The dogs were brought up short on their walk yesterday. Where was Hannaborough Moor with all those enticing smells and tracks? Had Armageddon happened? An apocalypse?
No. Taking advantage of the still, dry sunny weather of the last two weeks the moor had been burnt – or swaled – on Sunday.
Swaling, controlled burning, has been carried out in Devon for thousands of years. It’s a traditional land management technique used particularly on Dartmoor and the Culm Measures to control overgrowth, removing dead and woody vegetation to encouraging new shoots. In the past this would have provided summer grazing but now, more often than not, it’s to provide good wildlife habitat.
The idea is to have a quick, not too hot, fire that removes the accumulation of leaf litter and young bushes, leaving the roots and any underlying peat untouched. Done in the right way it encourages a good show of flowers like orchids and brings long-term benefits to the wildlife habitat. Inevitably some animals will be killed, but the impact on invertebrate populations, like those of the rare marsh fritillary butterfly, should be short-lived provided the burn is not too deep.
I could go on at some length at about the best ways to burn and about the impact on wildlife, but would risk boring you all. Back to basics, I guess. Fires are hot, you have to take care – that should do it!