The Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust (GWCT) commissioned a survey of 1,000 Scots in March 2020 to ascertain their view of our native heather uplands. The responses reveal that an overwhelming majority of people (92%) associate moorlands with wildlife and 89% associate moorlands with Scotland.
Furthermore, almost three-quarters of people (73%) recognise moorland as an important source of rural jobs, while 69% understand the Scottish uplands as being a source of healthy food.
For those of us in the rural sector it goes without saying that these benefits result from our managed uplands but nevertheless we should be very encouraged by this recognition from the general public. An overwhelming majority of people consider moorland to be synonymous with Scotland and with biodiversity, and the upland landscape is highly valued. This is an excellent endorsement of the careful land management practised over several decades, in line with public policy initiatives and often working in partnership with the public sector.
Upland habitats include heaths, bogs, moorland fringe and rough grassland. Land managers undertake year-round predator control to enable a wide range of species to thrive – this makes a huge difference to the survival rates of rare birds including in particular ground-nesting birds such as curlew, black grouse, lapwing, snipe, golden plover and hen harriers.
Detailed research conducted by the GWCT in a Special Protection Area at Muirkirk & North Lowther Uplands, showed an 84% drop in the golden plover population, an 88% drop in lapwing and a 61% drop in curlew when keepering was halted. This just one example of a raft of studies and papers which show how important active keepering is to the protection of rare upland species.
In recent decades huge efforts have been made to improve specific upland habitats and encourage biodiversity. Many hectares of peatland had become degraded in the past due to over-grazing and draining, under government-funded schemes, at a time when these habitats were poorly understood. Since 2012, landowners working with Scottish Natural Heritage have begun the restoration of more than 24,700 acres of degraded peatland.
Two major peatland restoration projects completed in 2018 covered 3,700 acres of land in the Monadhliaths and over 1,200 acres in the Cairngorms National Park. In these areas, land managers adopted innovative approaches to restore the water-table and retain water in the bogs. A whole host of wading birds and plant species benefit from the small pools that result when water is properly retained in moorland bogs. In addition, sphagnum moss, bog mosses and cotton grass regenerate in these conditions, with a proportion of their new growth being subsumed into the underlying peatland and adding to the permanent carbon store.
The benefits of active moorland management, for wildlife, biodiversity, carbon capture, tourism and rural jobs are numerous and make a significant contribution to the life of the nation. Moorland managers look after these rare environments for future generations to enjoy just as much as we do. It is heartening to see that members of the public appreciate and understand this contribution.