Notes from the Stiperstones: April 2017

Hopefully the weather is starting to dry up a bit, as so far this year the rain has prevented us from carrying out any heather burning. The heather is, in theory, burnt or cut on the hill on rotation every twelve years over an area of two thirds of the hill. The remaining third is left unmanaged for a variety of reasons which may be due to its bracken cover (which tends to spread when burnt), it being north facing with important sphagnum moss communities or due to it being very rocky with important lichens growing on them.
The reasons for burning heathland vegetation is to maintain the dominant dwarf shrubs on the hill, as if left unmanaged the hill would eventually succeed to scrub woodland. Burning or cutting the dwarf shrubs removes old growth and promotes regeneration of the shrubs both from the roots and from seed. About five hectares are cut instead of being burnt each year, but most of the hill is not accessible by tractor due to its rocky or steep nature and this is where burning is required.
The value of this management to red grouse is well known as it provides tender young shoots on which the grouse feed, but there are other less well known benefits and last year a student was looking into how our reindeer lichens respond to this management, as they benefit from the open spaces created by the cutting and burning. Ground nesting birds such as meadow pipits and skylarks use the open areas to forage in and insects benefit from the edges of these areas as they create a varied structure and microclimates within the heath.
The Blakemoorgate cottages will be open again this year on the first Sunday of the month 11am to 3pm, so 2 April will be the first opening. We are still short of a few volunteers to help open the cottages, so if anyone is willing to help do get in touch
Our Stiperstones bird walk, in partnership with the Upper Onny Wildlife Group will be held this year on Sunday, 7 May meeting at the reserve car park at 9.30. Hopefully we can beat our 32 species that were seen or heard last year.
And talking of birds, I had my earliest curlew record this year when we heard a bird on the east side of the hill on 14 February. Let’s hope they have better breeding success than last year.

Our fundraising campaign to buy and restore Bergum Wood is progressing well. You can see how well we are doing by visiting the donate website ( or by viewing the Stiperstones National Nature Reserve Facebook page. If you would like to donate something to the campaign you can do so on the website or by simply texting NENG001 to 70970 to give £5, or to 70971 to give £10).
Simon Cooter and the Natural England staff at Rigmoreoak

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