Penrhosfeilw Common – also known as The Range – is part of RSPB South Stack Cliffs nature reserve. We lease the land from Isle of Anglesey County Council and our role as custodians is to manage and care for it in the best, most sustainable way for wildlife. Since the 18th century, about 80% of Britain’s heathlands have been lost through development, agricultural improvements and abandonment. This means heathland like The Range is a very special place, rarer than a rainforest!
It is an essential habitat for the rare and threatened chough, the open low growing heath and grassland providing important feeding areas. It is also home to an important range of very rare plants and supports a diverse suite of invertebrates like the endangered and beautiful silver-studded blue butterfly. There are UK and European laws and guidance on how to manage these special places and we work closely with Natural Resources Wales and Anglesey County Council on how to best manage the land for all its special wildlife.
For generations humans grazed their animals here and harvested the heather. This shaped the habitat, creating patches of heath at different heights and of different ages. This varied structure supported all kinds of plants and animals. But farmers no longer cut the heath or graze animals here, so parts have become scrubby, dense and overgrown, leaving some of its unique inhabitants struggling to find the space to thrive.
Some management is essential in order to maintain healthy and thriving lowland coastal heathland, and at times we need to use machinery to cut some of the taller, denser sections of overgrown heather and vegetation. This work allows light to reach the soil and uncovers and rejuvenates wildflower seeds that have been buried for decades. Traditional grazing is also an important management tool which helps keep the heather and heathland plant regenerating. Grazing is a more sustainable and less heavy intervention, but there are areas on the Range which are difficult for animals to graze and cutting the heathland with machinery helps bring these areas back into good condition and makes them more accessible to grazing animals. We usually carry out our heathland management work between October and March.
During cutting, and when the arisings are removed from site, there are times especially in wet weather, when the machinery can leave ruts. This looks unsightly but doesn’t do any long-lasting damage to the ground. When rutting occurs, we go back to site and flatten the ruts out so that as the vegetation and plants regrow, the ruts no longer are visible. Due to recent restrictions, including wet weather, the restoration of the rutting has taken longer to carry out. Where rutting occurs that isn’t on pathways, and doesn’t affect walkers, it is common for these to not be flattened out. For thousands of years humans and grazing animals have disturbed soils in small events like these and the disturbed areas created valuable micro habitats, small niches for very specialised plants and insects. These specialist plants can only grow on areas where the land is disturbed, and so we leave the ruts away from the paths as they make great homes for these rare plants too. Sometimes nature isn’t tidy, but it is wonderful in its variety.
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