“The wettest grouse moor I’ve ever walked”

Flooded ditches on the Chayne are drowning the heather, but they have been filled with frogspawn over the last few days.

Of all the problems on the Chayne, drainage is probably the most serious. Moorland managers discuss burning and reseeding in great depth, but neither of these important regeneration techniques are worth a thing unless they have their foundations in correctly drained soil.

Conducting the grouse count took me to areas of the farm that I seldom visit, and I was horrified to find several undiscovered stands of dead heather swilling around in stale water. Drains have become filled to the brim with sphagnum moss and peaty water oozes out of them as you walk. Footsteps make the surrounding bog quiver and quake. One of the counters was wearing ankle boots, and he afterwards commented as he wrang out his socks that he had never walked such a wet grouse moor. The hill was demonstrating the fact that years of neglect have made it incapable of draining surface water.

Heather does not like wet conditions. It is not a bog plant, but chooses instead to occupy raised peaty banks where water passes through but does not linger too long. Standing water will not only kill the plant, but encourage mosses to take over, smothering any potential regeneration. With heather already under pressure from overgrazing and expanding tufts of molinia grass, a collapsed drainage system is another enormous problem.

In practice, wet ground isn’t a fatal flaw for the Chayne. The majority of grouse we saw on the count were hunched between mounds of soggy sphagnum moss in an area where every drain has long since breathed its last, but it is a serious limiting factor for progress in the struggle to return the farm to its glory days. Do nothing for the drainage and grouse numbers will stay roughly stable, at a bare minimum. Dry out the hillsides and the sky is the limit.

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