I grew up on the edge of the moors in Scotland. I was a total tomboy; my childhood was spent bounding through the heather, walking my dog and climbing trees.
When I was seven, I was going to be a vet. But in my late teens, I found out that my great grandfather had been the pioneer chief game warden in Kenya and consequently decided I was going to be Africa’s first white female game warden.
Due to the violent poaching situation at the time, that didn’t happen, and I ended up in the world of communications. I’m an all-rounder. I’m not a mathematical scientist, but I’m a good writer and communicator, so I can act as a bridge between the scientific community and the rest of the world.
Moorland is usually defined as unenclosed land above the moorland line. It can come in many guises – some can look almost white because it has been overgrazed, other areas can be very boggy, elsewhere it can be planted with conifers. Ideally, it contains enough heather to blaze that beautiful purple colour in summer.
The Moorland Association is made up of the owners and managers of grouse moors in England and Wales. Together, they look after more than a million acres [4,046 square kilometres]. Anyone joining has to commit to conserving and enhancing the red grouse and the moorland habitat on which it thrives.
Grouse shooting is the passion that drives people to conserve heather moorlands. Red grouse, which are only found in Britain, are considered the king of game birds, and people come from all over the world to shoot them.
Heather moorland is rarer than rainforest and three quarters of the world’s remaining moorland is in Britain. We’re all a bit blasé about it because we see quite a lot of it, but it’s very rare. About 200,000 acres were lost after the Second World War, when food shortages inspired the government to make what it perceived as wasteland try to support too many sheep.
It’s a habitat that has evolved alongside humans. If you go back thousands of years, it would have been tree covered, but as people chopped down trees for houses and fires, and the land was grazed, it opened up. Now, 70 per cent of the grouse moorlands in England are designated as sites of special scientific interest. Our members take that as a badge of honour – they feel it means that they’re doing something right.
The two main elements of grouse moor management are heather burning and predator control. The burning creates the different heights of heather each pair of grouse needs: short heather to eat, long heather to hide and nest in, and open bits to sunbathe and dry off in. Research has shown that keeping predators down gives all of the moor’s ground-nesting birds three and a half times better chance of fledging their young, which leads to populations of curlew, lapwing, golden plover and other waders being up to five times more abundant.
Natural England found that burning might negatively affect water quality, biodiversity and carbon storage, but there isn’t really any evidence of a link between burning and flooding. The key to peatland functionality is rewetting, which is why our members are involved in grip (drain) blocking. More than 2,000 kilometres have already been blocked and there are plans for 1,000 kilometres more.
More than £50million is also spent annually on managing their moorlands and the shooters spend more than £15million in the local community. That helps keep the home fires burning in these small, remote rural communities. Without that money filtering through, schools and pubs might close.
Issues such as climate change have caused interest in the uplands to absolutely balloon. Until very recently, landowners were just left to get on with it; now they have to deal with huge layers of designation and regulation. A balance must be struck between bureaucracy, conservation and land use, which needs collaboration and diplomacy on all sides.
At the moment, land managers and conservationists seem to be in two different camps, with conflict in the middle, but it doesn’t need to be that way. You have to balance out all of the different land uses and ecosystem-service requirements, and take the landowners with you, because they hold the future of the moorlands in their hands.
1971 Born in Berlin
1975–89 Attended several schools as an army child living in Singapore, Northern Ireland, Edinburgh and Morayshire
1992 Graduated from the University of Nottingham with a BSc in zoology
1993 Obtained an MSc in aquaculture from the University of Stirling
1994–96 Recruitment consultant 1998–99 Obtained a PGCE from the University of Central Lancashire
1997–2000 Course manager and lecturer, Myerscough College
1998–2013 Set up and ran Anderson PR, a land-based marketing and communications consultancy
2014 Appointed as director of the Moorland Association
This story was published in the April 2014 edition of Geographical Magazine