Les Landes is one of the largest and most important SSI’s on the Island. Located in the north-west corner of Jersey, it stands as the largest bloc of maritime heathland in the Channel Islands, supporting an extensive range of habitats and plant and animal species. Its exposure to westerly and northerly winds, combined with rabbit grazing, keeps the vegetation short and small, suitable for some plant species that are rare elsewhere on the Island, such as cowslip Primula veris and common cotton-grass Eriophorum angustifolium.
The water bodies of this site are an important feature of the area, and are managed to benefit the common toad Bufo bufo (agile frog Rana dalmatina have been released in the past but none have been seen in recent years).
This site is dominated by dwarf shrub heath consisting mainly of heathers Erica and Calluna, as well as gorse, providing nesting opportunities for a large number of bird species, as well as habitat for migrating or overwintering birds. Rabbits Orytcolagus cuniculus and cattle graze an extensive area of rough grassland within the racetrack providing an open habitat an ideal feeding area for many bird species. Adjacent cliffs provide suitable habitat for nesting seabirds. Habitat at the southern end of Les Landes is of better quality through its diversity of habitat (heather beds and gorse thickets) whereas the northern end is mainly continuous heather beds, with very little in the way of scrub to provide shelter for smaller bird species. The surrounding area is made up of both arable and grazing land which is often rotated.
The importance of this site is not only related to its size and biodiversity but also to its scenic value. It is a popular leisure area due to the feel of remoteness and wilderness of its landscape, which is a contributing factor towards its management strategies.
Birds and other wildlife
Les Landes supports over 200 plant species of which 56 have restricted distribution and a significant number are rare in a British context. Notable plant species include: heathers, heath pearlwort Sagina subulata, spotted rock-rose Tuberaria guttata, sand crocus Romulea columnae, dodder Cuscuta epithymum, lesser skullcap Scutellaria minor, carnation sedge Carex panacea and common cotton-grass.
The site is very important for skylark Alauda arvensis, stonechat Saxicola rubecula, Dartford warbler Sylvia undata, meadow pipit Anthus pratensis, raven Corvus corax, jackdaw C. monedula and linnet Carduelis cannabina. Many migrant birds are recorded each year including many hundreds of barn swallow Hirundo rusticola and wheatear Oenanthe oenanthe while yellow wagtails Motacilla flava often stop off to check on the cows. Dotterel Charadrius morinellus, golden plover Pluvialis apricaria, wryneck Jynx torquilla and ring ouzel Turdus torquatus are regular rarer visitors while raptors including marsh harrier Circus aeruginosus and hen harrier Circus cyaneus, merlin Falco columbarius and peregrine F. peregrinus regularly hunt over the site. Short-eared owls Asio flammeus often winter within the racecourse.
Besides the many rabbits and common toads, Les Landes holds good populations of green lizard Lacerta bilineata, slow worm Anguis fragilis, bats, shrews and bank vole Myodes glareolus. Over 580 invertebrate species have been recorded making this the richest site in Jersey for this group. Many of these insects are species dependent on warm, sunny conditions which are seldom found elsewhere and include the large and spectacular emperor moth Saturnia pavonia, whose caterpillars feed on heather, the striking blue-winged grasshopper Timarcha tenebricosa, the green tiger beetle Cicindela campestris, solitary bees and wasps which nest in dry sandy soils and many butterflies and dragonflies.
Les Landes contains one of the most developed coastal heathland areas on Jersey through existing management. To the northern end of the site, there are areas of bracken; however, most of this is on a slope and therefore cannot be managed easily. Gorse is managed on a rotational system providing a range of age classes in the habitat essential for birds like the Dartford warbler. Areas of rank grassland are cut and maintained regularly to promote species diversity while some patches of longer grass are beneficial to a lot of the ground feeding birds. Paths and access points are maintained to support sustainable public access to the site and may be closed at sensitive times such as toad spawning.
Future management to consider:-
- Managing bracken to stop encroachment. Inaccessible coastal slopes are rich in maritime grassland and may need a grazing programme to prevent invasion;
- Introducing weedy/cereal crops to one or two of the surrounding fields;
- Introduction of buffer strips in surrounding fields;
- Allowing one or two thickets to establish at the northern end of the site;
- Excluding the cattle from the area at certain times of year or establishment of exclusion areas within the central racecourse, particularly around the breeding season to allow the grass to grow longer.
There is a leaflet detailing walks at Les Landes