The Heath in Spring:
As the days start to get lighter and the sun starts to warm, there’s the sense of spring in the air.
The gorse on the heath is flowering, its bright yellow flowers amongst the spiky green spine like leaves opening up and releasing their distinctive coconut scent and a great source of energy for bees. In bygone days these bright yellow flowers were used to colour Easter eggs, nowadays gorse provides cover and food for a wide range of heathland wildlife.
European Gorse (c) C. Newman
Two charming birds that use gorse for cover are the Dartford Warbler and Stonechat who share singing perches and territories and are often seen perched on the top of these fragrant bushes. The Stonechat is slightly smaller than a Robin, the male has a black head and a reddish chest with a brown back and a white half collar. The Dartford Warbler is a small bird that has a slate grey head with a red eye ring, a reddish-brown chest and a long tail. It likes to follow the Stonechat around the heath, picking off the insects that have been disturbed on the way.
Male Dartford Warbler (c) Paul Swann
As the breeding season’s start in earnest, the heath comes alive with the sound of bird song. The Woodlark takes off from its nest to soar in the pale blue sky. Usually found on lowland heathland or in forest clearings, the Woodlark likes to nest on the ground under heather bushes, grass tussocks or dead bracken. They like to use the trees at the edge of the clearings as a lookout and as song posts.
Woodlark (c) James Lowen
The heart of Dorset’s heathland is the perfect habitat for reptiles. In fact, all six British reptile species can be found in Dorset. Mature areas of heath provide food and shelter, whilst bare sandy areas are perfect for the Sand lizard to lay her eggs and the warm, south facing slopes are ideal for basking.
As the ground begins to warm up, the reptiles of the heath begin to bask in the gentle heat from the sun. In April the rare male Sand lizard shows off his bright vivid green flanks in the hope of attracting a mate.
Male Sand Lizard (c) Durwyn Liley
Females will dig out various burrows, called test-burrows, before choosing the perfect one to lay her eggs in later in the spring. Out of the three lizard species found in the UK, Sand lizards are the only ones which lay eggs.
Female Sand Lizard digging a burrow (c) Terry Bagley
The shoots of green Bristle Bent and Purple Moor grasses begin to appear and new leaves turn the winter browned heather to green again as many of the plants which lay dormant over the winter months start to grow and sprout new life. These young spring shoots create homes for many insect species including the Heath Grasshopper and soon, when the flowers start to appear, the heath will be buzzing with busy pollinators.
Heath Grasshopper (c) Durwyn Liley
Despite the current restrictions, you can still find out a lot of the secrets of the heath by visiting our website and Facebook page for more information on Dorset’s Heathland Heart. Perhaps, challenge yourself to learn to identify the birds that call the heath home, create a Sand lizard life-cycle diagram or find out about the insectivorous plants and other wildlife that will appear as spring turns into summer. Here are couple of links to get you started:
Written by: Lydia Harvey
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- Why not volunteer for Back from the Brink? Check out our events page for opportunities near you.
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