It is a way of life where time has stood still. As I rode alongside Anne who has been riding these Radnorshire hills for over 60 years, she believes very little has changed.
At 85 years of age, she believes that other than it being a lot drier than it was, and the bracken continuing its fight to take over the heather, everything else is pretty much the same. With 10 of us on horseback plus another 20 or so on foot with dogs, the stunning views as the weather goes through all seasons in one day is relished by everyone who lap up the energy of these heather coated hills. And with 23 grouse flying over our heads as we canter along, the day captures the magic of these diverse landscapes.
It never seems to fade; the excitement of being up on the open hills where you can look across to Snowdonia, Aberystwyth around to the Shropshire hills and beyond. “You would pay a lot of money to do what we are doing today” said one man as we chatted about the rising cost of mental health in Wales. This community knows each other well and completely love their days together with their beloved horses. In fact a group of them ride every August from the area to Ynys Las beach near Borth staying in barns using sleeping bags covering 80 miles over 3 days and have done so for the past 20 years.
Darren and Sheila joined the day. They moved recently from the hustle and bustle of the south east and have thrown themselves into the community and clearly loving every minute of it and in so doing are already part of the community. “We are just so welcomed here and it was an opportunity to start riding again after many years,” says Sheila, who had a bad accident many years ago. Sheila helps out with the local farmer at lambing times and Darren has got involved in a number of jobs from clearing streams to restoring ancient monuments on farmland.
As the day closes, the sun lowers there was a silence as the horses lower their heads and move downhill towards home. For me there was a longing to be horizontal with a guaranteed and exceptionally well earned sleep. Thank you.
Catherine Hughes, Powys Moorland Partnership facilitator
The Fieldsports magazine website recently ran a great insight into the work of a true moorland pioneer: Geoff Eyre.
Since taking on the sporting lease for Howden Moor in Derbyshire’s Peak District in the 1990s, Geoff has achieved spectacular results as he set about regenerating its habitat by applying careful management practice and innovative agronomist principles.
“An ESA (Environmentally Sensitive Areas) programme outlined the importance of heather cover in supporting a diverse number of species. Whilst some attempt was made to reverse heather loss, I asked if I could try a different approach.”
Geoff pioneered an ingenious use of smoke along with careful seed improvement, controlled burning, cutting and spraying. Consequently, thousands of acres of moorland have recovered, and his methods are now followed on moors across the north of England and Scotland.
This in turn has resulted in increased employment opportunities for keepers to look after the increasing acreages of productive heather areas.
There is a thriving birdlife at Howden, including a third of the Peak District’s ring ouzels. Big numbers of golden plover, curlew, lapwings and an increasing number of black game. In fact all typical moorland birds. And Geoff has given talks to birdwatching clubs. There is an increasing number of peregrines and merlins, and a high density of goshawks, and relative newcomers buzzards and ravens! “I had never seen a raven until 10 years ago – now we seem to have lots of them.”
And furthermore, thousands of walkers now have better-than-ever views of swathes of purple heather!
You can read a detailed scientific appraisal of the management of Howden Moor, including a downloadable PDF, on the Science Direct website.
Keep in touch, get involved.
We will be putting on various events over the next 12 months. If you would like to get involved, have some ideas please contact Catherine on urmyc.sdnalroomsywop@tcatnoc