When I fenced off an area of the hill and prevented it from being grazed in February of last year, I had no idea how fascinating the half acre of apparently dead vegetation would become. Within weeks, I began to notice a difference between the area inside the rylock netting and the area outside. Over the last two summers, the heather has staged a fantastic recovery, and some plants have grown more than eight inches. The red tendrils of fresh growth are now just beginning to show tiny white buds, and it is without exaggeration one of the most exciting and satisfying projects I have worked on since I began on the Chayne. In a week, the space will become totally purple, and I will post pictures on this blog to show how dramatic the changes have been.
The heather is not the only plant to have felt the benefit of the grazing ban, and several other species have showed a marked improvement in condition since they were fenced off. Cotton grass is abundant, and meadow flowers like ragged robin have become runaway successes. The most noticeable plant at the moment is bog asphodel, which is growing with concentrated enthusiasm inside the enclosure, and the pretty yellow flowers have formed a low carpet across the ground.
When asphodel dies back in the autumn, the stiff little shoots and flowers remain in place throughout the winter, standing like brown skeletons all year round. As soon as I can get on to the grazing situation on the hill, the sooner the entire property will take on a new lease of life.
It would be easy to say that the answer to the Chayne’s problems is to cut out the livestock, but given that tiny sitka spruce trees are also beginning to appear in the heather enclosure, I can see that the sheep and cows are serving a purpose by holding the moor back from becoming a forest. There is a balance between protecting the heather and using livestock to prune the undesirable vegetation, and finding it should be my next priority.