A chance encounter yesterday presented a great opportunity to do some heather burning, and it seemed too good to miss. Heather on the Chayne is hardly present in sufficient quantities to burn, so it not only means that I’ve got alot of work to do, but it also means that I seldom get a chance to see muirburn at close hand.
It was a bright, breezy morning on the Solway as we headed up the steep slopes where heather lies in abundance and red grouse lurk in the thick swathes. The hill hasn’t been burnt for more than a decade, and the chief obstacle facing the local grouse is the great quantity and poor quality of the undergrowth. It’s hard to imagine how the birds can even land in heather that is higher than your knee, and most of the droppings we found were lying either on protruding rocks and boulders or concentrated in small patches of grass. Any burning was sure to make a big difference to the habitat on offer, and within a couple of hours we had made some changes.
Despite the gusty wind, the fires were well under control as a hen harrier wheeled over from the north and a handful of red grouse rose up above the rippling heat. We burnt a long strip into which other fires can run, then took off some other patches on the lower ground. It was interesting to see the difference between burning uphill and downhill, and what an impact burning into the wind can make when compared to burning with the wind. With the sun shining and thirty miles of southern Scotland spread out like a map at our feet, it was hard to imagine a better way to spend a Wednesday.
The burning is taking place as part of a new regime to turn a once productive and sadly neglected range of hills back into decent red grouse country, and I hope to be involved a little more over the next few months. As an added bonus, there is even the murmured rumour that there are some black grouse around up there, which always gets the juices going.