Moorlands and uplands are one of our most seemingly wild habitats, however they are shaped almost entirely by humans. Moorlands were once naturally wooded areas, but vast scale deforestation and overgrazing has created the bleak landscapes we see today. Without the tree canopy these wide open vistas are now dominated by heather, bilberry, blanket bog and acidic grassland. The UK is home to 75% of the world’s moorland habitats, most of which is managed as land for grazing or by shooting estates.
Although our moorlands and uplands can seem like empty places, they actually shelter a wide range of wildlife. Iconic mountain hares can be seen sprinting across the open slopes and threatened adders slither through the scrubby vegetation. In the Spring and Summer moorlands come alive with birdsong. The haunting cries of curlew, golden plover and lapwing can be heard. Ring ouzels nest on the rocky crags and the cackling call of the red grouse drifts across the heather. Rare birds of prey such as merlin, hobbies, hen harriers and short-eared owls can be seen hovering over the landscape in search of prey. By late Summer the dull winter landscape is transformed into a sea of vivid purple heather.
Besides being an important habitat for our wildlife, moorlands are also highly beneficial to humans. Peat bogs act as essential carbon reservoirs. Despite covering just 3 percent of the earth’s surface, metre for metre they store more carbon than any other ecosystem. An incredible two thirds of the carbon in the earth’s atmosphere is stored in peat bogs; approximately 500 billion tonnes! Moorlands also act as natural reservoirs for rain, absorbing flood water and slowly release it back into rivers and streams preventing flooding. Over management of our moorlands is leading to massively reduced carbon capture and damaged peat leaking into and polluting our waterways.
In many areas across the UK conservation work is going on to restore and re-wild our uplands and moorlands. Large areas of the Peak District are being planted with mosses and naturally occurring trees to revegetate peat groughs. In Scotland land from traditional shooting estates is being bought and managed to encourage a wide range of flora and fauna to return.Read more