Despite all the work I put in to cutting heather by hand in November, there had been no sign that grouse were using the mosaic pattern until I headed up to check on Friday.
Pipits and wrens were using the deep slots as cover from the wind within a day or two of the work, and a fortnight later I was pleased to find white splashes of snipe shit to suggest that at least one small wader had taken advantage of the management. So it was gratifying to flush five snipe from a single small (18 square metres) cut I put into grassy moss when I went up for a walk on Friday morning. At the time I had considered this the worst of the cuts, since the blade had really struggled to get down in amongst the tussocks and the effect was decidedly scruffy. It seemed unlikely that the heather in this area would regenerate strongly, but I consoled myself with the probability that it would at least come back with crowberry and cottongrass. In the event, the resulting mix of moss, dead heather stick and grass is proving to be a great draw for the snipe, and they actually favour this mix far more than they do the neighbouring cuts which were put into dry heath.
This is an encouraging moment, but it is only an accident. I’m delighted that my work has provided cover for snipe, but the work was actually carried out for grouse. I can claim the general benefit as a win, but the real triumph came a few moments later when I found grouse roost heaps in two of the other cuts – as expected, the grouse had preferred the drier patches where the heather stick was cleanly brought down to an inch or two off the ground and the litter has been shoved away by four months of wind.
In previous years, cutting in this way has been rewarded with far more immediate results – on one occasion, I found grouse shit in a cut that was less than twenty four hours old. The delayed response is probably due to a variety of factors on the hill at large, but now that these cuts are “on the radar” for the local birds, there is no reason why they shouldn’t make full use of them as the struggle for territories gets properly underway.