Two species of heather can be found across most of the islands in Scilly; Ling (Calluna vulgaris) is the most common and Bell Heather (Erica cinerea).

Bell Heather is the earliest to flower (in July) and has deep crimson-purple bell-shaped flowers and dark, glossy green linear leaves. Slightly later to flower is Ling with its dense spikes of tightly clustered pink-purple flowers.  Ling’s Latin name ‘’Calluna vulgaris’ means ‘to sweep’ and is associated with its use in the production of brooms known as a ‘besom’ which were used to sweep cottage floors.

Heather is typically found on the thin soils overlying granite across the islands, on hilltops where it forms large extensive carpets.  It can also be found scattered throughout the coastal grassland and lower-lying headlands forming a mosaic with other wildflower species.

On the hilltops and exposed headlands the environmental conditions, particularly the wind, have led to a phenomenon known as ‘waved heath.’   Constant battering from the wind has blown the heather over, exposing the roots on the side of the prevailing wind, whilst the plant continues to grown from the opposite side.  In extreme examples such as Shipman Head Down SSSI (Bryher), Chapel Down SSSI (St Martin’s) and Castle Down SSSI (Tresco) the heathland looks as if it has been ploughed, with ridges of heather separated by furrows of bare soil.

Heather provides essential nectar for many solitary bees on Scilly including the Cliff Mining-bee, Heath Bumblebee and Buff-tailed Bumblebee, whilst providing habitat for rare lichens such as Lobaria pulmonaria and Usnea subscabrosa and probably the rarest animal in Britain the Endangered Red-barbed (St Martin’s) Ant.