Managing Molinia

Mowing Molinia on Marsden Moor

Volunteers at Marsden Moor are celebrating the end of two years’ work to ensure that moorland managers have access to best practice on a key conservation issue. They have produced 'Managing Molinia', a report looking at how to manage this dominant upland grass.

Their work has focussed on the challenge presented by Purple Moor Grass (Molinia caerulea) – a plant that grows naturally across British uplands but whose large tussocks have come to dominate large areas of local moors.

For several years, the volunteers have been supporting the National Trust’s Marsden Moor Estate countryside team with a weekly survey party to monitor the progress of restoration efforts. In 2013, they realised that the next phase of restoration work would be focussing on Molinia and that it was vital for staff to have access to the best knowhow in deciding the approach to take in managing it and reducing its control. 

Tufts of Molinia on Marsden Moor
Walkers navigate through Molinia on Marsden Moor
Tufts of Molinia on Marsden Moor

With the backing of the National Trust, the volunteers formed a steering group which has now achieved both its major goals.  First, a major conference held at Huddersfield and on Marsden Moor in September 2015 and secondly, a guidance report drawing together knowledge, experience and best practice for managing Molinia.

The conference promoted discussion, debate and shared best practice with experts from across the UK and it was the first of its kind to focus on this emerging conservation issue. 

Attendees came from organisations set up to manage the uplands for nature conservation, as well as those who make a living from grazing sheep and cattle. The discussions highlighted the need to find solutions in which both parties would gain, and that grazing animals are an important positive factor in managing for wild plants and birds. 

Building on the knowhow and papers from that conference, the group coordinated the publication of a 240 page report - ‘Managing Molinia’ – published this month by the National Trust in collaboration with Natural England. The publication covers:

How and why has Molinia become dominant in significant areas of upland Britain, sometimes reaching 99% or more of vegetation cover? 

Does it matter? 

What are the feasible approaches to restoration?

‘Managing Molinia’, the 2016 conference publication, is now allowing the lessons of the conference and the technical evidence to reach a much wider audience. 

Molinia at Redbrook, Marsden Moor with Pule Hill in the background
Molinia growing on Marsden Moor with Pule Hill in the background
Molinia at Redbrook, Marsden Moor with Pule Hill in the background

Craig Best, Lead Ranger for the National Trust at Marsden Moor, said: 

“Both conference and publication have proved to be a great experience of partnership working and sharing best practice. There has been a huge contribution from our volunteer group – we could not have resourced this without their time, energy and expertise. 

Over the next four years, we will be cutting Molinia across the Marsden estate and the conference and publication has helped us to review the best practice from across the UK. We’ve been able to identify areas where we are likely to have the most success in reducing its dominance.  For us, a key factor in helping to reduce the dominance of Molinia after cutting is follow-up treatments such as cattle grazing and assessing the hydrology to controlling water across the land.” 

Representing the volunteers involved, Roger Meade, Conference Group Chair, said:
"The high level of interest in the conference showed us that conservation managers are keen to get the land management right and to spend money wisely. It’s not just a case of scattering seed around, we have to look very carefully at the potential of each landscape area to support either a wet peat bog or drier heathland before deciding the best course of action. We are grateful to our speakers who have prepared these papers and for making their expertise and experience available to a wider audience."

Speaking as a delegate representing the farming community, Ann Willcocks, said:
"The molinia conference has been a really useful talking point - the first opportunity to refer to work carried out on molinia control and recognition of the issues.  It has been absolutely amazing.  Our local commons association has embraced the research wholeheartedly and I do think that the conference and subsequent papers will leave a positive impact. I also hope there are more hands on conferences like this, that are not talking shops, but more like shop windows to see how things are done and who is doing what."
Dr Peter Brotherton, Director, Specialist Services and Programmes of Natural England, said:
“The body of scientific evidence is impressive and will assist Natural England and other statutory nature conservation bodies in developing a robust approach to managing our uplands. The need for close cooperation between conservation managers and farmers emerged clearly from the discussions. It is essential reading for those responsible for work in restoring areas of over-dominant Molinia and for administering conservation policy.” 

The conference was taken forward in partnership between the National Trust, Natural England, and the International Peat Society. 

Download Managing Molinia (PDF / 3.701171875MB) download