Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Land of Fire

With the arrival of some warmer weather I knew that the Adder (Vipera berus) would be out of hibernation so had a wander down to a hibernation site I have been observing for many years. Sure enough one individual was laying out in the sun enjoying a few rays. I had hoped to see several here and it is a bit worrying that there was only one.

06D-6159a Adder Vipera berus Sensing with Tongue
Adder Vipera berus.

At the moment the North Pennines moors are looking like some kind of apocalyptic landscape and everywhere you look there are fires and massive palls of smoke sweeping across the moors.

01M-8504 Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

This is of course controlled heather burning but for anyone who has never seen such a practice it must look pretty alarming. Heather burning has been going on for generations and is done as a part of the grouse moor management and conservation and is completed just before the nesting season begins. The burning of old heather in a mosaic encourages new heather shoots to grow and ensures the grouse that feed on the shoots have plenty to feed on. It is not without controversy it has to be said, but it is certainly not a black and white argument.

It has to be said grouse shooting is an emotive subject and from my own personal viewpoint I have mixed feelings about it. On the other hand i know several families that rely on the income from these activities either directly as gamekeepers, beaters and other estate staff, or indirectly as suppliers, accommodation providers, etc. I must admit I find it difficult to understand the mindset of people who enjoy killing animals for fun, but as one gamekeeper pointed out to me, all of these birds go into the food chain and they are not left to rot on the moors. He does have a point and unlike some forms of intensive farming the birds do have a better quality of life. It is a part of the argument I find hard to pick holes in and if I am honest my dislike is perhaps more one based on the dislike of killing for fun as much as animal welfare or the effect on the environment.

Anyway opinions aside, I had a wander over to one of the fires to get some pics. This is access land but even so was not sure what sort of welcome I would receive. Fortunately the keepers were friendly enough and using a long lens I was able to zoom into the action without getting in the way.

06D-6350 Heather Burning Teesdale County Durham UK

06D-6362 Gamekeeper Controlling Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

06D-6438 Gamekeeper Controlling Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

06D-6444 Gamekeeper Controlling Heather Burning in Upper Teesdale County Durham

Text/images copyright David Forster


  1. I very nearly trod on an adder in the North Pennines a few years ago. I don't know who was more alarmed, me or the adder!

    Impressive photos of the heather burning.

    1. Hi James. Standing on a basking adder is easily done. I nearly stood on one in Wales right in the middle of the path. If my wife had not said watch the snake I would have probably stood on it because I was too busy looking at the view. I am always a bit careful if wearing trail shoes in some areas as a result.

  2. Smashing shots David, especially the fire. I find the copyright info is a bit distracting though. Gary

    1. Cheers Gary. I am having problems with businesses and individuals using pics and then trying to get away without payment so unfortunately the copyright info is here to stay in one form or another (I have been looking at creating a copyright statement/logo which is a bit less distracting though). Time to start naming and shaming such businesses.

  3. The fires of Harnisha Hill, I presume. So they were the chaps who were sending those huge columns of smoke up into the sky last week.
    I found that very interesting, David, and like you I am torn between the arguments for and against grouse shooting, and I think you've covered both sides of the debate quite comprehensively.
    I suppose we can add to that the fact the grouse moors are now open access land, so the fat, rich, idle, tweedy types who once claimed exclusive and lawful rights to keep people like us off their hills and confine us to our pubs and bingo halls, no longer have that privilege. We can watch them go about their business and they can watch us go about ours. Meanwhile, the grouse can live a natural life and risk becoming part of the food chain at the end. Which is what cows and sheep do, I suppose. But the end is more certain for them.
    That's given me something to think about while I'm digging the allotment tomorrow.
    Cheers, Alen

    1. Hi Alen. Yep these would be just above you as you dropped into Great Eggleshope Beck and then headed up Wire Gill. It is easy to end up with entrenched views on such an emotive subject, but I think you are right and open access has made a lot of difference.

      A bit of productive earthy manual work is an ideal way to free up the mind and mull over a few issues.

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