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The Rural Stewardship Scheme 2005


The Rural Stewardship Scheme

Prescriptions for Moorland

11. Moorland - Moorland Management

Aim: To encourage changes in management practices to benefit a diverse range of habitats within moorland of conservation interest, including feeding and breeding sites for birds and animals and a wide range of insects and plants.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Skylark, Black grouse.

Eligible sites: A distinct block of moorland over which it is practical to implement a management programme.

Management Requirements:

  • To carry out a suite of additional management practices as laid out in a Moorland Management Plan including shepherding, stock management and feeding practices to benefit the stated conservation interest.


  • In order to be eligible for this option, the moorland must be used for agricultural livestock production.


Photo: L. Gill - SNH

Photo: G. Satterley - SNH

Moorland management

box 3.11

The greatest variety of moorland plants occurs in areas where there is variation in grazing impact over the moorland, usually where there is light to moderate grazing pressure overall. In addition, disturbance to the vegetation and soil by fire or swiping, or intermittent heavier grazing will also increase diversity. Some areas of moorland should be moderately frequently disturbed while other areas should be relatively free from disturbance. Moderately frequent disturbance favours diversity of flowering plants, including the full range of characteristic dwarf-shrubs of upland heathland including bell heather, cross-leaved heath, blaeberry, cowberry and bearberry. Freedom from disturbance favours diversity and abundance of mosses, liverworts and lichens, and, sometimes, an overwhelming dominance by heather. Heather is an important and characteristic plant of Scottish moorlands, but if it remains very dense and tall for prolonged periods, other moorland plants can be much reduced or eliminated. The abundance and diversity of mosses and liverworts is a characteristic feature of moorlands in Scotland.

Freedom from disturbance by fire or grazing animals may favour some flowering plants, such as twinflower, lesser twayblade or crowberry, but this is much more important for maintaining the diversity of the mosses, liverworts and lichens. This is most likely to be beneficial in areas of steep, rocky or broken slopes which are moist and shaded, wet areas of bog, areas with scattered trees, scrub or woodland, and high altitude or exposed areas with a vegetation mat kept short by the wet and windy climate. These are often areas that are difficult, and uneconomic, to try to manage more intensively. Such areas are also most likely to retain species that are sensitive to disturbance. Avoiding burning these sorts of areas will favour BAP priority species such as some liverworts and juniper since the mature bushes are killed by fire, and seedlings are sometimes heavily browsed.

The diversity of invertebrates will be strongly influenced by the diversity of plants and variation in vegetation structure and disturbance. The netted mountain moth larvae feed on bearberry on moorland and mountainside. High stocking rates could have a detrimental effect upon bearberry and therefore upon the netted mountain moth. The northern brown argus will benefit from careful muirburn in areas of herb-rich heath in which rock rose occurs. It will also benefit from moderate levels of grazing - very heavy grazing will tend to reduce the rock rose but very light grazing could lead to loss of rock rose through suppression by heather or bracken. In such instances, bracken control may be beneficial. However, care should be taken that other sensitive ferns, e.g. moonwort and adder's tongue fern, do not occur in the area.

The skylark will be assisted by managing moorland grasslands so that they become neither very long and rank nor extremely short. Areas of short, and more herb-rich, heath may provide some additional benefit for this species and will also provide feeding grounds for a variety of other moorland birds such as lapwing, golden plover, and ring ouzel. Red grouse, perhaps the most characteristic bird of upland heathland, feeds in areas of shorter heath but requires taller heather in which to find cover for shelter and nesting. Food availability and quality is improved if there is some variation in the range of dwarf-shrubs present: blaeberry flushes earlier than heather in the spring, and in autumn blaeberry, cowberry, bearberry and crowberry are a source of energy-rich berries. In the spring, cottongrass flower heads in bogs are an important source of nutrients. Black grouse, a declining BAP priority species, has similar requirements to red grouse but also requires flushes or rushy areas (where invertebrates are usually most abundant) for feeding chicks, and areas of scrub and woodland for shelter and forage (for buds) in the winter and spring. Although some moorland birds, like the golden plover, favour short heath and bog vegetation for nesting, most moorland birds require some taller vegetation to provide nesting cover. Control of grazing and burning to provide this will favour black grouse, red grouse and scarce or declining species like ring ouzel, twite, hen harrier and merlin.

