Heather is hero of the Pen­nines

Macclesfield Express - - WILDLIFE -

EV­ERY day on the West Pen­nine Moors is dif­fer­ent – the weather can change rapidly, you can spot a bird, a bee or a mam­mal that wasn’t there yes­ter­day.

Over the past few weeks the colour of the moors has changed from pur­ple to green as the heather flow­ers close up for an­other year.

Sum­mer days watch­ing shad­ows of clouds race across the pur­ple car­pets are re­placed by win­try days with the heather hold­ing out against the rain, frost and snow.

Heather is the real hard case of the plant world, liv­ing on ex­posed moors and heaths in tightly packed groups an in­di­vid­ual plant can thrive for more than 40 years.

The pinky-pur­ple flow­ers are vis­i­ble from July to Oc­to­ber with wiry, tough stems re­plac­ing them through Novem­ber and on­wards.

Known as ling or Erica, heather is an iconic fea­ture of the UK land­scape and has thrived be­cause of low-im­pact ac­tiv­i­ties on moor­land. There is some scrub clear­ance but it’s mainly down to the sheep to keep the heather un­der con­trol.

As well as sheep, deer will graze on the tips of the heather and it is a life-saver in win­ter, grow­ing above the snow.

In spring grouse will feed on young shoots and small em­peror moths will also feed on the plant.

Of course the great thing about heather is that it pro­vides cover for all sorts of crea­tures from tiny spi­ders and in­sects to birds, par­tic­u­larly dur­ing nest­ing sea­son.

Brown hare, weasels and rab­bits can lie low and a fox could eas­ily be watch­ing you from close by. It’s not the kind of plant you want to jump into so it is a bar­rier to a lot of dis­tur­bance for twite, black­cap and sky­lark. It is good to be up on the moors in the heather but all is not right.

While 80 per cent of low­land heath land has van­ished in 200 years, the shoot­ing brigade has helped to man­age many of our up­land moors for their own sin­gle tar­get species rather than wor­ry­ing about bio­di­ver­sity. More species can now be found in our towns and ci­ties than on the moors.

Still, heather con­tin­ues to of­fer pro­tec­tion, look pretty and smell fra­grant in the sum­mer sun, while adding green to the moors in colder months.

Heather strikes a chord with ro­man­tics, au­thors and singers with men­tions in Kid­napped by Robert Louis Stephen­son, the folk song Scar­bor­ough Fair and Ewan MacColl’s Manch­ester Ram­bler, which is a song about the mass tres­pass of Kin­der Scout in 1932.

There seems to be some­thing wild and rev­o­lu­tion­ary about heather and the moors.

I can un­der­stand that. Be­ing out on the moors, feel­ing the wind blow the cob­webs away, there is some­thing that makes you feel wild and alive. ●● TO sup­port the work of the Wildlife Trust for Lan­cashire, Manch­ester and North Mersey­side, text WILD09 with the amount you want to do­nate to 70070. To be­come a mem­ber of the Trust, go to the web­site at www.lanc­swt.org.uk or call 01772 324129. For more in­for­ma­tion about Cheshire Wildlife Trust, call 01948 820728 or go to cheshirewil­dlife trust.org.uk.

●● The chang­ing colour of heather is a guide to changes in weather

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