Saturday, August 29, 2009

Purple Haze

Heather, or Ling, Calluna vulgaris
Heather moorland
The heather moorlands in the North pennines are just about at their best now, with hundreds of acres of hillside clad in billions of tiny purple flowers. Although heather moorland looks like a uniform sea of purple there are three different species that contribute to the purple haze that shimmers on the fellside on a hot summer afternoon. Cross-leaved heath (Erica tetralix) grows in the boggier patches and flowers first, followed by bell heather (Erica cinerea) and ling or true heather (Calluna vulgaris) which both grow on drier soils. Flowers of the first two species are distinctly bell-shaped and in bell heather they’re concentrated in clusters at the shoot tips, whereas in cross-leaved heath they tend to be distributed more uniformly down the stem. The leaves of cross-leaved heath are distinctive too, arranged in whorls of four. Ling, in the close-up photograph above, is far the commonest of the three and has more densely packed, paler, smaller flowers distributed over long lengths of stem, with leaves that are tiny in comparison with the other two species. The heather moorlands of the north Pennines are skilfully managed by cyclical of burning in strips, removing the old, moribund heather. The fast-moving fire burns away the old heather without killing the roots, which then regenerate tender new shoots that are an important element in the diet of red grouse. Burning in strips creates a varied habitat with a mosaic of age structures, providing a habitat for a wonderful range of birds, insects and reptiles............more of them anon.


  1. Thank you once again, makes me wonder what would happen without management. Initially an inundation of Silver Birch no doubt, fast followed by bracken. Certainly at this time of the year it's better as it is.

  2. Love the first, but all three excellent.
    Wonderful sight to see, and beautifully captured Phil in that last shot.

    When I saw, 'Purple Haze', I thought Hendrix! lol

  3. Hi Adrian, invasion by birch seems increasingly likely as the cliamte gets milder - there's already evidence of some moorland species 'moving uphill' as winters become less severe and thr growing season lengthens. As you say, bracken is another problem - if the moorland is left unburnt for too long the wold woody stems burn with so much heat that the roots are killed - and then bracken can move in. Without some form of management, heather moorlands would quickly deteriorate.

  4. Know what you mean Keith, Hendrix' music was a big influence on my formative teenage years in the second half of the '60s.

    On a still day, if you stand in amongst all that heather you can hear a different kind of music - the hum of thousands of bees.

  5. The moors around and about are really starting to colour up now, Phil. If it stops raining sometime in the near future I hope to go out and take some pictures!

  6. I'm still waiting for one of those warm, windless afternoons when you can hear the hum of bees in the heather - not sure whether we are going to get one!