About The Heath

History

On hounslow heath c.1770 - ancient painting - Richard WilsonHounslow Heath is a place of great historical importance with a recorded history dating back to Norman times. Some of the major land uses and historical events are as follows:

  • 11th - 16th century  Royal hunting grounds
  • 17th century to present Military camps and training grounds
  • 17th – 18th century  Highwaymen, robbers; public hangings
  • 18th – 19th century  Agriculture and the parliamentary enclosures
  • 1784  Development of cartography and the Ordnance Survey
  • 16th – 20th century Gunpowder manufacture and early Industrialization (e.g. milling: sword, flax, snuff, flour, copper, oil, and calico mills).
  • 1919 – 1923  First World War air defences and development of civil aviation
  • 19th century – 1973  Extraction of sand and gravels. Waste and refuse disposal
  • 1985 – Present day  Wildlife conservation, recreation and education

Many archaeological features within the reserve were destroyed during extraction for sand and gravels during the past 200 years. Those remaining include the butts of a former army shooting range that can be found in the northwest corner of the reserve. Another shooting range known from 19th century OS maps was found in the south of the reserve and both areas are characterized by high concentrations of lead from spent ammunition.

Hounslow heath common gorse in flower

In terms of Hounslow Heath’s wider historical extent, Maxwell (1948) reports on Bronze Age axes, spearheads and knife and sword fragments from Hounslow held at the British Museum and of Celtic amulets and badges discovered in a field in Hounslow in 1864.
Archaeological excavations on the former Feltham Marshalling Yards just to the south of Hounslow Heath in 1999 unearthed an Iron Age furnace and post holes from a round house.

Staines Road, which now forms the northern boundary of Hounslow Heath, was formally the Roman Road, Via Trinobantes, which linked London to western Britain, and ran through the heart of the heath at its greatest extent along with the A4 Bath Road to the north. There are several historic references to Roman Camps on or close to the Heath such as that found on Heathrow Airport (Maxwell 1935).
There are various remains of former mills and other early industrial archaeological features along the course of the River Crane in the vicinity of the reserve. This section of the river is classified as an Archeological Priority Area.

Wildlife

Hounslow heath - Bee OrchidThe most important natural community on Hounslow Heath is the remnant lowland heathland, which incorporates a mixture of heathland and acid grassland communities, blocks of scrub, and areas of bare ground. This mosaic, although small, is the last vestige of a habitat that once covered more than 3000 hectares and holds many relic species of the once extensive heathland. The actual ericaceous heath covers about 5 hectares and represents about 5% of London’s heathland. Both heathland and acid grassland are National BAP habitats and globally the UK holds one fifth of the worlds lowland heathland.

Associated with the heathland mosaic are a number of plants and animals that are extremely scarce in regional terms. These habitats support one of the best heathland insect populations in London with many rare spiders, bees and wasps and beetles. The structure of ling, bell heather and dwarf gorse is becoming very much more diverse due to regeneration efforts and is now amongst the best in London, as is the variety and structure of the acid grassland, with species such as Matt grass, Heath grass and Heath rush all on the increase.

Bare ground, a vital feature of heathland habitats is being constantly renewed through vegetation stripping for heathland creation and the creation of purpose built bee banks. These hold a great variety of insect species many of them of Red Data Book or Nationally notable importance.
The wetland area now supports 0.5 hectares of reed bed and holds highly important populations of insects including Nationally Notable moth, hoverfly and soldierfly species.
There are three other major habitat types on site, scrub, broad-leaved woodland and neutral grassland which are all off regional importance. These habitats are not rare in London terms but due to the age, size and mix of these habitats on Hounslow Heath they hold rare and diverse invertebrate communities and very high densities of breeding birds.

Flora

Hounslow Heath - Bell HeatherOver 330 plant species have been identified at the Heath, some of the more common or important by habitat type, are:

  • Lowland Dry Acid Grassland – Sheep’s Fescue, Mat Grass, Common Bent, Sheep’s Sorrel, Heath Bedstraw, Leafy Hawkweed, Common Cat’s-ear
  • Lowland Dry Heathland - Ling (heather), Bell Heather, Dwarf Gorse, European Gorse, Broom, Sheep’s Fescue, Sand Spurrey
  • Broad-leaved Woodland – Pedunculate Oak, Silver Birch, Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Bramble, Ivy
  • Reedbed/marsh – Common Reed, Branched Bur-reed, Water Mint, Willow spp.
  • Scrub – Hawthorn, Ivy, Bramble
  • Lowland Neutral Grassland - False Oat Grass, Yorkshire Fog, Red Fescue, Cowslip, Bee Orchid.

