Monday, 29 April 2013

Heather management: burning and cutting

Richard May on cut heather (Patrick Laurie)
The merits of burning and/or cutting heather have been debated in bars, houses and on moors since the management of moorland began.  Cutting is perhaps the new kid on the block, as fire has been managing heather since time began and as a result, heather is described as a fire-adapted plant.

At the Heather Trust, we have revived interest in this debate, as we have been made aware of the work that Richard May, a member of the Board, has been doing in the Peak District.  It was time to investigate further, and Patrick Laurie set off last week with this as an objective, in addition to catching up with the work that has been taking place on the moors that are contributing to the restoration trial after heather beetle.  Patrick has set out his thoughts from his visit on his own Blog.

Starting with Patrick's thoughts, I have started to list out the issues we could consider as part of this review and it has quickly become extensive.  There will be more issues, but these are the first ideas:

  • Does burning aid regeneration of heather from seed - the smoke is thought to condition the seed to increase the rate of germination?
  • Cutting does not work where the ground is unsuitable - too steep, on broken / rocky ground, where there is no access, or where the ground is too wet.
  • Cutting can achieve a fine mosaic that would be difficult to replicate by burning.
  • What are the impacts of a fine mosaic on grouse and other species?
  • What are the merits of cutting and leaving the brash, against cutting and removing?
  • What is the effect of age of heather on the relevant merits of the different techniques?
  • How is the impact on the landscape assessed?
  • The impact of burning on water quality, especially on peat soils, has been extensively researched, but is there an impact from cutting?
  • The relative costs should be considered - burning requires a team of people, while cutting can be carried out by one person and one machine - "burn heather or burn diesel".
  • Cutting does not carry a risk of wildfire.
  • How can cutting can be best used in support of burning?
  • How do we cater for the fact that 'every moor is different'?

I plan to work up these ideas into an article, or even a series of articles, that we will publish in our Annual Report.  To make this work as well-informed as possible, I hope to harness some other sources of information that include Professor Rob Marrs, our President; Richard May for input from his work in the Peak District; and possibly other organisations such as GWCT and British Moorlands.

Dick Bartlett of British moorlands is a member of the Trust and is based near Aberlour in Morayshire.  During the Cairngorms Land Management Forum meeting, last week (see separate post) he was expounding an approach to moorland management for grouse that  involved cutting a network of narrow strips through heather.  This could provide some useful input to our review.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

There is surely a balance required which includes elements of both cutting and burning.