The botanical diversity of dry Calluna-dominated heathland in Surrey is generally low but the more diverse dry grass heaths support some uncommon plants, including the rare Deptford Pink Dianthus armeria and smooth cat’s-ear Hypochaeris glabra which is nationally scarce.
Wetter heathland can support rich assemblies of plants. One site supports the nationally rare slender cotton-grass Eriophorum gracile. Other scarce species on wet heathland in Surrey include marsh gentian Gentiana pneumonanthe, brown beak-sedge Rhynchospora fusca, and marsh clubmoss Lycopodiella inundata. Some pools also support the scarce pillwort Pilularia globulifera and the water crowfoot Ranunculus tripartitus. Wetter heathland and mires support important communities of mosses and liverworts. A range of Sphagnum mosses occur including less common species such as S magellanicum and S molle. The liverwort Pallavicinia lyellii and the mosses Campylopus brevipilus, Drepanocladus revolvens and Scorpidium scorpioides are all uncommon species found on wet heathland in Surrey. Lichens, especially species of the diverse genus Cladonia, are a very important group on heathland.
The international importance of Surrey’s heathland and mire habitats has been recognised by designation of a substantial part (Thursley, Ash, Pirbright and Chobham) as a candidate Special Area for Conservation (cSAC) under the European Habitats Directive.
Fungi are abundant on lowland heathland, this habitat providing a range of conditions in which a varied and often specialised array of fungi has arisen.
In late summer and autumn, increasing numbers of people visit heathland sites to collect edible fungi such as cep Boletus edulis and the related bay bolete Boletus badius. Over collecting may threaten the long-term future of such species on our heathland.
Other relatively common, but not edible species include, amongst the larger fungi, the ubiquitous Laccaria proxima and Cystoderma amianthinum, several specialised species of Galerina, Hypholoma and Mycena, the puffball Lycoperdon foetidum, and, associated with Calluna, Setulipes androsaceus and the bolete Suillus variegatus. Omphalina ericetorum and O. pyxidata occur on peaty soils, as does a range of larger ascomycete genera, e.g. Byssonectria and, with mosses, several species of Octospora. Many species form mycorrhizal associations with various trees, pine and birch being the most frequent in this habitat. Pine is accompanied by Cortinarius semisanguineus, Lactarius hepaticus, Russula emetica and Suillus bovinus, and birch has grisette Amanita fulva, fly agaric A. muscaria, Cortinarius hemitrichus and brown roll-rim Paxillus involutus as common associates. Rarer heathland species include the agarics Collybia impudica and Entoloma bloxamii. In addition to the larger fungi, many microfungi are intimately associated with the heathland flora.
Specialised habitats within heathland communities often support interesting and uncommon species. For example, bare peat soil supports Mycena megaspora, and burnt areas often have a fleeting but characteristic and restricted range of fungi. The large cup-fungi Peziza echinospora, P. pseudoviolacea, P. violacea, and Plicaria endocarpoides are frequent in this niche, whilst Anthracobia subatra was recently reported as new to the British Isles based on a collection from an old fire site on Witley Common.
Unimproved grassland habitats on either basic or acid heath are frequently rich in Entoloma spp., ‘waxcaps’ (Hygrocybe spp.), various ‘club-fungi’ (Clavaria and Clavulinopsis spp.), and several ‘earth tongues’ (Geoglossum and Trichoglossum spp.), all of which are becoming increasingly rare throughout Europe, with many attaining Red Data List status.