At 554m (1818ft) Moel Famau is the highest summit in the Clwydian Range. Topped by the Jubilee Tower, it is a recognisable local landmark and visible for many miles. Moel Famau and much of the surrounding land makes up the Moel Famau Country Park. The Moel Famau Country Park is one of the main visitor locations in the Clwydian Range Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) attracting about 200,000 visitors each year.
The mountains here are covered in heather moorland, an internationally important habitat. But what remains is only a fragment of what was here 100 years ago, forestation and agricultural improvement has lead to roughly a 40% loss since the 2nd World War.
Much of the Country Park is Common Land, owned by Denbighshire County Council, where numerous farmers have the rights to graze sheep. Heather moorland in this area is historically an important area for grazing sheep, but to get the best out of it, the heather requires regular management.
You may be wondering what all the strange shapes cut into the heather on Moel Famau are. Moel Famau is a key location for the rare black grouse, but the population is still small. Between 10 and 15 male black grouse have been counted here in recent years. They like the contrast between short young heather and deep old heather. The small size of the cuts is to provide the grouse a lot of ‘edge’ between old and short heather. The areas of short vegetation provide a valuable source of food and an area on which to display, whilst the deep heather provides shelter and hiding from predators, and vegetation in which to nest.
The black grouse’s favourite habitat is the transition between woodland and heathland, so they love Moel Famau. Here, working in partnership with the Forestry Commission, the woodland edge has been cleared and thinned to remove the straight woodland edge associated with these kinds of plantations. This area where trees and heather grow together is prime black grouse habitat.
All of these cuts are not only good for grouse, but also sheep and the general good condition of the moorland. Sheep will be attracted to eat on the cut and burnt areas where fresh young bilberry and heather flourish. Regularly cutting and burning areas of heather also stops the heathland being gradually over run with trees and reverting to scrub woodland.