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17 September 2014
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Heathland activities

From plants to reptiles...

Limestone pavement c/o Natural England and Paul Glendell

Heathlands are good places for wildlife watchers because they are ideal habitats for reptiles and rare plants.

Nature's Calendar looks at some of the activities you can get involved in during the summer.

Limestone pavements are great for ferns. Photo - Paul Glendell/Natural England.

Here are two great nature activities which you can take part in around heathland habitats:

* Plant and flower spotting on limestone pavements.
* Adder stalking.

Limestone plants

Limestone pavement c/o Paul Glendell and Natural EnglandLimestone pavements are rocky outcrops which have been created where the surface of the rock has been dissolved by water over millions of years.

This results in limestone paving blocks called clints and fissures called grikes.

There are relatively few limestone pavements found in the world, and the British Isles has a high proportion of this rare habitat.

Limestone pavements are great places to look for plant life but you'll need to be clever to get the most from your visit.

First of, check out suitable limestone habitats featured on the TV series including:

* Whitbarrow, Cumbria

Other good examples of limestone pavements in the British Isles include the following:

* Malham, North Yorkshire
* Grange-over-Sands, near Morecambe Bay.
* Gait Barrows National Nature Reserve, North Lancashire.
* Great Orme, North Wales
* Great Asby Scar National Nature Reserve, Cumbria.

Fern c/o Natural England and Paul GlendellLook for plants that are attracted to limestone habitats including specialist flora such as Rigid Buckler Fern, Dog's Mercury, Herb Robert, Maidenhair Spleenwort, Harts-Tongue fern and Dog Violet.

Ferns are especially keen on limestone pavement habitats because they like the shady, humid conditions offered by the grikes.

The deepest grikes also provide a habitat for species that can withstand depth and shade, such as ferns, and those which are
intolerant of grazing such as Bloody Crane's-Bill.

Some plants found on limestone pavements are hardly seen anywhere else at all.

For example, 85% of the UK population of Rigid Buckler Fern is found purely on limestone.

Top tips:

* Many plants hide in the cracks of the limestone pavement.

* Some of the grikes are so deep it's hard to see what's in them, but a torch will reveal a secret plant world!

* Look for ferns in the very deepest, shadiest grikes.

* Don't forget to take a plant identification book or guide with you so you can differentiate between the species.

* Use your sense of smell to sniff out strawberries and juniper which love the limestone landscape.

Snake safari

Adder c/o Nsatural England and Peter WakelySeeing Adders in the wild requires considerable stealth because they are secretive creatures.

Once again, choose heathland locations where there are known to be Adders present.

Good locations include the following from the Nature's Calendar TV series:

* Thorne Moors, South Yorkshire
* Studland, Dorset

Other recommended locations include:

* Dorset Heaths
* Cudmore Grove, Essex

Here are our top Adder spotting tips:

* Adders are most easily spotted at the start of the warmer Spring weather which tempts them out from their winter slumber.

* Tread carefully - not only are Adders poisonous, they are sensitive to the vibrations of you footsteps.

* Look for the distinctive diamond-shaped pattern on the Adder's skin.

* Adders are mainly diurnal, but these cold-blooded creatures can sometimes be seen basking in the sun not far from cover.

* Look for the snakes on south facing paths being warmed by the sun - and once their bodies have reached working temperature - they'll be off... so, its a real game of patience.

* If you're lucky, you might witness the Adders' "dance" which happens when two males rear up and twist around in defence of their territories

* Do not disturb or threaten an Adder it if you get close to it.

Heathland tips

Studland moor c/o Peter Wakely and Natural EnglandHeathland is a really great habitat for insects and reptiles, so here are some top tips on how to get the best from your visit:

* Most of the wildlife found in a heathland habitat will be seen close to the ground or hidden in the undergrowth.

* Take a small magnifying glass to get up-close views of small insects and other creatures hidden in the sand, but be careful if it's a sunny day - a beam of sunlight refracted through a magnifying glass can be deadly to a passing insect!

* Try gently shaking a piece of heather onto a plain white sheet of paper laid on the ground underneath, then use a good identification guide to examine your finds.

* Horticulture fans will also enjoy the different types of flowering heather and the sweet smells they give off at the height of summer - but don't pick any as you don't know what could be hiding underneath!

Photo credits

Images courtesy and copyright of Natural England, Paul Glendell and Peter Wakely.



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