Holt Lowes has long been recognised as a special place for plants and animals, with the first records of notable species dating from the end of the 18th century. In 1954 it was declared an SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) and it was re-notified as an SSSI in 1986 (although the boundaries of the SSSI were then reduced, taking out part of Holt Country Park and Edgefield Heath). It is also an SAC (Special Area of Conservation) under EU legislation, an important designation, giving additional protection to the site.

Declaring an area as an SSSI is, however, not enough to maintain the wildlife interest of the site. In Britain, where almost all terrestrial habitats have been influenced by man for thousands of years, it is usually necessary to manage the area in order to maintain the continuity of the interesting habitats.

Since the Enclosure Act of 1807 the use of Holt Lowes by the poor of the parish has steadily declined. Indeed, the Lowes is thought to have been largely used for recreation by the end of the 19th century. Gradually, as grazing and wood cutting dwindled away, the trees that covered the heath in prehistoric times began to return. In the 20th century periodic large fires and Rabbits kept them at bay for a while, but by the 1960s much of the heath was succumbing.

The heathland vegetation of heather, gorse and various grasses was not the natural vegetation of the area, rather it had been created by man’s activities. It was, however, old and relatively stable, and may well have been in existence for up to 5,000 years. This long period of stability has allowed the heath and associated wetlands to be colonised by a rich variety of plants and animals, and the vegetation is termed ‘semi-natural’. In contrast, if it were to return to woodland, it would be a species-poor ‘secondary woodland’ (i.e. trees growing on a site where woodland has been absent for a significant period of time). It would take many generations for such ‘secondary woodland’ to acquire the richness and diversity of the existing heath, and indeed, it may never do so.

Thus, in order to maintain the biodiversity of Holt Lowes, it is necessary to stop it changing into woodland. Initially this involves removing some of the trees, and it is hope that the reintroduction of grazing, the traditional land use, will help to prevent recolonisation by trees in the future. The first modest attempts at management began in the 1960s with masters and boys from Gresham’s School in Holt. In the 1980s a portion of the Lowes was leased for a time to the Norfolk Wildlife Trust (NWT), and although Holt Lowes is no longer a NWT reserve, the Trust remains very actively involved in the management operations and acts as Managing Agents for the Trustees.



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Conservation & Management
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