Welcome back to the uplands – please remember the Countryside Code
Monday 29th March is an important date for most of us, as it signals a light at the end of the tunnel, with the first easing of lockdown rules. As of Monday, many outdoor activities will be able to resume; the ‘stay at home’ advice will be eased, and people will be able to meet outdoors either in groups of six or as two households.
We fully expect that people will be keen to visit England’s moorlands and uplands, and the regional moorland groups look forward to welcoming people back to the moors to enjoy the beautiful views, walks and healthy fresh air.
However it is important to remember that people can, and often do, bring various ‘dangers’ with them to the uplands. The first of these is the increased risk of wildfires. ‘Wild camping’ has become incredibly popular in recent years – but people are often temped to light campfires or portable barbecues, which are one of the main causes of moorland wildfires. Both the National Trust and the National Parks Authority urge people not to bring portable barbecues to their outdoor spaces. As Ben McCarthy, head of nature conservation at the National Trust has pointed out, “all it takes is a single spark from a barbecue or a dropped cigarette to cause a serious fire.”
In previous years, moorland blazes have destroyed thousands of acres of the uplands, harming wildlife and plantlife, and burning rare insects and animal habitat as well as the peat that lies under the vegetation. These fires also release thousands of tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, while the Saddleworth Moor fire of 2018 exposed 4.5 million people across the northwest of England to dangerous levels of pollution and increased the number of premature deaths by 165 per cent.
While open fires often trigger wildfires, they are not the only factor. A discarded cigarette or glass from a broken bottle can also ignite fires – so please take any rubbish away with you, including cigarette ends.
Spring is also one of the most important times of year for the many animal species who live in the uplands. Ground-nesting birds such as curlew, lapwing and snipe, as well as red grouse, lay their eggs and raise their young in the rough grass, and both birds and their eggs are particularly vulnerable to being disturbed by off-the-lead dogs in the springtime. Similarly in upland areas where mountain hare remain, leverets can be killed by dogs and in Scotland, a large factor in the decline of breeding capercaillie is thought to be disturbances by dogs and dog walkers.
It is not just wild animals who are vulnerable when dogs are off the lead. Farm animals – in particular sheep and lambs – are susceptible to being chased by dogs, and as well as being attacked and sometimes killed by dogs, the trauma of being worried by a dog can often cause ewes to abort their lambs. Many farmers are particularly worried about sheep worrying this year, due to a huge number of dogs bought during lockdown. Reported incidences of sheep worrying are already on the rise even now, in lockdown, and with lockdown easing, there are concerns that incidences will continue to increase.
Please, visit the moorlands and enjoy them. But do also be aware of your surroundings and the dangers you might bring with you: don’t light fires, take your rubbish with you, and keep your dog under control and on a lead where necessary,