What is the Thames Basin Heaths SPA?
The Thames Basin Heaths is a network of heathland sites spread over 8,200 hectares (82 square kilometres) across Hampshire, Surrey and Berkshire. It is one of the most important wildlife sites in Europe, and is a fragment of an ancient landscape that once, thousands of years ago, covered vast areas of southern England.
The Thames Basin Heaths is classified as a Special Protection Area (SPA), forming part of a European network of sites of international importance for nature conservation.
These heathlands are legally protected as they provide a home for some of Britain’s rarest breeding bird species: Dartford warbler, nightjar and woodlark; all of which rely on the heathland habitat and nest on or near the ground in the heather and gorse, which make them particularly vulnerable to disturbance. The Thames Basin Heaths are also home to a range of other rare native wildlife, including smooth snakes, sand lizards and silver-studded blue butterflies, plus a whole host of other amazing creatures from adders to roe deer.
Component areas that make up Thames Basin Heaths include Ash to Brookwood Heaths, Bisley and West End Commons, Bourley and Long Valley, Bramshill, Broadmoor to Bagshot Woods and Heaths, Castle Bottom to Yately and Hawley Commons, Chobham Common, Colony Bog and Bagshot Heaths, Eelmoor Marsh, Hazeley Heath, Horsell Common, Ockham and Wisley Commons, Sandhurst to Owlsmoor Bogs and Heaths and Whitmoor Common.
Unfortunately the Thames Basin Heaths SPA is under threat – especially from growing recreational pressure. Disturbance to the rare wildlife means we could lose some of the species that make the heathlands so special, and there are a number of other problems such as fly tipping, dog fouling and even arson. To ensure that increasing local populations do not negatively impact on this protected area, the Thames Basin Heaths Partnership Project is a tool being used to lessen potential impacts from increased local housing development. The project is a partnership of 26 organisations, and funded by contributions from all new residential dwellings within 5km of the SPA.
The Thames Basin Heaths Partnership staff have been wardening the SPA since 2015, monitoring visitor trends and engaging with visitors and local communities to promote conservation of the protected area and its rare wildlife, to help ensure the heaths can be enjoyed for generations to come.
To complement this work, alternative nearby green spaces have been either specially created or enhanced to provide communities with high quality outdoor places to explore and enjoy, whilst acting to ease recreational pressure on the protected heathland.
How You Can Help
The Thames Basin Heaths is one of the most important wildlife sites in Europe. It is however under pressure, and your help is needed to ensure its preservation for both wildlife and people.
When visiting the Thames Basin Heaths, you can really help make a difference by:
- Sticking to paths: Keeping to paths reduces the risk of disturbing the rare birds that nest on the ground amongst the vegetation.
- Keeping dogs on paths and under your control: Keeping dogs on the track, and either close to you and in sight or on a lead from late February to early September helps avoid disturbing the rare ground nesting birds, and helps avoid adder and tick bites. Throwing a stick or ball down the track rather than out onto the heath can help.
- Always bagging and binning: Dog waste fertilises the ground, and kills off the heathland plants that make the Thames Basin Heaths special. It can also spread disease.
- Reducing the risk of fire: Please never discard cigarettes, bring BBQ’s or light camp fires.
- Consider visiting alternative greenspaces that have been set aside for you to explore and enjoy, and where dogs can roam off-lead. You can search for alternative sites here.
The Thames Basin Heaths Project is a partnership between the following 26 organisations:
- Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire Wildlife Trust
- Blackwater Valley Countryside Partnership
- Bracknell Forest Borough Council
- Defence Infrastructure Organisation Service Delivery South East
- Elmbridge Borough Council
- Forestry Commission
- Guildford Borough Council
- Hart District Council
- Hampshire County Council
- Hampshire and Isle of Wight Wildlife Trust
- Heathland Conservation Society
- Horsell Common Preservation Society
- Natural England
- Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead
- Runnymede Borough Council
- Rushmoor Borough Council
- Surrey County Council
- Surrey Heath Borough Council
- Surrey Heathland Project
- Surrey Wildlife Trust
- The Crown Estate
- Waverley Borough Council
- Woking Borough Council
- Wokingham Borough Council
- 2Js Ecology