In the uplands, a combination of geology, human influence and high rainfall has produced waterlogged, acidic, infertile soil – resulting in peat blanket bogs and wet heathland.
The unique plants that grow on blanket bogs depend on the uplands’ waterlogged conditions for their survival. So any changes in the water level due to drainage, water supply or reduction in rainfall can be disastrous. Drying out of wet bogs can increase risk of fires with a consequent release of carbon, thus further contributing to climate change. More about peat and climate change?
“A combination of geology, human influence and high rainfall has produced waterlogged, acidic, infertile soil – resulting in peat blanket bogs and wet heathland”
On drier areas where the geology allows more drainage, or further down the valley slopes, heather moorland and acid grassland are found.
The combination of wet heath, blanket bog and heather moorland/acid grassland make the uplands of the South Pennines internationally important for birds. The presence of cultivated grassland is also critical to complete the ideal range of conditions needed by some birds, such as the Twite.
Bracken is also a characteristic plant of the moors. Once valued and gathered for use as animal bedding, it is now seen as invasive and reducing the amount of land available for sheep grazing. However, it is home to some wildlife, and provides cover for small birds such Twite and Whinchat.
The uplands of the South Pennines are traditionally grazed by sheep. This prevents a build up of nutrients and prevents competitive plants from becoming dominant. However, too little or too much grazing can alter the delicate ecological balance on the moors.
Occasional winter burning is also used to stimulate new plant growth. Burning, like grazing, prevents the growth of scrub and reduces the build up of plant litter. However, mis-timed or poorly controlled burning can seriously damage the upland habitats.
Many of the South Pennine moors are managed for Red Grouse, the traditional bird for shooting as sport. Management of grouse moors generally involves small scale rotational burning during the winter to provide a combination of young heather shoots for feeding and older heather in which to nest.