Moorland vegetation responses following prescribed burning on blanket peat

Author Whitehead, S.C., & Baines, D.
Citation Whitehead, S.C., & Baines, D. (2018). Moorland vegetation responses following prescribed burning on blanket peat. International Journal of Wildland Fire, 27: 658-664.


Moorlands provide several key ecosystem services, as well as supporting shooting of red grouse (Lagopus lagopus scotica Latham). Prescribed burning of heather is an integral aspect of grouse-moor management but is sometimes presented as ecologically damaging. However, a long-term burning experiment at Moor House National Nature Reserve, North Pennines, northern England, showed that more frequent burning actually increased the cover of peat-building species such as Sphagnum mosses and cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum L.). Here we compare those findings with data from another deep-peat site in the North Pennines, but one that is actively managed as a grouse moor. We describe post-fire vegetation change using aerial images to construct a time-series of burns. Comparable with the Moor House study, we found highest levels of Sphagnum and Eriophorum cover on fires last burned within 3-10 years, whereas heather (Calluna vulgaris L.) cover, that of other mosses, and overall vegetation height all increased in a linear manner over time since burning. These results from an actively managed grouse moor subject to prescribed burning demonstrate that the cover and species richness of Sphagnum, a key peat-forming group, correlated with reduced dominance of tall heather, can benefit from a post-burn period of up to 10 years.

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