Heathland Restoration at Keston and Hayes Commons
Part of Darwin’s Landscape Laboratory

Dr. Judith John & Jennifer Price


The heathland, acid grassland and lowland valley mire of Hayes and Keston Commons (Northwest Kent) have long been popular places for Londoners on a day out, and for naturalists and scientists to visit, including Charles Darwin who studied round-leaved sundew in Keston Bog and earthworms on the heathland. This paper describes the history of the commons and reasons for the decline in habitat quality and species diversity since the mid 20th century. Actions taken to halt and reverse habitat degradation and species loss include clearance of secondary woodland and scrub, soil scraping, re-seeding of heather, bracken removal, building dams across the valley mire and cutting and clearing purple moor-grass from Keston bog. Detailed field surveys have been key in guiding and monitoring the success of management decisions. Raising awareness of the importance of heathland habitat has been very successful in reconciling concerns of the local community and enlisting the support of many volunteers whose work has been vital for this long-term project. The area of heathland, lowland valley mire and fen habitat has now increased, the area covered by some uncommon plant species has expanded and other species have reappeared. Much remains to be done, however, and maintenance of the newly restored areas requires on-going work by volunteers, input from various countryside agencies and involvement of the local authority whose support is crucial but a cause of concern should their funding continue to be reduced.

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