Heather heathland (as opposed to Breck heathland
, which is largely dominated by grasses) is found on poor sandy soils in several parts of the county, principally the Gaywood Valley and the greensands in West Norfolk, the Holt-Cromer Ridge in North Norfolk, and the upper reaches of the Bure Valley near Aylsham.
Heather heathland was formed when poor sandy soils were deforested, often thousands of years ago, and were kept open through subsequent centuries by grazing domestic livestock. The dominant plants of heather heathland are common ling, bell heather, European gorse and in some areas western gorse. Associated with them are many other heathland specialist plants including heath bedstraw, purple moor grass, common dodder and heath milkwort.
Among the characteristic reptiles of Norfolk heaths are viviparous lizard, slow worm and adder. Nesting birds include woodlark, tree pipit, nightjar, linnet and yellowhammer. Among many typical invertebrates of heather heaths are green tiger beetle, minotaur beetle, emperor moth, silver-studded blue, small heath, mottled grasshopper and common groundhopper.
Where water occurs on heaths, acid bogs or alkaline fens may develop, depending on the water’s origins. These wetlands are frequently home to highly adapted plants including sundews, butterworts and cross-leaved heath, and rare invertebrates such as raft spider, keeled skimmer, bog bush-cricket and black darter.
Today heathland is managed using both traditional techniques, such as grazing by hardy breeds of livestock, and modern technology including heavy machinery. The aim of such management is to prevent and reverse encroachment by scrub and the resulting loss of open areas of heather heathland. Recently Norfolk Wildlife Trust has been engaged in the restoration of a large area of heathland at Grimston Warren
, removing non-native conifers and the litter layer created by them to allow heathland vegetation to regenerate over many hectares.