Heather can be kept young and vigorous by controlled burning. If not managed, heather grows into a dense mass of long woody stems, which is of little value to both livestock and wildlife.
Burning encourages fresh new heather growth to sprout from existing heather plants; it removes dead material and recycles nutrients. A well managed moorland burning rotation will result in a mosaic of heather and other moorland plants of differing ages, which will provide good grazing and food for a broad spectrum of wildlife. Heather moorland is an important habitat for the red grouse, curlew, hen harrier and Irish hare. Cross Compliance permits heather burning between 1 September and 14 April.
Controlled burning should take place when the heather cover is dry, the peat is wet and the wind light but constant. This ensures that the fire moves steadily over the peat, burning the plant but leaving the peat bed relatively cool. The heather roots are left undamaged and the whole process ‘shocks’ the heather seed lying in the ground into germinating quickly.
Nigel Laughlin operates a successful mixed suckler cow and sheep farm in the Sperrins near Gortin, Co Tyrone. His farm is now entering its sixth year of the Environmentally Sensitive Area Scheme and has a range of habitats including broadleaved woodland, ungrazed grass margins and heather moorland.
The farm has a sizeable area of heather moorland, which is managed by burning and flailing. By actively managing this important habitat Nigel has been able to sustain production on the hills and benefit the environment.
For further detailed information on heather burning, contact your local Countryside Management Branch, DARD.