12. Moorland - Stock Disposal

Aim: To encourage the regeneration of suppressed heather and/or other moorland vegetation of conservation interest, by the reduction of sheep numbers where it has been identified on a Moorland Management Plan.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Juniper, Netted mountain moth, Woolly willow.

Eligible sites: Moorland which is of conservation interest and would benefit from a reduced stocking density beyond the reduction required to rectify an overgrazing problem identified under the Livestock Subsidy Schemes.

Management Requirements:

  • To be eligible for the first payment, the ewes must be disposed of prior to submission of the SAP claim for the SAP Scheme year following RSS approval. The first stock disposal payment will be made at the plan anniversary.
  • The requirements of the Moorland Management Plan must be followed.
  • An agreed number of ewes must be removed from the site. Ewe numbers in the IACS business must be reduced by at least the number of ewes removed from the site in accordance with the plan and must not be increased on that site for the relevant period.
  • The quota implications of participating in an agri-environment scheme are determined by EC legislation. This requires that, while all participants in the agri-environmental stock disposal option are entitled to continue to fully utilise their quota rights within their business after stock disposal, there is a prohibition on the temporary leasing out or sale of any quota rights which they hold. The purpose of the restriction is to ensure that the reduction in numbers is a genuine reduction and not simply a substitute for increases on other holdings. The SAPS quota usage rule will be suspended for the duration of participation in the stock disposal measure.


Photo: L. Gill - SNH

13. Moorland - Muirburn and Heather Swiping

Aim: To create blocks of heather at different growth stages through a planned programme of burning or swiping.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Northern brown argus, Juniper, Skylark.

Eligible sites: Moorland identified in a moorland management plan as appropriate for muirburn or a swiping programme. An annual payment will be made on all land which forms part of the total area to be covered by the ten year programme of muirburn.

Management Requirements:

  • All muirburn must be undertaken in accordance with guidance approved by Scottish Ministers - the Muirburn Code.

Photo: T. Donnolly - SNH


  • Heather burning should be undertaken on a number of small areas rather than one large area.
  • The payment is applicable when an applicant enters into a long-term programme to make muirburn on a regular (annual) basis. Payment is based on the area that is expected to be burnt over the 10-year programme of muirburn. This area is to be illustrated on the Environmental Audit map. It must be noted that it is not a strict requirement to burn 10% of the area each year. Annual payments will be made provided SEERAD is satisfied that the applicant is making reasonable progress to achieve a satisfactory burning programme over the area. It is accepted that in some years no burning will be possible due to weather conditions. Due to the long-term nature of the programme, it would be fully expected that the area involved would re-appear on a second plan.
  • Heather swiping is paid at the same rate as heather burning either when swiping is carried out as an independent operation or as an aid in a burning programme. Swiping should only be carried out in the burning season.

14. Bracken Eradication Programme for Moorland

Aim: To eradicate bracken from an area of moorland and thus allow the moorland vegetation to re-establish itself.

Some BAP species that may benefit: Skylark, Black grouse.

Eligible sites: Moorland of conservation interest and identified in the Moorland Management Plan as bracken-invaded.

Management Requirements:

Carry out a systematic programme of treatment and follow-up, where necessary using Asulam or other approved herbicide, in accordance with a Bracken Eradication Programme laid out in an approved BEP Management Plan:

  • In year 1, prepare a detailed BEP Management Plan that will incorporate a map drawn to a scale of 1:10000 showing the extent of the invasion, the areas of bracken to be cleared over the life-time of the scheme plan, an estimate of the percentage cover and frond density of the bracken within each area at full frond stage (mid/late June on the West Coast to early August in the eastern Borders) and the locations of any sensitive species and habitats with appropriate buffer zones to ensure their conservation. Where cutting rather than the application of herbicide is to be the means of control, the setting of buffer zones is unnecessary, but the map must show any areas with sensitive species and habitats and where birds are known to nest on the ground.


