Petersfield Heath covers around 90 acres (36 hectares) and is a designated Site of Importance for Nature Conservation, sited in the southeast corner of Petersfield, lying within the South Downs National Park.
Valuable wildlife area
The heath comprises a variety of habitats for wildlife, a relic of a landscape that once extended across the southeast of England on sandy soils. Lowland heath has become scarce due to neglect, development or agricultural improvement and is now protected under European law.
Petersfield Heath consists of a variety of habitat types, each rich in biodiversity.
- Heather with acid grassland and gorse (for butterflies and moths)
- Woodland and scrub (for birds and mammals)
- The pond and its margins (for water-birds, fish and amphibians)
Resident animals include foxes, squirrels, wood mice and shrews. The South Downs National Park Rangers are conducting a survey to find out if dormice are also present. Reptiles include slow-worms and common lizard. A wide variety of birds use the heath and pond for feeding and reproduction. Some are summer visitors such as the Mediterranean gull and swallow, swift, hobby, blackcap, willow warbler and chiffchaff. Others such as kingfisher, mallard, coot and moorhen, use the pond year-round.
The varied vegetation includes some important tree species such as smooth-leaved elm, black pine and field maple, as well as interesting heathland plants such as purple moor-grass, heath bedstraw and ling heather. Short turf and open sand areas are good for a range of butterflies and moths. The areas of reed surrounding the pond provide shelter for the reed warbler and great crested grebe.
Managing and improving this area is the focus of the Petersfield Heath Management Strategy.
Important historical site
Petersfield Heath has always been an important place for human activity. Around 21 Bronze Age barrows (or burial mounds) – one of the most complex in southern England, occur on the heath. Some of the mounds are obvious, while others are difficult to spot. Excavations are being conducted over three years (2014-17) under the direction of West Sussex Archaeology.
During the Middle Ages the heath was grazed common land and, surprisingly, photographs show that grazing continued until the late 1920s.
In 1890 a large area was developed as a golf course, which was in use for more than 100 years. The Friends help to return the ‘improved’ grassland back to open heath.
Things to do on the heath
- Refreshments – The Plump Duck
- Boating and fishing
- Secrets of The Heath – first weekend of September
- Fun Fair
- Taro Fair
Petersfield Heath is more than 5,000 years old! Help us to maintain this precious area, where nature and people go hand in hand.