Throughout western Europe heathlands dominated by ericaceous subshrubs occur on poor soils. Mostly, these heaths have developed and have been maintained by human activities. Traditional management has perpetuated ecosystems of a low nutrient status in which plant succession is arrested. Traditional management has involved a complex interaction between grazing, arable cultivation and the use of turf and plant material from the heaths. This basic system occurs throughout the European heathlands but with local variants. This paper reviews and compares the various systems of heathland use and management with the aim of developing new methods to maintain these cultural landscapes.