We have made the most of this year's first real window in the weather over the past fortnight to fly over 5,600 bags of heather brash - for use in moorland restoration work – onto sites across the Peak District National Park and the South Pennines.
The heather brash is spread as the first step in conservation works to bring moorland back into healthy condition. It acts as a mulch, covering the bare peat and preventing it from erosion in the same way that a layer of mulch or compost will protect soil in your garden from being washed away in heavy rain. The brash knits together and will survive the challenging moorland weather conditions and provides a source of heather seeds, protecting the seeds as they germinate and grow, helping to revegetate the areas of bare peat.
Heather is cut from healthy local moorlands in winter when the seed is ripe, chopped twice to make it smaller, and loaded into dumpy bags – large white builders’ bags. Each bag contains 50kg – 100g of freshly cut heather. It is transported by road as far as possible to an airlift site, then flown by helicopter onto moorland that is often difficult to reach even on foot. As it is often impossible to bring any machinery onto these sites without making the problem of peat erosion worse, it is spread by hand.
Our conservation works team have been working hard to make the best use of the available flying time and complete the operations before the bird breeding season starts in April. During the works, marshals are on hand on popular footpaths near our airlift sites to ensure the public are aware of the operations and safety procedures. Other team members coordinate the operations and signal to the helicopter where to drop the bags. In between flights they will collect up the empty bags and ropes which are transported back to the airlift site ready to be taken away for recycling.
Empty bags are collected and taken away for recycling
The 5,600 bags or approximately 560 tonnes of heather we have flown in just two weeks provide enough heather brash to cover 36 hectares - equivalent to 50 international-sized football pitches of bare peat that will, in time, turn back into healthy heather moorland.