The term lowland heathland refers to a wide range of habitats - dry, damp and in some areas, humid. It consists mostly of dwarf shrubs like heathers (Calluna vulgaris and Erica cinerea), western Gorse and trees such as Scots pine. It is generally found below 300 m (above it becomes moorland) and can be divided in two main different types:
European lowland heath is distributed along the Atlantic coast of western Europe and the North Sea - UK, Germany, France, Netherlands and Denmark. In Northern Ireland about 5000 ha of lowland heathland still exists. Lowland heaths provide an important habitat for many rare species of plant and animal, some of which only live in these areas.
There is some debate about when lowland heathland developed but most estimates date back to around the stone age, about 3500BC, when settlers began to clear some of the wooded areas that covered the country in order to grow crops and raise animals. Grazing animals have been an important factor in the development of lowland heathland as their grazing prevented the areas from reverting back to woodland.
Heathland became an important part of the rural economy as it provided fuel, bedding for animals and grazing land.
Over the last centuary, heathland as been seen as wasteland or land for development, and it's value as an important habitat has been overlooked, meaning much of it has been lost to housing or intense agriculture.
Lowland heathland is a very important habitat for invertebrates, e.g. the Keeled Skimmer Dragonfly (Orthetrum coerulescens) and the water beetles (Paracymus scutellaris and Laccobius atratus).
Important and endangered species like Curlew, Irish Hare, Chough, Marsh Fritillary Butterfly and Skylark can also be spotted.