Often thought of as windswept and bleak, upland heathland is more commonly known as ‘moorland’. An iconic landscape full of drama and intrigue, upland heathland is distinguishable from its lowland counterpart by both the higher altitude (over 300 metres) at which it is generally found and the different plants and animals which it supports.
Upland heathland occurs on nutrient poor, acid, peaty soils. Although it is characteristically dominated by woody-stemmed dwarf shrubs, upland heathland is usually found as part of a mosaic of habitats including wet and dry heath, blanket bog and acid grassland.
Upland Heathland at Sirhowy Valley Woodlands
The heathland within the site is classed as upland heathland, being above the 250m contour line. There is an estimated 79,000ha of this habitat extant in Wales, 1400ha of which occur within the Blaenau Gwent county borough (CCW 2003). This habitat type is, however, relatively scarce within the rest of Europe and has its stronghold in the UK. This habitat type often supports notable bird species including species such as hen harrier, red grouse and black grouse, although none of these species have been recorded to date at Sirhowy Hill.
The heathland habitats of the site are in a degraded condition, having been afforested throughout the site, and are now suffering from succession. The heathland habitats support seven plant species which are considered local in the region, and sixteen species considered indicative of species-rich heathlands and acid grassland mosaics in the Guidelines for the Selection of Wildlife Sites in South Wales (SWWSP 2004).
The UK’s 3.7 million hectares of upland heathland are of international importance for nature conservation: this habitat is confined to north-west Europe, especially the UK. It provides the basic resource for hill farming and for grouse shooting. The wild nature of upland heathland is a much-loved feature of the landscapes of Devon, Cornwall, Wales, the Pennines, Lake District and Scotland. In many places, upland heathland harbours a rich archaeological heritage.