Penrhosfeilw Common, known locally as The Range is part of the RSPB reserve at South Stack and lies adjacent to our farmland at Gors Goch. This heathland is a very special, rare habitat which is threatened across the UK. The Range has British and European designations and as a habitat is rarer than a rainforest!
The RSPB lease The Range from Anglesey County Council and our role as custodians of the land is to manage and care for it in the best, most sustainable way for wildlife. We want to ensure that it provides the best place for rare flowers such as spatulate fleawort to thrive and the beautiful, tiny silver studded blue butterfly to thrive.
Since the 18th Century about 80% of Britain’s heathlands have been lost through development, agricultural improvements and abandonment. After WWII many areas like the range had their grazing animals removed. There are lots of reasons for this such as farmers getting a higher yield from pasture and managing the animals in fenced fields was easier. This means it is especially important that the The Range is managed. In order to maintain a healthy lowland coastal heathland we have to use machinery to cut some of the taller, denser sections of overgrown heather (more about this in a future blog) but we also use a more traditional method - grazing. In the past The Range was grazed by local landowners and we have reintroduced this. Most of the rare south stack fleawort lives on The Range growing in grassy areas. The sheep eat the grass so the seeds of plants like these can grow.
As the Range is open, common land we have to use a system to graze our sheep called ‘close shepherding’ – this means that a shepherd and his dogs are out with the sheep during the day when they are grazing, and the sheep are returned to their field on Gors Goch at night. We graze The Range for up to 40 days between December and February. This is to ensure that the sheep do not eat any of the precious flowering plants that grow in the spring and summer months.
Our shepherd is Kevin Eccles. Kevin’s day starts early as he gathers the sheep from their overnighting field and heads out onto The Range until around 2pm. He stays with the sheep all day watching over them, moving them to the areas we need them to graze and talking to visitors about the important job that the sheep are doing.
Kevin worked at Bethesda slate quarry for 40 years and has been involved with sheep for 30 years. He has a flock of his own Welsh Mountains that graze in Snowdonia. He has 3 collie dogs and trains them himself. Jess is 15 years old and still accompanies him most days, “she doesn’t do the big gathers in Snowdonia any more due to her age but she can do everything else”. Kevin is obviously very fond of his dogs. He has two other collies who are half-sisters and are learning the ropes from Jess and Kevin. “My favourite thing about being a close shepherd is spending the day with my dogs and the sheep”. This is a good thing to as some days can be really hard. The Range is an open area on the cliffs and is flat, with plants that grow only a few feet high, it is made up of over 100 hectors of mainly heather, gorse and maritime grasslands. “The hardest part of the job is finding shelter in bad weather”. The time of year and the exposed location makes for some tough days, but Kevin never stops smiling. When asked what Kevin thinks about our Hebridean sheep he said, “they are different to the welsh mountains, if you whistle they group together whereas the welsh mountains scatter”. This is part of the reason that the RSPB use this breed of sheep.
If you do visit The Range and you see Kevin please say hello, he is very friendly and tells the most amazing stories.
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