Time to explore heather moorland

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Did you know that around 70 per cent of all the heather moorland in the world is in the British Isles? That’s a remarkable tally considering our little archipelago amounts only to about 0.1 per cent of the earth’s surface.

Upper Nidderdale is home to some of the finest heather moorland in Britain – and so, by definition, the world. We thought that was worth shouting about. That’s why this autumn we’ve been celebrating the central place of moors in our history, culture and countryside with our month-long Moorland Festival.

Throughout October a packed programme of walks, talks and workshops has been held with the aim of enticing festivalgoers out onto the wuthering heights to find new places to explore and wildlife and plants to marvel at.

Among the early highlights were a moorland safari and a foraging expedition on the banks of the Nidd. The latter was hosted by Chris Bax of Taste the Wild, the company he set up with his wife, Rose, to promote wild foods as wonderfully versatile ingredients and to teach people how to identify them. Attendees on the day received a fascinating introduction to the everyday plants that can be eaten, used to produce dyes or used to make things.

The moorland safari, meanwhile, offered a unique insight into the work of the, gamekeepers and landowners who manage our moors. Visitors went by 4x4 up onto remote stretches of moorland where they had the chance to learn about management techniques, enjoy the bracing wind, yomp through the heather and partake of pan-fried grouse, tea and cake at a shooting lodge.

Over the course of the month we’ve had some fascinating talks from experts of various stripes. Local photographer Paul Harris, whose credits include the Sunday Times and Geographical Magazine, led a photography workshop in which he revealed some of the technical magic behind the perfect landscape shot.

Ecologist and bat specialist Dr Anna Berthinussen let us into the secrets of identifying bats from their calls and watching them in flight with night-vision filming.

We’ve had upland farm tours, mountain bike expeditions and lead-mine visits. There have been talks on lichens, gundog training and stargazing under the dark autumn skies. There’s still time to book onto our last event taking place on Tuesday 31st October – if you dare venture out on Hallowe’en! – when Dr Tim Thom of the Yorkshire Peat Partnership will be presenting a talk about peat bogs, the work going on to conserve them and the important role they can play in the campaign against climate change.

Liz Milner, our Discovery and Learning Project Officer, has had the task of pulling together this wide range of events, fearlessly venturing out into weather which, as you no doubt recall, has been somewhat mixed. Her enthusiasm is, however, un-dampened:

“Autumn’s the perfect season to enjoy the great outdoors,” she says. “The colours of the trees are amazing. It’s an opportunity to get on your boots and enjoy the last breath of warm air and some birdsong before the nights draw in and a log fire tempts you indoors.”

Explore Nidderdale by trying the new Nidderdale Way Walking Guide, downloadable for free from uppernidderdale.org.uk, for some ideas of where to head.