman’s Grave. The 1500 hectares of the Misbourne Valley has heathland which represents some 2.5% of all that is left in Britain.

You’ll also find cattle and sheep roaming and grazing freely here. There are no fences but they’re not wild. They’re actually conserving the heathland by trampling on the bracken and clearing the area so that plants like heather can survive and flourish. It is rather odd to see them resting or having lunch among the trees.

Ashdown Forest sheep restingCow grazing in the woodsHeathland cattle grazing I watched as my two and my mother’s dog ran down a track. At one point they asked me how long would it take them to reach the horizon. I told them they could see the South Downs hills around Firle Beach some 25 km away.

Heathland valley kids runningOf course I had planned this summer to take Luce and Theo at the height of the heather flowering season but then time passed swiftly by.
Kids and dog in heathland

But it’s rather beautiful when the ferns and heather starts turning to copper and the yellow gorse flowers appear in the landscape. Many of the tiny pink bell-shaped flowers of the cross leaved heather were still in bloom. The dwarf gorse adds yellow flowers to the landscape from July to November. A time for kissing to be in fashion as I’ve explained before!

Heather and gorseFlowering and fading heatherWeb silk linking heather stemsHeather and gorse flowering on heathlandHeather among grasses on heathlandFerns green and copperNear the Airman’s Grave – a memorial to a crew of a World War 2 bomber which crashed here in 1941 – we headed for the nearby stream. The water is orange from iron in the soil. Until a century ago this area of the High Weald was a teeming part of the Iron industry. Dragonflies clearly thought this small orange pond was an oasis as I’ve never seen so many in one spot. However every time I tried to focus on one I had to suddenly turn around and tell my two to keep our dog away from the edge of the water.

Ashdown Forest pond reflection and TheoWater pond with dragonflyAshdown Forest iron water Stream in Ashdown ForestWhile my twins seemed to get more energy I began to wilt. I had felt under the weather in the morning and decided that a walk would pick me up. Little did I know as I headed back up the hill, which now felt like an ever growing mountain, that I was burning with fever. I’m not sure if it was me or the sun sneaking through the clouds but the landscape seemed to shimmer with heather, gorse and ferns when we reached the top.

Kids and dog running on pathPath amid heather fern and gorseFlowering heather in heathland landscape

I reminded them as we headed home that a heathland is rarer than a rainforest but only a short drive away from us here in West Sussex.

9 thoughts on “A heathland valley rarer than a rainforest”

  1. Pingback: 171. HDYGG - Mammasaurus

  2. Hope you are ok? I love heathland, Macclesfield area where I’ve been bilberry picking and more recently on Anglesey. It’s a habitat I love to photograph. Lucky you seeing the dragonflies, such a thrilling insect.

    1. Thank you Sam – I was absolutely fine after a day of rest. It had been so long and so rare for me to have a temp that I really didn’t realise 🙂 I must go back alone to just watch and capture the dragonflies on that pond – it was quite wondrous to watch but I had to make sure two wild twins and a dog didn’t fall into the water!

  3. I know how important the heathland habitat is for the animals and plants that live there but strangely it is a habitat I find hard to love. I don’t like the dark water of the ponds and I have been there in the bleak winter when both colour and shelter are so lacking. That said, I love dragonflies and yesterday I was very excited to see a slow worm on my walk, a species that does like heathlands!

    I do hope your fever is now abated and no wonder you found that walk back so difficult. #HDYGG

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