Understanding the factors that drive successful re-creation and restoration of lowland heaths is crucially important for achieving the long-term conservation of this threatened habitat type. In this study we investigated the changes in soil chemistry, plant community and interactions between Calluna vulgaris and symbiotic ericoid mycorrhizas (ERM) that occurred when improved pasture was subjected to one of three treatments (i) acidification with elemental sulphur (ii) acidification with ferrous sulphur (iii) removal of the topsoil. We found that the soil stripping treatment produced the greatest reduction in available phosphate but did not decrease soil pH. Conversely, acidification with elemental sulphur decreased pH but increased availability of phosphate and potentially toxic cations. The elemental sulphur treatment produced plant communities that most closely resembled those on surrounding heaths and acid grasslands. The most important driver was low pH and concomitant increased availability of potentially toxic cations. Plant community development was found to be little related to levels of available soil phosphate, particularly at low pH. The elemental sulphur treatment also produced the best germination and growth of C. vulgaris over 4–5 years. However, this treatment was found to inhibit the development of symbiotic relationships between C. vulgaris and ERM. This may affect the long-term persistence of re-created vegetation and its interactions with other components of heathland communities.