Moor fights back from blaze

Moor fights back from blaze

3 May 2006

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United Kingdom — The open expanses of the North York Moors represent for many a raw and untouchedlandscape.

But humans have shaped the land and its wildlife and are continuing to do so at Fylingdales Moor, as it recovers from a devastating fire.

The blaze in September 2003 was the worst in almost three decades and swept across more than 600 acres of the National Park, destroying heather covering a square mile and burning down into the peatbelow.

However, conservationists entrusted with restoring the sensitive landscape – part of a Site of Special Scientific Interest – are optimistic that early efforts have given a strong start to a longprocess.

The inspector of ancient monuments for English Heritage, Neil Redfern, said lessons learned from the Fylingdales fire were being put into practice at other sensitive sites in thecountry.

“While the fire revealed fantastic archaeology it opened up a complete nightmare by exposing that archaeology,” hesaid.

“Moorland is always portrayed as a wilderness, wild and natural. It’s actually an intensively human-made and managedlandscape.

“On the North York Moors over the last 150 to 250 years the grouse moorland has been very highlymanaged.

“There has been industrial activity too – it was the prime industrial landscape of Yorkshire at one time.”

The fire exposed old trackways and waterways linked to the alum industry around Ravenscar in the 17th to 19th centuries, as well as slit trenches from the Second World War, when the moors were used as a military trainingarea.

Much earlier remains included ancient earthworks, mesolithic flints and dozens of pieces of rock art, including a unique piece of carved sandstone which is believed to be more than 4,000 years old.

Vegetation had to be replanted before the weather could erode the important archaeological finds. Grass was planted as a “nurse” crop for heather, sheltering it and helping to hold the surface of the soiltogether.

It could be up to 30 years before the heather moorland is restored but Mr Redfern said the first phase of the project – sowing the grass seed– had gone so well that English Heritage had only spent £80,000 of the £200,000 allocated to it for the second phase by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs(Defra).

The remainder was returned to the Department for other schemes. “Some grass has taken so well we’re having to go and cut it back,” said Mr Redfern.

“It’s probably gone better than we ever initially expected. The grass seed was really dry and 2004 ended up being a really wetyear.”

Now the surface of the moorland has been stabilised the management of the land iscontinuing.

National Park Authority moorland project officer Rachel Pickering is monitoring the plant life at Fylingdales and has been keeping a photographic record of the scheme’s progress and watching wildlifereturn.

“It won’t be exactly the same – it will be grassier than before, when it was predominantly heather,” she said. “There will be more of a mixture of the two, which is good for voles and birds ofprey.”

The heather, and the fire risk it poses, is controlled by periodic burning but, as with everything else in such a sensitive landscape, achieving a balance is vital.

Fire prevention is a key feature of the land management and with climate change fires are expected to become more frequent, although Mr Redfern said it would be impossible to manage a fire on the scale of September 2003 on a regularbasis.

Part of the restoration work at Fylingdales has been included widening firebreaks, to almost 100ft.


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