Fauna

With patience, and a bit of luck, you can spot a wide variety of fauna at Hounslow Heath. However some of our visitors can be secretive and difficult to spot. If you want to find out more about the wildlife why not visit and try the nature trail, join us on one of our guided walks in our events programme, or bring your school groups in for environmental education. Here is a small selection of the diversity of the wildlife on Hounslow Heath.

Birds

By 2008, 132 species had been recorded on Hounslow Heath including some uncommon migrants and rare vagrants, such as Ring Ouzel, White Stork, Honey Buzzard, and Red-backed Shrike.

Commoner species that may be seen include: Common Whitethroat, Lesser Whitethroat, Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler, Cuckoo, and Hobby in summer.

Winter visitors include: Redwing, Fieldfare, Stonechat, Dartford Warbler, and Siskin.

Resident birds include: Meadow Pipit, Bullfinch, Linnet, Song Thrush, Great Spotted and Green Woodpeckers, Pheasant, Tits, Finches.

Mammals

One of the harder groups to observe due to their shyness or nocturnal behaviour, there are several species present on site. These include the Red Fox, Rabbit, and Muntjac Deer. At the smaller end of the scale are Wood Mouse, Bank and Field Voles, and Common Shrew. Pipistrelle bats can be occasionally seen flying around woodland edge areas.

Reptiles

Hounlsow Heath - Slow WormHounslow Heath is the most important site in the borough, and one of the most important London sites, for reptiles. Both Adder and Grass Snake are present but hard to find and it is uncommon to come across them by accident. Two other reptile species are present, the Common Lizard and Slow-worm. The Adder and Common Lizard are particularly associated with the heathland and heathland edge habitats, which they use for hunting, basking, and hibernation.

Adder – Usually a shade of brown with a dark zigzag line along the entire length of its body, though the body can be greyish or even black. Females are larger than males.

Grass Snake – Greenish in colour they have a distinct yellow and black collar around the back of the head. They can grow up to 1.5 metres long but are more slender than, and can be found in wetter areas than, Adders. Females are larger and more thickset than males.

Common Lizard – Typical lizard shape with a grey brown to dark brown colour on top, often with a darker streak that may run the entire length of the spine. A continuous dark band bordered by light yellow or white spots can often be present on either side of the body. Paler undersides. Juveniles can be very dark brown or black. Common Lizards grow to approximately 15cm.

Slow-worm – Very often confused for snakes though in fact lizards. They have a metallic grey-brown colour and can move very fast. They grow to about 40-45cm long
Adults can appear very different between the sexes. Females very often have a dark stripe along the spine, and the flanks are flecked or striped with dark brown or black. Adult males are more uniform in colour. Occasionally they have very distinct blue spots or patches.

Amphibians

 

The Heath also provided habitat for good numbers of our commoner amphibians. These are found in the wetland habitats and in suitable hibernation areas. Five species found here are: Common Frog, Common Toad, Marsh Frog, Smooth Newt, and Palmate Newt.

Common Frog – Common Frogs have the ability to lighten or darken their skin to match their environment, and are able to breathe through their skin which helps them remain underwater or in mud for several months whilst they hibernate through the winter. Frog spawn is deposited in large round clumps and can be seen between December and April; depending on how warm the weather is, though March is the normal main spawning time. The tadpoles emerge after 30-40 days in the spawn and carry on the process of metamorphosis as they turn into an adult frog.

Common Toad – distinguishable from the Common Frog by its more “warty” brown, not green, skin and the fact it prefers to walk rather than jump. Its spawn is also distinguishable as the Common Toad lays a string-like length of spawn rather than clumps. On average, they are also slightly larger than the Common Frog at around 8-13cm in length.
Marsh Frog – the largest frog native to Europe, they were introduced into the UK at Walland Marsh, Kent in 1935 and are now fairly common in Kent, Sussex, Surrey, South and South West London. During the mating season males can be heard, maybe even seen, croaking around all of our lakes, but mostly the Fishing Lake and South Lake by inflating the vocal sacs at the side of their mouths. Their call can be described as a chuckling sound.

Smooth Newt – the most widespread newt in Britain, the Smooth Newt can grow up to 10cm long. Newts have a tadpole stage also, but instead of being called tadpoles they are known as efts. This newt lays individual eggs which are wrapped in pondweed by the female.

Palmate Newt – The least common species present in only a handful of locations on site. The males have webbed front feet, which distinguishes them from the similar Smooth Newt.

