Heather management on the Long Mynd
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Why do you manage the heather?
There are a number of reasons why the heather has to be managed. Firstly it forms part of our Conservation Management Plan to maintain and improve the condition of the heather. Secondly it improves the habitat for ground nesting birds, in particular the grouse; it is also good for species of insects, beetle and moth. It is important that we encourage the re-growth of young heather so that these species can thrive. Finally, the commoners who graze their sheep on the hill benefit from an increase in young heather as it is more digestible, it is more resilient to stock and to trampling damage than the old heather.
The way the team manage the heather is by cutting and burning patches each year. By burning the heather these areas form breaks and gaps in the heather which help to provide fire breaks, and they also help the grouse. The grouse need the heather to be patchy so that they can feed in the open and then run back into the heather to avoid predators.
Why do you burn the heather?
Burning is the most traditional and effective way to manage the heather. Underneath the older heather a moss layer starts to develop that actually limits the re-generation of the heather seed. Burning gets rid of the moss very effectively. In some areas of the Long Mynd burning isn't appropriate, for example we don't burn in highly sensitive areas and around the pools.
When do you burn the heather?
The team have a small window of opportunity to manage the heather and they have to try and burn around 20 hectares a year. It has to be done between mid-October and mid-April, although we stop burning by mid-March so that we don't encroach on the nesting season for the grouse. The burning requires some specific weather conditions as well, we need a few dry days before burning so that the heather isn't damp, and on the day of burning we need ideally a North-Easterly wind, no more than 12 miles per hour. In some cases we have chosen to cut the heather, this is because the old heather can go on to have other uses. In the past we have sold bailed heather to a filtration company in Holland, it has also been used to thatch a house in Clun and a summer house at Biddulph Grange Garden. We also use cut heather on our footpaths, in more sensitive areas where we don't want to put down stone, the heather absorbs the moisture stopping the paths from becoming muddy.
How do you monitor the re-growth?
Each year the areas burnt are recorded on a map by our Ecologist, Caroline Uff. Over the years she monitors and assess the condition of the heather. She also carries out wildlife surveys and bird counts with volunteers to see if the number and quantity of species living in and around the heather is increasing.