Thursday, May 7, 2009

Heather Burning

A letter recently appeared in The Whitby Gazette, complaining about the burning of our moors in autumn and spring, commenting on the damage it did to wildlife.

Burning is carried out in autumn and early spring outside the nesting season. Only heather is burnt, and in small one or two acre patches at most. It is done to benefit grouse. Gamekeepers only burn mature heather. The new flush of heather growth is prime feeding stuff for the grouse. Grouse prefer to nest in short heather that is neither too short nor too mature. Burning benefits other moorland birds, especially the golden plover which only nests on bare moorland patches. These only occur after burning.

Without the burning the heather would grow too tall for grouse to nest in and the grouse would find it difficult to feed or nest. Eventually numbers of grouse and other birds such as the golden plover, which require short growth - or none- to nest would eventually fall in numbers as can be seen on any moor which is not used for grouse shooting. The irony is that without burning to benefit the grouse, trees would rapidly occupy the moorland, something that can already be seen alongside fenced roadsides and areas such as Flylingdales Moor which is no longer used for shooting, or grazing by sheep. Within a 100 years the moors would be replaced with forest.

Whether this should happen is not something I'm going to comment on.

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