After a particularly long week of computer based work on my PhD, all I wanted was to hike somewhere exciting with a rich wildlife. A friend commiserated with me – I was based at Newcastle University at the time, and this particular friend wasn’t keen on the UK’s wilderness, its moorlands and bare uplands, compared to the large tracts of woodland and tropical forests that can be found more readily abroad.
Luckily, I count myself among many who are charmed by the rolling heather moorlands and sheep grazed uplands, whose colours change beautifully with the seasons. But my friend had a point – there is something very different about many of the UK’s national parks compared to those found in much of the rest of the world: the British uplands are hardly the natural wilderness that many perceive.
These upland habitats are in fact far from what they would have been had they remained unaffected by human activity. In particular, grazing by livestock has been carried out for centuries. In the long run, this stops new trees from establishing, and in turn reduces the depth of soil layers, making the conditions for new vegetation to establish even more difficult. Instead of the woodlands that would once have covered large areas of the uplands, Britain is largely characterised by rolling hills of open grass and moorlands. MORE
Header image: The Forest of Bowland, Lancashire. Credit: Joe Dunckley/Shutterstock.