Heathlands are found from the highest mountains down to the lowlands and coasts. It can be viewed as a very monotonous landscape, due to the lack of trees, but beneath the familiar purple bloom of the dominant heather it is home to a diverse range of insects and buzzes with life.

Lowland heath

Lowland heath is characterised by the presence of dwarf shrubs such as heather, bell heather and western gorse which can form a beautiful carpet of purple and yellow.

Lowland heath is found below the upper limit of agricultural enclosure, generally below 300m and supports a range of flora and fauna not found on upland heath. Important invertebrates associated with lowland heath in the Mourne Mountains include the Keeled Skimmer Dragonfly and certain species of water beetles, typically in flushes associated with the wet heath. Dry heath is dominated by bell heather (also known as ling) and western gorse. These dwarf shrubs are abundant where the dry heath is in good condition.

Montane heath

Northern Ireland is at the southern edge of the natural range for the Montane heath habitat. It occurs widely in the Highlands of Scotland and is only found above the natural tree line, on the highest mountains. The vegetation is influenced by a cold and wet climate, thin soils and steep rocky ground. Plants that can tolerate this harsh environment include dwarf shrubs, sedges, mosses, lichens and alpine fungi. Characteristic shrub species are the familiar heather, bilberry, crowberry and cowberry.

Upland heath

This is land that sits above the upper edge of the enclosed farmland, generally around 300m and below the alpine or montane zone at around 600m. It is found on mineral soils and thin peats of less than 0.5m deep. Upland heath is characterised by the presence of dwarf scrubs such as heather, cross-leaved heath, bell heather and bilberry. Confusion can be caused with which habitat you happen to be standing on as all these dwarf shrubs also grow on blanket bog.

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