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Providing evidence to improve practice

Action: Restore or create upland heath/moorland Farmland Conservation

Key messages

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  • A small unreplicated trial of heather moorland restoration in northern England found that mowing and flail cutting along with grazing could be used to control the dominance of purple moor grass. The same study found moorland restoration benefited one bird species, with one or two pairs of northern lapwing found to breed in the area of restored moorland, where none had bred prior to restoration.
  • A review from the UK concluded that vegetation changes took place very slowly following the removal of grazing to restore upland grassland to heather moorland.


Supporting evidence from individual studies


A 1984 review of studies in the UK (Ball 1984) concluded that, after removal of grazing, reversion from upland grassland to heather Calluna vulgaris moorland happens very slowly. The review describes two long-term studies (1950s-1970s) that monitored botanical changes following exclusion of sheep from upland grassland plots in England (Welch & Rawes 1964, Rawes 1981, 1983) and Wales (Hughes et al. 1975, Hill 1983). By 1983, early vegetation changes were slow, mainly involving an altered balance of plant species already present on plots, and entry of heath species was limited. This may have been due to a lack of local seed sources or because seeds were unable to germinate in the close grass layer.

Additional references

Welch D. & Rawes M. (1964) The early effects of excluding sheep from high-level grasslands in the northern Pennines. Journal of Applied Ecology, 1, 281-300.

Hughes R.E., Dale J., Lutman J. & Thomson A.G. (1975) Effects of grazing on upland vegetation in Snowdonia. Annual Report of Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, 1974, 46-50.

Rawes M. (1981) Further results of excluding sheep from high level grasslands in the northern Pennines. Journal of Ecology, 69, 651-669.

Hill M.O. (1983) Effects of grazing in Snowdonia. Annual Report of Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, 1982, 31-32.

Rawes M. (1983) Changes in two high altitude blanket bogs after the cessation of sheep grazing. Journal of Ecology, 71, 219-235.


A small before-and-after study in 2004-2005 on an area of purple moor grass Molina caerulea-dominated moorland in northern England (Smith & Bird 2005) found that mowing and flail cutting along with livestock and wild red deer Cervus elaphus grazing could be used to control the dominance of purple moor grass and help restore heather Calluna vulgaris moorland. Mowing and flail cutting resulted in strong purple moor grass re-growth in spring, which was then heavily grazed, suppressing grass growth. The study also found one or two pairs of northern lapwing Vanellus vanellus bred on the area of restored moorland, whereas none had previously bred in the area. An area re-seeded with heather had heather seedlings from mid-June onwards. One hundred hectares of moorland were fenced to exclude livestock. Half of the grassland within the exclosure was burned on 9 March 2004 to reduce the dominance of purple moor grass, and 14 ha of the burned area was flail cut on 17 March 2004 to remove the burnt grass tussocks. A 3 ha area was sown with heather seed (40 kg/ha) in May 2004. In spring 2005 a further 4.5 ha area was flail cut and re-sown with heather at 40-60 kg/ha. In 2005, sheep grazed the exclosure until the beginning of June, following which the exclosure gates were opened until mid-June to allow free grazing. Cattle (63 livestock units) then grazed the area from late June. Sheep are now permanently excluded from the area.


Referenced papers

Please cite as:

Dicks, L.V., Ashpole, J.E., Dänhardt, J., James, K., Jönsson, A., Randall, N., Showler, D.A., Smith, R.K., Turpie, S., Williams D.R. & Sutherland, W.J. (2019) Farmland Conservation Pages 291-330 in: W.J. Sutherland, L.V. Dicks, N. Ockendon, S.O. Petrovan & R.K. Smith (eds) What Works in Conservation 2019. Open Book Publishers, Cambridge, UK.