The heath of Blackheath is important from both a historical and wildlife perspective. Heathland is a landscape that has been heavily influenced by human activity. Neolithic farmers cleared areas of forest for cultivation but where the soils were thin and sandy, nutrients were quickly lost, and the soil became too poor for growing crops. Low growing plants such as heather and gorse colonised these areas and the subsequent grazing helped to maintain an open treeless landscape.
Grazing creates micro-climates within the heather sward and is ideal for a wide variety of insects, reptiles, and birds. However, grazing started to decline on the Surrey heaths during the 19th and early 20th century and the occupation of Canadian Troops on the heath during WWII effectively ended thousands of years of heathland management by grazing animals on Blackheath. Once grazing ceased Scots pine and birch began to invade the heath, threatening the rare species that had adapted over time to thrive on low vegetation.
Lowland heath is of great importance to invertebrates, approximately 5,000 species of invertebrates are known to occur on heathlands. This is due to the ground being dry and warm and loose enough for burrowing. Surveys at Blackheath have identified several nationally important rare insects such as the vulnerable heathland spider, Oxyopes heterophthalmus. A total of 20 butterflies have been recorded, including the rare silver-studded blue butterfly which can be seen on the heath during July and August. Several rare ants, bees, and wasps, have also been recorded.
Such an abundance of insects provides a rich larder for other wildlife. In areas of open heath reptiles such as the adder, grass snake, common lizard and slow worms can be found. Blackheath is one of the few heathland sites in Surrey where sand lizards breed.
Blackheath supports a range of rare heathland birds such as the nightjar, woodlark, Dartford warbler and stonechat. Redstarts and tree pipits also breed on site. In the woodland edge sparrow hawk, goldcrest and long-tailed tit can be found along with winter flocks of crossbills.
Sarah Henderson, Waverley Ranger