In this latest update Snakes in the Heather Public Engagement and Education Officer, Owain Masters fills tell us about Heath Week, running from 25th to 31st July, a national celebration of all things lowland dry heath.

I remember one of the first times I ever visited heathland was a trip to the New Forest as a child. It was a family bike ride in autumn, when much of the heather had gone to seed and was a warm brown colour. I can just about remember noticing the sandy soil (‘like at the beach!’) and  (‘prickly’) gorse. I remember thinking it was a little otherworldly, like Mars! When the heather is not in bloom, you might be forgiven for not realising how biodiverse and beautiful heathlands are. Now when I visit a heath, I have my eyes peeled for the amazing wildlife. Even when not in bloom the heathers are like a shallow sea, you cannot immediately see much looking at the surface, but they are teeming with life underneath.

Lowland dry heaths are amazing habitats, home to all sorts of rare and specialised wildlife, as well as being a very welcome sanctuary for more common species. In particular, their conservation is key to saving Britain's threatened reptiles and amphibians. Mature open heathlands provide exactly the right mix of warmth, cover and abundant food supply as well as ideal conditions for hibernation that these animals need. Of our reptiles and amphibians, it is the sand lizard and the smooth snake that need heathland most, with the smooth snake now living nowhere else in the UK.

On a global scale, lowland dry heaths are rarer than tropical rainforests and Heath Week is a national celebration of this rare habitat, raising awareness for its importance. A number of organisations that act as ‘heathland managers’ are running events across Heath Week. Of course, one of the main ‘heathland managers’ is the general public.

You can help look after heathlands in many ways. These include supporting wildlife conservation charities such as ARC by becoming a member, fundraising or sponsoring a species. You can also support heathland conservation through volunteering, either helping to maintain the habitat or by surveying heathland species, providing vital data for research and ensuring species records are included when local plans are drafted.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you can also act as custodian and raise awareness of the importance of heathland to wildlife. At this time of year ground nesting bird species, such as the nightjar, Dartford warbler and woodlarks, are reliant on heaths to raise their chicks. It may seem innocent enough but even just by flushing out a parent bird, the success rate of the species may be reduced. During ground nesting bird season, please make sure to keep dogs on a lead when in nature reserves and explain to others why we do so. Heathland are of international importance to many species and there are many alternative areas such as parks where dogs are allowed to run off lead.

Likewise, please take all litter home when visiting nature reserves and BBQs are an absolute no! Heathlands are very dry at this time of year and there have already been many wildfires this year, and that number is increasing as we get hotter, drier spells. ARC organise wildlife rescues after fires and support partner organisations in their own wildlife rescues. Some of our species, including reptiles, try to burrow to escape the fires and many perish as a result.

But please do not think it is all doom and gloom! Heathlands are protected and there are already many, many people who care about them, from mindful dog walkers to those writing wildlife policy. And what’s more, there are more and more people learning about what makes them so special, both local communities and those visiting heaths on holiday. If you are one of the people who would like to find out more, why not explore our species pages to find out about the animals that make heathland home or you could join us on a Heath Week event, We have a number of events planned and we look forward to seeing you soon.

Snakes in the Heather is supported by a grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.