A vital habitat for many species

Northumberland is renowned for its wide open moorland, which covers about 70 per cent of the National Park. Such heather moorland habitat is internationally significant, as it only occurs in Britain.

Heather moorland developed over thousands of years, as humans cleared ancient woodlands and introduced cattle and sheep. Much of the moorland is grassy, particularly in the Cheviot Hills.

The best displays of heather grow on the long sandstone ridge of the Simonside Hills. Because the moor has been managed for grouse shooting, other plants, flowers and animals have thrived too.

In the past, changes in land management led to increasing sheep numbers and the planting of conifer forests, which meant we lost large areas of heather. Fortunately, there is now more grouse moor management and less intensive farming.

Plants to look out for

Ling is the most common heather in the Park and carpets large areas.

It is food for the Red Grouse, one of the few birds to live in the hills all year round. In August each year, the moors turn purple in a spectacular display of flowering heather.

At this time, local beekeepers move their hives to this nectar source and harvest delicious, thick honey.

Heather moorland habitat

Where to see Heather Moorland

The following car parks have good moorland views:

  • Simonside – Lordenshaws car park
  • Harbottle Hills – Harbottle Forestry Enterprise car park
  • Holystone Nature Reserve – Holystone Forestry Enterprise car park
  • Darden Lough – park in lay-by and walk on permissive route to Darden Lough and Darden Pike.

Positive action for Heather Moorland

Heavy grazing with many sheep means new heather does not get a chance to grow. Eventually moorland grasses begin to dominate. Farmers are now being encouraged to reduce sheep numbers on hillsides, so the heather can recover.

If you see a small area of heather moorland on fire, don’t worry. Farmers deliberately burn small areas at different times to produce a mosaic of young and old heather plants.

This provides food, shelter and nesting areas for grouse. Sheep also like the tender shoots that grow back after a fire.

We work with landowners to make sure sensitive places are not burnt and heather is not burnt too often. But do take care yourself in dry weather, as accidental fires can cause damage over large areas.

The quality of moorland is also being improved and diversified by introducing new broad-leaved woodland and wetlands. This helps many species, including the rare Black Grouse.