  • Weed wiper

    Bracken treatment using a weed wiper
    Photo: John Robinson

  • As soon as the detailed BEP Management Plan has been prepared, complete and submit the appropriate standard multi-agency application (with a copy of the BEP Management Plan scale map showing the area(s) to be treated) to SEPA and send copies to SNH and the Local Authority Environmental Services. The applicant (or contractor) will need to allow the consultees at least 15 working days to consider and respond to the application for consent. Please note however that, where only mechanical control is to be used, the consultations/notifications requirements under the Control of Pesticides Regulations (1986) do not apply.
  • Submit a properly completed claim for the first year's BEP management payment to SEERAD together with: letters of consent and the final version of the BEP Management Plan with SNH-approved map. Such a claim will not be considered valid unless accompanied by the required documentation.
  • * In year 2, or in year 1 if all the requirements detailed in the paragraphs above have first been met, carry out primary treatment involving the
    treatment of bracken either with Asulam (or other approved herbicide) or by cutting twice during the growing season. Cutting will cause greater ground disturbance and could damage, disturb or destroy nests, nestlings or sitting birds if carried out during the nesting season. Therefore, within areas immediately surrounding nest sites, the first cut should be administered by hand to minimise disturbance. It will be the applicant's responsibility to ensure that the required prior notice is given to all statutory consultees in advance of any aerial spraying and that the contractor is provided with a copy of the map to ensure that the treatment is carried out in accordance with approved BEP management plan.
  • Follow-up action will involve repeated annual treatment to clear any bracken re-growth.

Where chemical control is used, such follow-up action normally requires a spot-treatment approach.

If cutting is the method adopted, it is essential that the programme of twice-yearly treatments continues for the duration of the BEP. Only by repeated cutting of the bracken fronds will the food reserves in the plant's rhizomes be depleted sufficiently to cause its death.

Is bracken eradication always appropriate?

It is not always appropriate or indeed desirable to clear bracken entirely from a site. Indeed, there are some situations in which bracken is best left alone:

  • in gullies or steep slopes where regeneration of more desirable vegetation will be difficult or impossible to achieve and soil erosion may result
  • over mires, gullies or within woodland where other plant species, e.g. ferns, and plant communities may be damaged
  • close to ponds, lochs or watercourses
  • on long-established dense stands of bracken where no other plant species has survived beneath the canopy and a programme of vegetation recovery is not feasible
  • where a low density of bracken cover can readily be maintained to conserve a valuable habitat for early flowering plants, e.g. bluebell and violet, ground-nesting birds, e.g. twite, and invertebrates, e.g. pearl-bordered fritillary butterfly.

The locations of any such 'sensitive' sites must be marked on the BEP Management Plan map with appropriate buffer zones to ensure their conservation.

What sort of commitment is involved?

Clearing bracken from an area is a long-term project. A bracken eradication programme will involve: the drawing up of a detailed BEP Management Plan in year 1; primary treatment by chemical or mechanical means in year 2 (or in year 1 if all the requirements have first been met) and aftercare spanning the remaining years of the RSS agreement. Such aftercare may involve annual spot-treatment of any bracken re-growth or, if mechanical control is adopted, continued twice-yearly cutting and also mechanical disturbance or gathering of the litter and stock control where necessary. If the agreement is renewed at the end of 5 years, the participant will be obliged to continue with the follow-up action on the areas addressed under the BEP during the first 5 years.

Bracken eradication should only be contemplated over an area where there is reasonable prospect of achieving the desired result within the timescale. For this reason, rather than attempt to treat too large an area at the outset, you should concentrate your efforts upon a number of small blocks - those where the regeneration of underlying vegetation is paramount. Where the bracken canopy cover exceeds 75% at full frond stage, it should be clearly demonstrated that vegetation of conservation interest would be enhanced through this measure. The optimum size of the area(s) to be tackled under the Bracken Eradication Programme will depend upon such factors as the methods that can be employed given the nature of the terrain and the anticipated availability of labour and equipment at the appropriate times.

What detail is required on the Environmental Audit and Moorland Management Plan?

An outline only of the maximum extent of the area(s) to be covered by the Bracken Eradication Programme (BEP) is to be drawn on the Environmental Audit and Moorland Management Plan maps submitted as part of the application to join the RSS. This will allow SEERAD, when appraising the application, to verify that the bracken infestation exists at that location(s) and that it exists within an area of species-rich grassland, coastal or lowland heath or moorland with conservation interest.

It will be assumed that 15% of this area will not be treated with herbicide in order to protect sensitive species and habitats. Consequently, the figure used to calculate the payment for this prescription will be restricted to 85% of the area outlined on the EA map.

Forward planning

Forward planning is essential. This will involve surveying each area and, based upon the results of the survey, establishing the methods to be employed to carry out both the primary and follow-up treatments and the resources required. The optimum period for mapping bracken frond density and coverage is at full frond stage (mid/late June on the West Coast to early August in the eastern Borders). The locations of any sensitive species and habitats need to be identified and appropriate buffer zones set.