Heather is hero of the Pennines
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