The relatively small patch of heather moorland around Captain Cook’s Monument has recently been strip mowed.
This photo is technically of a strip on Little Ayton Moor, north of the parish boundary wall, but the area surrounding the monument, Easby Moor, also has at least two parallel strips. The moors are technically dry upland heath, a habitat dominated by dwarf shrubs, especially heather. It should support a particular variety of plants and animals, including rare and scarce species of plants, birds and invertebrates.
But it has to be maintained to keep it such.
On larger areas of moorland which are intensively managed for grouse shooting, a diverse range of heather ages will undoubtably benefit grouse. The chicks need young heather shoots for feeding while nesting in the taller, older heather.
This diversity of heather is traditionally achieved by rotational burning, a season which lasts from 1 October to 15 April. It is a process which also damages rough grass, gorse, bracken and species such as bilberries. Anything which does not benefit the grouse. Local extinctions of reptiles, insects and small mammals must be a severe risk.
Of course, some birds do benefit from the same environment as maximises grouse numbers: Curlew, Lapwing, Golden Plover and Merlin, and these are often cited by gamekeepers as justification for their management techniques.
I guess the aims behind this strip mowing of heather on Little Ayton and Easby moors are two fold. Firstly. to increase diversity of heather age and secondly as a firebreak. I can’t honestly see anyone trying to shoot grouse on Capt. Cook’s Monument so I guess that creation of firebreaks is the main consideration.
Firebreaks can provide important habitats for reptiles such as Common Lizards and adders which bask in the open areas which are created.
What it shows is that habitats such as upland heath can be achieved by mowing rather than rotational burning.
P.S. Can you spot Roseberry in the gaps between the trees?
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