CAFRE Heather Management Event - Greenmount Hill Farm, 30 September 2016

Date published: 21 September 2016

A well managed heather habitat is a very valuable resource to have on any farm as it provides valuable grazing for cattle and sheep. Heather moorland forms a distinctive component of the landscape and is a very important wildlife habitat.

Representatives from NIFRS, CAFRE, IGCT and NIEA making final preparations for the Heather Management Event at Greenmount Hill Farm on 30 September 2016.

A well managed heather habitat is a very valuable resource to have on any farm as it provides valuable grazing for cattle and sheep. Heather moorland forms a distinctive component of the landscape and is a very important wildlife habitat.

Heather moorland can be kept in good condition by carefully controlling grazing, however, heather regeneration is often required when it becomes over mature. Techniques to encourage regeneration include burning or flailing blocks in a planned sequence. The aim is to produce a patchwork pattern with a range of heather ages which will increase grazing quality, encourage livestock to graze the whole area, prevent regenerating blocks from being overgrazed and provide an excellent habitat for wildlife including red grouse.

Burning is the most widely used method of regenerating heather as it encourages new growth to sprout from existing heather plants. Burning also removes old, dead material, it recycles nutrients and stimulates heather seed germination from the seed bank in the top layer of peat. Burning heather is a skilled job and requires careful supervision and sufficient labour at all times to keep the fire under control.

Heather burning is controlled by law and it must not be carried out between 15 April and 31 August. Burning must not take place on designated sites without written consent from the Northern Ireland Environment Agency (NIEA).

Heather flailing by mechanical means is another method of encouraging regeneration. Flailing is less weather dependent, requires less labour and is easier to control as there is no risk of fires getting out of control. Also flailed areas can act as a firebreak. However flailing has disadvantages and research has indicated that the rate of regeneration is slower than with burning. Safety must be taken into consideration when working on steep land with machinery.

Agri-environment schemes take account of the valuable contribution that well managed heather can make in producing a unique wildlife habitat. When managed sensitively, heather moorland can support sheep, grouse and a wide spectrum of other species, many of which have little or no economic importance yet form a vital part of the moorland system. Agri-environment scheme options include burning or flailing blocks of approximately 0.5 ha of heather moorland in a sequence to encourage regeneration. 

CAFRE are running a practical Heather Management training event on Friday 30 September at Greenmount Hill Farm, Glenwherry, commencing at 10.30am. The training event will commence with brief presentations by CAFRE, NIEA, DAERA Countryside Management Advisors, Northern Ireland Fire and Rescue Service (NIFRS) and the Irish Grouse Conservation Trust (IGCT).

Presentations will be followed by a practical demonstration which will include heather management by flailing and a heather burning demonstration which will cover best practice.

Colum McDaid of NIEA stated: “We welcome this opportunity to engage with the farming community to highlight the issue of wildfires and their impact on our environment across Northern Ireland. Wildfires destroy our surroundings – how they look and the wildlife within them, especially in regard to protected sites. Wildfires cost the whole community and between 2005 and 2010, £35 million was spent on fighting them. Wildfires are illegal and the deliberate setting of wildfires without the proper permissions and controls in place is a criminal offence. The Department urges members of the public to be vigilant and to report unattended fires to the NIFRS.”

Mark Smyth, NIFRS Lead Officer for wildfires stated: “We are delighted to have the opportunity to engage with farmers and landowners to highlight the dangers of wildfires. While it is encouraging that the number of wildfires NIFRS has attended has decreased by 31% over the last three years they still pose a serious risk to the public to Fire fighters and to the environment and we must maintain our efforts to drive down the number of these fires. 

The reduction in the number of gorse fires across Northern Ireland is testament to the excellent partnership working between key stakeholders to help raise awareness of this issue. Now that we are in the prescribed burning season it is important everyone maintains their vigilance and safety when carrying out controlled burning on land.”

If you would like to attend this training event, please book online at the CAFRE website.

If you have any queries, please call CAFRE Industry Training on 028 9442 6880.

By Graeme D Campbell, Crops and Sustainability Development Branch, CAFRE

Notes to editors: 

  1. Follow us on Twitter @daera_ni
  2. All media enquiries to DAERA Press Office, or tel: 028 9052 4619.

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