Skip to Content

Special Areas of Conservation

4020 Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix

Temperate heath and scrub

Description and ecological characteristics

Heathlands containing cross-leaved heath Erica tetralix and the nationally rare Dorset heath E. ciliaris are generally found on acid soils with slightly impeded drainage, although in Cornwall they extend onto dry soils. The abundance of E. ciliaris differentiates this habitat from other Annex I heath types.

Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix often contain heather Calluna vulgaris and varying proportions of bell heather Erica cinerea. Other associated species include purple moor-grass Molinia caerulea, bristle bent Agrostis curtisii and dwarf gorse Ulex minor, with the latter being replaced by western gorse U. gallii in south-west England. This habitat type is not recognised as a distinct community in the NVC. It includes forms of the following communities in which E. ciliaris is abundant:

  • H3  Ulex minor – Agrostis curtisii heath
  • H4  Ulex gallii – Agrostis curtisii heath
  • M16  Erica tetralix – Sphagnum compactum wet heath
  • M21  Narthecium ossifragum – Sphagnum papillosum valley mire

These heathlands may grade into wetter heath and bog communities, notably valley mires with bog-moss Sphagnum spp. and bog asphodel Narthecium ossifragum.

Distribution of SACs/SCIs/cSACs with habitat 4020 Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix. Click image for enlarged map.

European status and distribution

Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix are characteristic of the western Mediterranean region and within the EU are found in France, Spain and Portugal.

UK status and distribution

This form of heathland is confined to warm, oceanic locations in the UK. It is a rare habitat, occurring naturally only in Dorset and Cornwall.

Click here view UK distribution of this species

Site accounts

  • Carrine Common Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
    Carrine Common has a large area of Dorset heath Erica ciliaris and is important for the representation of the full geographical distribution of temperate Atlantic wet heaths. This site also takes account of the ecological variation of the habitat type, as E. ciliaris at Carrine Common occurs on soils that appear to be more free-draining than is usually the case in Dorset and elsewhere in Cornwall. The occurrence of this habitat type under such conditions is thought to reflect the highly oceanic climate of Cornwall.
  • Dorset Heaths (Purbeck and Wareham) and Studland Dunes Dorset and Somerset
    The greatest concentration of Dorset heath Erica ciliaris in the UK is in Dorset on the heaths south of Poole Harbour, with outlying stands elsewhere in Dorset. Dorset Heaths (Purbeck and Wareham) and Studland Dunes has therefore been selected as it contains a high proportion of the total UK population of E. ciliaris.
  • Godrevy Head to St Agnes Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
    This site is characterised by maritime 4030 European dry heaths, but along the Chapel Porth valley it supports stands of Dorset heath Erica ciliaris. At this site the species occurs on drier substrates than in Dorset.
  • Newlyn Downs Cornwall and Isles of Scilly
    Newlyn Downs has the largest area in Cornwall of heath rich in Dorset heath Erica ciliaris. A significant proportion of the E. ciliaris occurs in wetter situations than at Carrine Common. The sites selected for E. ciliaris heath in Cornwall, where the habitat type is rarer and more fragmented than in Dorset, are important for the representation of the full geographical distribution of Temperate Atlantic wet heaths with Erica ciliaris and Erica tetralix.

Many designated sites are on private land: the listing of a site in these pages does not imply any right of public access.