All native reptiles and amphibians are protected by law and it is a criminal offence to intentionally kill or harm certain species or offer any of them for sale (Wildlife & Countryside Act 1981 as amended).

Invertebrates

Hounslow Heath - Stag beetleOf all the invertebrates found on the Heath, those that have been most closely studied are those that are particularly associated in some way with heathland habitats. These are the Hymenoptera (Bees, Wasps, and Ants), Spiders, and Moths. Many Red Data Book and Nationally notable species have been recorded, some found nowhere else in Greater London and many that are UKBAP priority conservation concern species.

Many of the invertebrates are associated with bar ground which heats up enough to enable their larvae to develop. Species such as the Grey Mining hole nest in south facing banks provided for them and these are parasitized by other bees such as Nomada species which eat the food delivered by the host parent. Other species inhabiting these slopes include the spectacular large insect hunting wasp Ammophila sabulosa, which collects caterpillars and spiders for its larvae.

In the grassland there are a host of spiders several species of which imitate ants and live around the large ants nests hunting the ants.

Over 350 species of Moths have so far been found on Hounslow Heath. These include the spectacular Emperor Moth with its eyed wings and even more spectacular geen catapillar with large black warts which feeds on heather. Other species include the swift moths that feed on the roots of bracken other heathland species such as True Lovers Knot and Antler Moth which again feed on heather and a host of leaf mining micro moths which form the crazy squiggles that may be seen on the leaves of infected trees.

Please DO NOT release any animals into the Country Park without gaining permission from the Countryside Rangers first, as you could be breaking the law.

Habitats

Highland cows on Hounslow HeathThere are a number of different habitats at Hounslow Heath and it is this mix that provides niches for plants and animals to thrive in. A number of these are habitats of priority conservation concern under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (BAP) where the government has set out to protect these habitats in response to the Convention on Biological Diversity 1992.

Hounslow Heath is managed primarily as one of the most important areas of lowland dry acid grassland and lowland dry heathland in Greater London. As a result of the success and techniques used, the Heath won the regional first prize in the Farming for Britain Award for our use of cattle to graze these rare and important habitats both of which are UKBAP priority habitats.

Other habitats present include broadleaved and mixed woodlands, a small area of marsh and reedbed, thorn and bramble scrub, bare earth, and dry neutral grassland.
Reedbed is considered a high priority habitat for wildlife conservation as it is a declining habitat in the UK caused by natural succession to wet woodland, dredging, lack of appropriate management, and floodplain draining for development. Reedbeds are primarily made up of Common Reed, the UK’s tallest native grass and are home to habitat specific species such as Wainscot Moths, Water Rail, and Reed Warblers.

Lowland dry neutral grassland makes up a proportion of the habitats over most of the site. A low level of available nutrient in the soil is a key requirement in conservation grasslands as many of our native herbaceous plants have evolved to survive specifically in this open habitat. As soon as extra nutrients are available it paves the way for more dominant species to encroach on the grasslands and succeed this habitat; bramble is a prime example. The scrub that succeeds the grassland is important in its own right, but is much more common throughout Britain as a habitat than lowland dry neutral grassland. The Heath’s grazing paddocks have a rich floral display during spring and summer with plants including: Ox-eye daisy, Common Birds-foot-trefoil, Black Knapweed, Cowslip, Bee Orchid, and Yellow Rattle, though there is a change in the mix of species in flower through the months.
Along the railway line boundary there is a long ditch and bare earth bank. This gets very warm in the summer sun and provides the perfect habitat for mining bees and solitary wasps, and also many spider species.

Management

The acid grassland management on the Heath is achieved by a number of techniques. Winter grazing with cattle is used to reduce the biomass, open up the structure and eradicate some of the scrub. Scrub clearance using flail collectors and manually during winter is used to retain the open sward, link areas and create the desirable objective of between 5 and 10% scrub cover. Scraping of top soil and vegetation is used periodically to reduce nutrient load and encourage early successional grassland with lots of bare ground. These 3 techniques in unison create a highly varied sward with a great many niches for invertebrates which support important bird and reptile communities.

The heathland management on the heath is achieved by a number of techniques. Winter grazing is used to reduce competing species of scrub and grassland and to increase the variability of the structure. Manual scrub clearance is used in areas where grazing is not yet possible or in conjunction with grazing to further reduce competition.

The scraping of what are presently grassland areas and their reseeding with heather cuttings is used to generate new heathland areas. These are then weeded on an annual basis in order to maintain germination and then allow the heathers to establish forming new areas of mature heath.

If you haven't found what you are looking for please visit the following websites: