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The farm & cottages blog

A collection of stories about life on Eastside hill sheep farm in Scotland. Short, frequent and hopefully engaging... we’ll try our best!

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Archives for April 2012

Heather burning

The hills on Eastside are mainly heather hills and it is a good food supply both for sheep and wildlife and especially black and red grouse. When the heather gets old and woody, it is indigestible but the young shoots are very edible. For the sheep and wildlife, a good mix of old and new is most beneficial; the old heather plants are shrubby bushes about 2-3 feet high and provide good cover and shelter from the weather as well as ideal nesting sites for ground nesting birds such as the grouse and golden plover while the young heather shoots keep hunger at bay.
To ensure a plentiful supply of young shoots, between the 1st October and the 15th April, we aim to burn 10% of the heather cover each year (a process called muirburn) but in reality this is a hard goal to achieve. The conditions have to be just right for a good burn with the heather dry enough to ignite (impossible some years!) and the wind in the right direction. We try and burn an old area of the plants into a recovering area from the previous year so that you have a natural fire “break” and stop things from getting out of hand.

Harry Robertson dowsing the flames

Harry Robertson dowsing the flames ↑

Photograph copyright of Michael Rummey