The Art of Conservation?

Pretty, but that's about it.
Pretty, but that’s about it.

Just worth including this photograph of a cut heather “sculpture” on the hill above Traquair, near Innerleithen in the Scottish Borders. Half a dozen large cuts have been put into seven or eight acres of mature heather surrounded by sitka spruce trees to create an optical illusion that is much the same as advertising on sports pitches. The cuts are long, looping streaks in the heather, but when viewed from a set point, they look like circles. The effect is moderately diverting, but given that the council uses the same technique to write the word “SLOW” on the road so that it is visible to drivers, I must admit that I found it surprisingly easy to contain my enthusiasm.

This project was pitched as a dual attempt to make an artistic statement and manage moorland for black grouse – the latter is a laudable aim, but one that is hopelessly misdirected. The surrounding commercial woodland is so monumentally unwelcoming for black grouse that I would be amazed if these patterns will ever provide any kind of benefit to the birds. Perhaps it serves a purpose by making the general public think about management as part of conservation, but in practical terms, it is a total gimmick.

Technically, the cuts are great. The regeneration is very impressive after three years, and the heather plants have come back really nicely from the stick. There is also a mat of crowberry that is lush and promising, mixed in with odd drifts of snowy lichen. It is a great case for the benefits of cutting, but it is on too small a scale and in such an absurd place that it will never serve any conservation purpose whatsoever. Despite the slight disappointment of finding this much-hyped but altogether underwhelming project after walking a couple of miles up a rather steep hill, the view from Minchmoor was actually very impressive, particularly where it was possible to look over to the open moorland, where black grouse lie up in their legions.

It never ceases to amaze me how determined foresters are to promote black grouse as a woodland bird, no matter how much contrary evidence is staring them in the face.


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