The undulating hills of a moorland landscape can seem remote, bleak even, and to the untrained eye, lifeless. Within its secret thickets however, birds play out dances of life and death, reptiles slither belly-down through damp moss, voles and mice burrow and squeak amongst spiny green towers of grass. In the vaulted skies above, skylarks roll out their timeless summer songs, and the razor-gaze of hen harriers scour the vegetation for rustles that spell dinner.
Recognised nationally and internationally under the EU Habitats Directive, heather moorlands and the biodiversity they support are often listed as Special Areas of Conservation and Sites of Special Scientific Interest. At present, purple moor grass dominates the landscape at our site Bwclh Corog, a species that favours poorly drained, acidic soil. As conditions improve, we expect to see this revert to heather moorland, improving biodiversity of the site and complementing the two existing heather moorland SSSI’s close by.
Moorland is a blanket term, encompassing the patchwork of smaller habitats within, each microhabitat playing host to different species. Tall and dense, protective heather is favoured by the hen harrier for nesting, the thick vegetation a protection from the capricious elements of the British Isles, as well as from predators to their hatchlings, such as the red fox. Other bird species, such as the merlin, short-eared owl and red grouse need this essential cover too, as well as small mammals like mice and field voles, and reptiles like lizards, slowworms and adders.
Exposed areas of moorland are favoured by the golden plover, lapwing and curlew. Damp, boggy moorland areas attract wading birds like snipes and redshanks, and also support sphagnum mosses and in turn dragonflies, crane flies and other semi-aquatic insects. As the seasons turn, the main players of moorland habitats come and go. The hardy red grouse can overwinter here, and as spring hales in the warmer weather, wading birds come to nest.
The purple flush of heather moorland is accompanied by a rich chorus of colourful flora all year round. Wildflowers adorn moorland heath in spring: marsh violets, bell heather and rosebay willow herb are just a few species that attract butterflies and other vital pollinators. The list of plants common to moors is extensive and range from cloudy drifts of cotton grass to the insectivorous and sticky-leafed sundew.
Moorland is a natural reservoir. Upland areas receive the highest concentration of rainfall which is sponged up by the mossy moorland before being trickled back into rivers and streams, an important, natural control that helps prevent flooding. Blanket bog, or blanket mire, is a peatland habitat that develops in cool areas with heavy rainfall. Waterlogged ground, fed by rainwater, allows accumulation of plant remains, eventually forming deep peat that covers, or ‘blankets’, large stretches of land. Peat is often exploited for horticultural purposes, and in poorly managed sites peat is affected by drainage and rainfall. As it forms over about 5000 years, it is irreplaceable, as well as being an important carbon absorber. Sphagnum mosses abundant in moorland are also essential carbon traps. Beautiful, vital, and teeming with life, patches of moorland will be present at Cambrian Wildwood, a haven for the diverse populace of this dynamic habitat.