Between the start of November and the end of March we carry out controlled burns, ‘swales’, on the heathland parts of the Quantocks. As well as seeing plumes of smoke from the top of the hills you may well see similar sights over the Mendip Hills and Exmoor National Park who carry out the same activity.
Each autumn we train a group of volunteers to use the equipment safely and help them understand why and where we are carrying out the management. We follow Defra’s Heather and Grass Burning Code, and obviously take the safety considerations very seriously.
Essentially the work is done to burn heather and gorse that has grown too high to support many species and where nothing grows underneath; these mature blocks of vegetation may also potentially pose a fire hazard during the drier summer months. By having a mixed age structure of heathland plants more bird species are supported and the grazing animals have more vegetation to eat.
The swaling plan we work to maps all of the areas to be burnt over a 10 year period. Areas are chosen on a rotational basis with some areas needing to be burnt more frequently than others. In the early autumn the rangers, some landowners and the commoners meet to discuss the plan and amend the areas if necessary. Last year we also trialled a couple of blocks using a ‘cut and collect’ method where the vegetation was cut using a tractor mounted flail and then the bundles of vegetation removed to spread over bare patches of soil - this method was used where previous burns had failed due to the patchy distribution of the vegetation and an area used as an adder hibernacula.
See our article about swaling for more in depth information ADD LINK