Long-term development of a cultural landscape: the origins and dynamics of lowland heathland in southern England

Jon A. Groves, Martyn P. Waller, Michael J. Grant, J Edward Schofield

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12 Citations (Scopus)


The lowland heathlands of southern England comprise ca. 14 % of the total area of this habitat in Europe yet their history is poorly understood. This paper presents the first detailed palaeoecological evidence (combining palynological, microscopic charcoal and radiocarbon data) relating to the origin and long-term dynamics of heathland vegetation in southern England. Valley peat sites, situated on the Lower Greensand Group (coarse-grained sandstones) at Conford (Hampshire) and Hurston Warren (West Sussex) have been investigated. The sequence from Conford indicates the unusually late survival of Pinus sylvestris (to as late as ca. 6050 cal. b.p.) in southern England. This is attributed to edaphic factors and, after ca. 7050 cal. b.p., to frequent fires. After intervening phases of dominance by deciduous woodland, heathland vegetation became established in the proximity of both sites in the Late Bronze Age (ca. 3000 cal. b.p.) with increases in indicators of grazing and burning demonstrating an association between the development of heathland and human activity. Thereafter, the pollen and charcoal records show that the vegetation remained in a dynamic state as the scale and nature of human activity varied through time. Major expansions in the extent of heathland occurred relatively recently; after ca. 1450 cal. b.p. at Hurston Warren and after ca. 850 cal. b.p. at Conford. A review of the palaeoecological evidence suggests that the most intense use and greatest coverage of heathland in southern England probably occurred during the medieval to post-medieval periods.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)453-470
Number of pages18
JournalVegetation History and Archaeobotany
Issue number6
Early online date6 Sept 2012
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2012

Bibliographical note

We thank Claire Ivison for drawing Fig. 1 and Kevin Attree and Jennifer Cripps for their assistance in the laboratory. The fieldwork took place with the kind permission Horsham District Council, Chris Webb and The National Trust. NERC provided funding for some of the radiocarbon dates (allocations No.1140.1005,
1168.0406, 1090.1004).


  • pollen analysis
  • lowland heath
  • human impact
  • Pinus
  • Southern England
  • microscopic charcoal


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