Habitats we've featured each month in 2011.
The intricate patchwork of fields bounded by hedges is a defining feature of the English landscape. Hedgerows form a huge linear habitat that stretches across much of the country and provides a vital refuge for biodiversity. Some are remnants of ancient woodlands, left as boundary markers when land was cleared, and may be hundreds or even thousands of years old. Many more hedges were established during the 17th and 18th centuries when agricultural land was enclosed.
(2 November 2011) Upland heaths occur widely across England in areas where mineral and thin peat soils support the growth of a variety of dwarf shrubs. In general, it forms on land above the area of enclosed agriculture at altitudes between 250 and 750 meters. Upland heath often exists within a mosaic of habitat types such as acid grasslands, blanket bog, woodland, freshwater and rock. Commonly referred to as moorland, these habitats form some of England’s most distinctive landscapes beloved of walkers, field sports enthusiasts and a wide range of outdoor pursuits. It also supports hill farming.
(3 October 2011) Traditional orchards make a significant contribution to biodiversity, landscape character and local distinctiveness across the country. They are defined as groups of five or more fruit and nut trees planted on vigorous rootstocks at low densities in permanent grassland, and managed in a low intensity way. here are many variations on this theme, including apple, pear, cherry, plum, damson, walnut orchards and cobnut plats. Lines of fruit trees in hedges also count.
(1 September 2011) Picture majestic veteran trees scattered through an open grassland or heathland habitat grazed by deer and cattle or sheep. Oak and beech tend to be the most common tree species, but others such as lime, ash, even field maple and thorns may be found, as well as introduced species such as sweet and horse chestnut in more recent designed landscapes.
(1 August 2011) This peatland habitat is found on flat or gently undulating ground in the English uplands where there is high rainfall. Under these ‘waterlogged’ conditions, peat forms from the partial decomposition of wetland plants, particularly Sphagnum mosses. The peat gradually accumulates, and over thousands of years can reach depths of several metres. The blanketing of the ground with peat gives this habitat its name.
(1 July 2011)
Oligotrophic waters are those which naturally contain low levels of nutrients and minerals necessary for plant growth. They are generally found in areas of hard rocks and in upland environments but in England there are a number of lakes which have similar characteristics yet are found in the lowlands. These lowland lakes occur on sandy soils, often in areas of heathland, and are relatively rare across Europe. ‘Oligotrophic lakes of sandy plains’ are unique, having an aquatic flora more typical of upland lakes such as those found in the Lake District, Wales or Scotland. Typical plant species include quillworts (Isoetes spp.), water lobelia (Lobelia dortmanna) and shoreweed (Littorella uniflora).
(1 June 2011) As well as traditional meadows cut for hay, ‘Lowland meadows’ also encompasses pastures managed through grazing alone. In fact all remaining wildflower rich grasslands in the lowlands of England on neutral (neither acid nor alkaline) soils is included, be it on farmland or a village green, church-yard or roadside verge. They support rare and iconic plant species such as Snake’s head fritillary and Green-winged orchid, as well as providing vital habitat for skylark, corn bunting and other declining farmland birds.
(3 May 2011)
Maerl is a collective term for several species of red seaweed, with hard, chalky skeletons. It is rock hard and, unlike other seaweeds, it grows as unattached rounded nodules or short, branched shapes on the seabed. Like all seaweeds, maerl needs sunlight to grow, and it only occurs to a depth of about 20m.
Maerl can form large beds, when the conditions are right – a fast tidal flow or sufficient wave action to remove fine sediments, but not strong enough to break the brittle maerl branches. Within these beds, layers of dead maerl build up with a thin layer of pink, living maerl on the top.
(1 April 2011) People might think of arable field margins as just the edge of fields where the farmer has not cultivated a crop; that’s true, but arable field margins are also much more than that. Very often they are areas of habitat specifically created by farmers that come in a wide range of shapes and sizes and are important for species and habitats across the landscape.
(1 March 2011) Swathes of bluebells, pockets of primroses, some spreading oaks with a dense layer of hazel underneath would be many people’s image of a typical English woodland. However there may also be small-leaved lime, a reminder of the former wildwood, hornbeam that was much in demand round London for fuel, or ash whose tough but flexible wood found a myriad of uses. Plants such as herb paris, oxlip and wood anemone may pick out sites that have been wooded for centuries.
(3 February 2011) Some of England’s beaches are dominated by shingle or pebbles usually formed of flint or chert. Where beaches build up over many thousands of years they develop unusual forms of vegetation such as open grassland, lichen-rich heath and wetlands. Plants grow slowly due to the lack of soils, free drainage and maritime exposure. Near the active beaches, annual plants grow between spring and autumn high tides, although some perennial species with long tap roots can persist.
Upland oakwoods tend to be full of low-growing twisted trees. The ground flora often has bracken, bilberry and wavy hair-grass with many mosses and liverworts, carpeting the ground and bases of trees. The tree trunks may be covered in lichens. Where the soils are deeper grasses, bluebell and bramble are more common. Characteristic birds include wood warbler, pied flycatcher and redstart, while in the south west the rare blue ground-beetle Carabus intricatus occurs.