'From the Field' Awards
Inspiring fieldwork supported by the RGS-IBG
Moorland ecology - Lesson one: Case study
The moorlands of Bleaklow form part of the Peak District National Park, which is one of the most visited of all the world’s national parks. The Peak District was designated as a National Park in 1951, and this has enabled the landscape to be protected, although it cannot prevent the effects of atmospheric pollution on the moorlands, a problem which has been around for hundreds of years, or fires which are started accidentally or deliberately.
The purple heather which covers the moor during the summer months may appear natural, but it has to be managed. The heather provides a habitat for a specialised community of insects and larger animals that have adapted to the extremes of climate and height.
The moors are used for a range of purposes. These include:
- Grouse shooting – there are a series of butts (sheltered positions) from which shooting is allowed. Sections of moorland will be closed off from the ‘Glorious 12th’. Red Grouse can be shot between 12 August and 10 December each year
- Recreational uses – the area is part of the Peak District National Park, so it is open for recreational use such as walking and bird watching. There are many millions of visitors days in the Peak District each year
- History and archaeology
- Some of the land is owned by the National Trust, who are concerned to maintain the wildlife value of the areas as a habitat, and also as an important and distinctive landscape within the UK
There is also interest in a number of wrecks of wartime planes which can be found on the high moorlands. Although many of them have long since been stripped of interesting potential souvenirs, they are still interesting places to visit.
Image copyright: John Lyon
Look at the image in the photograph below, which was taken on Bleaklow in the Peak District by our researcher Rose.
Image credit: Rose Wilcox
Describe the landscape that you can see in the image: come up with 10 words.
Combine your descriptions with at least two other classmates to produce an overall description of the area. You may want to use a word cloud creator such as Wordle or Tagxedo to generate a word cloud from your suggestions.
Discuss what you have come up with, and identify three or four things that you want to find out about the moorlands, using the photo frame PDF | MSWORD.
Rose was working in all weathers, although as we shall see later, she was unable to work when the wind speed was high. Using Google Earth, or a map-creation website, identify the location of Bleaklow and produce a map to show the location, within the wider context of the Peak District National Park.
Have a look at the Bleaklow map (JPG).
Rose was working on the highest part of Bleaklow to explore the progress in a number of areas which had been replanted to try to restore areas of bare peat back to the landscape seen in the starter image.
The birds and the bees presentation (PPT) has further information on the process involved in revegetating areas of bare peat.
The moors are underlain by peat. This is compressed vegetation, which produces an acidic soil which a small number of plants can tolerate.
Now look at this second image:
Image Credit: John Lyon
Fire can do real damage to areas of peat moorland, especially during the summer months, when the peat dries out. Use the photo frame PDF | MSWORD to ask the same questions as before.
Look closely at the picture and you will see the outline of a person. This person actually started the fire.
- Why do you think they started a fire?
- How did they start the fire?
Research the heather moorlands of the UK, and report back in small teams to the rest of the group. Groups might be asked to answer one of these questions:
- Where in the UK are there similar moorlands to those in the Peak District?
- Why are there no trees in the area where the heather grows?
- What are the weather conditions like in places like Bleaklow?
- Why are these moorlands important to protect?
- Which plant species are commonly found in these areas?
- Which animal species are commonly found in these areas?
- What is the future for these areas – are they thriving, or declining?
Rose’s work involved researching how successful the attempts to repaid the moorland were.
Although the moorland might look like the starter image, there are other things that need time to return. These include the insects that Rose was interested in: bees.
We shall come back to those next lesson.
Despite the remote location of Bleaklow, it still attracts a wide range of visitors. One of the uses of the area is for the High Peak Marathon. This is a race, which is put on by a local running club and is a test of endurance and fitness as well as navigation. Competitors have to run across the moors, carrying a range of equipment as the weather can change quickly in the High Peak.
Produce a five minute briefing for the runners of the race which explains the nature of the land they are going to run through. It should include the following elements:
- A description of the nature of heather moorlands
- Some of the problems the runners might encounter due to the terrain they will be running over
- An explanation of why they should avoid the areas of bare peat that are under restoration
- A weather report (use an appropriate website to identify the pattern of weather in the area – if you are interested in doing this in great detail, visit the Weatherspark website and enter the name of a place near to Bleaklow
Preparation for Lesson two
Think about, and research the answer to this question:
- What would happen if there were no bees?
You might find it useful to watch the animated film Bee Movie, which came out in 2007.