Thirty-five percent of London’s heathland is found in Wandsworth. Lowland heathland occurs on sandy, nutrient-poor soils and is characterised by a mosaic of low-growing shrubs with grasses, bare ground and scrub.
Despite its wild appearance, heathland is a man-made habitat, which requires continual management to maintain its open appearance. Historically, the land would have used for grazing sheep and collecting timber, but those practices have died out.
Before 1900, all of the borough’s commons had areas of heather and gorse. Today, true heathland is only found on Wimbledon and Putney Common. The area is of national importance and has been designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI).
Heathland can have great biodiversity value if managed in the right way. It is especially rich in invertebrates and also supports all six species of native reptiles, of which four have been recorded in Wandsworth – the common lizard, slow worm, adder and grass snake. The boggy areas form ‘wet heath’ and the presence of ponds and streams makes them an important site for dragonflies and damselflies.
Heather and heathland are both rare in London and declining nationally. The UK holds twenty percent of the world’s distribution of lowland heathland and we have an international obligation to protect it.