The distinctive dwarf-shrub community is mostly found on acidic soils and in Wharfedale these are mainly on the Millstone Grit below Burnsall. These uplands are a little drier than the hills of the west, where bogs have developed, and heather is able to establish. In addition, management for grouse shooting since Victorian times has maintained areas as heathland which would otherwise have been grazed out of existence. Rotational burning produces a patchwork of different aged stands, so that there are always some tender shoots for the young birds.
These drier heaths are relatively poor in species variety and are dominated by heather. In some areas bilberry becomes dominant, particularly in rocky screes and where grazing is heavy. Crowberry can also be found, and above about 350 metres the arctic-alpine cowberry is frequent. In wetter patches cross-leaved heath, and in drier, bell heather, can be found.
Bracken is common and spreading, and something of a problem. It likes areas of former tree cover, where the soils are deep, and chickweed wintergreen is another, but very much rarer, species indicating areas of old woodland.
In wet heathland there is an abundance of tussocky purple moor-grass, with cross-leaved and other heaths, and some species of bog-moss. This is a rather unusual type of habitat in the Dales since it is usually found further west, but is present on Threshfield and Linton Moors.
Barden and Blubberhouses moors are important for their breeding moorland birds. Merlin, golden plover, snipe, curlew, redshank, teal and short-eared owl are all present and the merlin population is nationally significant, although declining in recent years. Tall heather is favoured by breeding merlin and short-eared owl, while moorland with a varied structure is required by red grouse, occasional golden plover and curlew. Snipe and redshank breed around the grassy and rushy edges of the moor, whinchat utilise the bracken and ring ouzels frequent gill sides and rocky outcrops, although these too are in decline and breeders are few. Peregrine and buzzard forage over the moorland. A variety of other breeding species are recorded including teal, wheatear, twite, common sandpiper and lapwing.
Ilkley Moor, famous in song, is managed by Bradford City Council. Until fairly recently it was managed for grouse shooting and has extensive areas of heather. Merlin can be seen here, with skylarks and meadow pipits. Chickweed wintergreen was first found by John Ray in the 1600’s, near the site where it can still be found on Ilkley Moor. Unfortunately this is just outside our area but another old record on the Wharfedale side may suggest other sites! A rare forget-me-not, Myostis stolonifera, has also been recorded. Much of the moor has recently been extensively damaged by a major fire.
A little unexpectedly, the eastern side of Pen-y-ghent is managed for grouse and heather is dominant with cloudberry and crowberry.
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