Signs of life on fire-ravaged moor

Signs of life on fire-ravaged moor

4 January 2007

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Keighley, England, UK — Heather and wildlife has already started to re-colonise the fire-damaged acres of Ilkley Moor under the watchful eye of landowner Bradford Council.

Less than six months after the blaze which burned for a week, stripping foliage and sensitive peat from the surface of the landmark moor, hopes of a recovery are high among those working on the moor.

Bradford Council’s Countryside and Rights of Way Service officers last week moved on to the blackened acres of the moor to plant new heather in the first phase of the long process to revive the damaged 500 acres.

It is still estimated that it could take more than 20 years for the moor to fully recover from the fire, however.

The council has been working closely with Natural England over the careful process to bring the moor back to life, and officers also visited the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. A similar fire struck the national park in 2003, and Bradford officers wanted to learn how park officials have gone about regenerating their moorland.

The work – Phase One of Ilkley Moor’s regeneration – involved taking cuttings and heather seed from Harden Moor near Keighley, and transplanting them to create a green oasis on the barren and charred area of Ilkley Moor. Heather on Harden Moor is free from disease and parasites, giving Ilkley’s new heather crop the best chance ofsurvival.

Bradford officers are pleased at the progress so far and hope the slow-growing heather will flourish in the months to come.

“I’m very pleased with how it’s gone,” said Bradford Council wildlife officer, Peter Britton, one of the team out on Ilkley Moor. “I’m hoping to see something in the next couple ofyears.”

While working on the moor, Mr Britton has seen that a number of moorland birds have returned, including several grouse and pairs of snipe, and is hopeful that more birds will appear when winter migrants reach this country.

The summer’s fire was so devastating because it burned deeper into the soil, destroying heather seed, compared to controlled fires started by countryside workers. These usually burn off just the plants on the surface.

Mr Britton said controlled burning also takes place during weather conditions which will not help the fire spread fast. The summer’s fire took hold during an unusually hot and dry spell in July, and burned into the beginning of August, sending clouds of smoke across the area. At its worst, as the fire moved eastwards towards Keighley Road, the combined force of firefighters, countryside workers and farmers enlisted the help of a helicopter to scoop water from Panorama Reservoir to drop directly on to the fire.

Along with coming up with a plan to revive the burned heather moorland, Bradford Council has revisited its official Ilkley Moor Management Plan, and hopes to set up an Ilkley Moor supporters’ group, which may be able to access external funding for moorland work, as well as raising money through subscriptions. Mr Britton said the next steps for countryside workers will be to try to keep grazing animals from damaging the recovering plant life, encouraging the type of plants needed, and keeping an eye on reviving landscape.

“We found some quite encouraging signs. Bilberry is quite an important plant with a high food value for wildlife, and the bilberry banks are coming back very well.”

An aerial photographic survey, funded by Ilkley Parish Council, is expected to be carried out soon, and will help countryside workers assess what needs to be done. Aerial surveys in future years will enable the council to check how its revival of Ilkley Moor is coming along.

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