Our moorlands are historically a very heavily managed habitat. Good condition relies on many different forms of management. Landowners and Graziers graze the hillsides with sheep which munch the fresh young vegetation, controlling the spread of trees and shrubs as well as keeping heather and bilberry short.
Burning heather is an effective way of encouraging regeneration of the moorland. Heather seed lies dormant in the soil, during burning the heat and smoke crack the seed and promote germination. Areas of old heather which are burnt will regenerate in the first year with bilberry, quickly followed by heather which will grow vigorously into a carpet of heather.
When burning, the Heather and Grass Burning Code must be followed. Click here for Burning Guidelines. Burning can only take place between October 1st and March 31st to avoid disturbance to ground nesting birds and reduce the risk of wildfires. This means that there are very few days each year when burning can take place. It is also quite a labour intensive activity; in order to burn safely you need at least four people.
Burning gets easier the more management takes place. New burns can be aimed at previous management, which act as a fire break, reducing the risk of wild fire. As management creates a diverse age structure in the heather moorland, the chances of wild fire spreading are reduced. Cuts and burns act as excellent fire breaks.
Cutting heather is an alternative management tool. The main benefits of cutting are that it can be undertaken by an individual, in any weather and the size of cuts can be easily managed. Vegetation tends to regenerate more slowly in cuts and will regenerate with more of a heather and bilberry mix.
Why Manage the Moorland?
Why Manage the Moorland?
Over the age of approximately 15 years, heather plants become leggy and degenerate. Heather in this condition is of very little use for moorland inhabitants and will begin to die, being replaced by other vegetation. In order to keep the moorland in good condition, it is beneficial to manage on a 15 year rotation, ensuring a diverse age structure which will provide young growth for livestock and wildlife and deeper vegetation which provides shelter and nesting for birds.
It is possible to shepherd sheep around the mountain using cutting and burning. Sheep will eat young growth so will concentrate their efforts on recently managed areas where the vegetation is better. Burning or cutting too large an area will reduce the amount of available grazing until the vegetation returns and then lead to stock being spread over a large area once the vegetation begins to return. Cutting or burning too small an area will lead to sheep over-grazing the fresh vegetation when it returns and could kill areas of heather.
Burning and cutting are also effective methods for controlling the spread of Heather Beetle, which threaten to kill large areas of moorland.
Bracken and Gorse
The moorland is also home to a number of invasive species. Gorse and bracken are particularly difficult to manage. Both will grow quickly if burnt, although sheep will graze fresh gorse shoots whilst the plant is young. Burning areas of heather moorland where bracken is present will regenerate as an area dominated by bracken, reducing the area of grazable land and the wildlife value. Bracken is also the favoured habitat for Sheep Ticks.
Gorse is best controlled by cutting where possible; regeneration will be much slower, giving other species such as heather and bilberry the chance to compete. Bracken can be controlled in a number ways. Rolling can be effective in slowly knocking it back; annual rolling will weaken the plant, reducing its size and allowing other vegetation to grow with it.
The most effective control for bracken is spraying with a herbicide called Asulox. This can be done on a small scale by hand; using a knap-sac and sprayer, targeting individual plants. On a larger scale it can be done using a tractor mounted boom or by aerial spraying. Bracken must be sprayed at the end of July and beginning of August when the fronds are beginning to open. This will ensure the plant takes up as much chemical as is required to kill it. Bracken spraying has been undertaken on the