Bell heather (Erica cinerea)

Also known as: bell ling
GenusErica (1)
SizeHeight of plant: 60 cm (2)
Leaf length: 5 - 7 mm (2)

Not threatened (3).

Bell heather is a feature of dry heaths where it grows to heights of 60 centimetres. The small leaves are dark green in colour, and the reddish-purple flowers occur in groups (2). Heather has been put to many uses over the years. It has been used as a bedding material for livestock and humans, bundles have been used as brooms or to thatch roofs, it has been burnt as a fuel, wound into ropes, and used to repair holes in trackways and roads (4).

This heather is common throughout the British Isles, but becomes scarce in the English Midlands and has undergone a severe decline in southern England (3). It occurs throughout western Europe, reaching as far north as Norway and east to northern Italy (2).

Occurs on the drier heaths on thin, acidic or peaty soils and in Scot’s pine (Pinus sylvestris) or oak (Quercus) woodlands with open canopies (3). Tends not to be found in wetter places (5).

Bell heather flowers are pollinated by bumblebees or may be self-fertilised (2).

The decline of this species in England is the result of large scale loss of heathland. In chalk heath sites, a reduction in sheep and rabbit grazing has resulted in the growth of grasses and scrub, which has resulted in the loss of this species at these sites (3).

Although conservation action has not been targeted at this species, it is an important component species of many heathland communities, which are being protected via Habitat Action Plans under the UK Biodiversity Action Plan (UK BAP) (5).

For more on information on British native plants, plant conservation and the UK BAP Habitat Action Plans for heathlands see:

You can see bell heather by visiting the Quantocks, Somerset:

Authenticated (2004) by Professor Rob Marrs of the University of Liverpool: with the support of the British Ecological Society:

  1. National Biodiversity Network Species Dictionary (January, 2004)
  2. Clapham, A.R., Tutin, T.G. and and Moore, D.M. (1987) Flora of the British Isles- 3rd Edition. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.
  3. Preston, C.D., Pearman, D.A. and Dines, T.D. (2002) New Atlas of the British and Irish Flora. Oxford University Press, Oxford.
  4. Mabey, R. (1996) Flora Britannica. Sinclair-Stevenson, London.
  5. Marrs, R. (2004) Pers. comm.