Devon And Somerset Fire And Rescue Service Logo
Commercial Services
Grass Fire
Press Release - Conserving Exmoor's heather moorland
Posted on 16/11/2018

Exmoor National Park has teamed up with the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, National Trust and the Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service to raise awareness of the importance of controlled burning to conserve heather moorland and minimise the risk of summer wildfires.

Together they are hosting a walk next Friday 16th November (2-4pm) for members of the public to find out more about the centuries-old practice – known locally as ‘swaling’ – and it’s vital role in moorland management.
Exmoor Hill Farming Network Chairman Dave Knight, who is hosting the walk at his farm on the National Trust’s picturesque Holnicote Estate, said: “My family have farmed this land for hundreds of years and swaling has long been an important part of the toolkit used to regenerate the moor ready for grazing in the summer. This walk is open to anyone interested in discussing the issues and I look forward to welcoming as many people as possible.”

Moors are a rich mosaic of habitats, the rarest of which is heather moorland, which is globally scarcer than rainforest. But over the past 40 years, the area of heather on Exmoor has declined by up to 40 per cent.
Loss of heather moorland has been happening in every corner of the UK since World War II, despite the habitat being protected by law as a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). The reasons for this aren’t fully understood, but there is evidence that changes to traditional moorland management practices, such as fewer controlled burns and grazing animals, may be partly to blame.

Exmoor National Park Ranger, Tim Parish, said: “The swaling season takes place each year between October and March, when farmers and land managers burn small targeted areas of around 10 hectares at a time. The heat and smoke help to germinate heather seed and stimulate fresh growth in the spring, creating a mosaic of different aged heather that is ideal for both grazing livestock and moorland wildlife.

“Without regular burning, the heather moorland would be slowly replaced with gorse, bracken and trees and this delicate habitat would be lost forever, along with its rare wildlife and heritage.”

Station Manager Adrian Woollaston, Devon & Somerset Fire & Rescue Service, said: “There is a lot of misunderstanding about the use of burning in the management of heather moorland and we welcome this chance to highlight its role in reducing the risk of uncontrolled fires. Keeping on top of the burning cycle is important to limit the build-up of flammable woody material and prevent potentially catastrophic wildfires during the dryer months.”

To join the Swaling Walk, please meet at Bossington Hill Car Park (SS910476) at 2pm – no need to book. Please wear suitable outdoor footwear and clothing. The event is free, but donations to CareMoor for Exmoor are welcome. For more information contact Heather Harley on or 01398 322277.


Contact the press office:
Ailsa Stevens
Communications Officer
Exmoor National Park Authority
T: 01398 322244
M: 07772092128

Editor’s Notes

About Exmoor National Park Authority
First designated in 1954, Exmoor National Park has an amazing variety of landscapes within its 267 square miles – stunning coast, moorland, woodland, valleys and farmland and more than 800 miles of rights of way to enjoy. It is one of 15 National Parks in the United Kingdom and in 2011 was designated Europe’s first International Dark Sky Reserve.
Exmoor National Park Authority works in partnership with the community, local councils, businesses and other organisations to look after the National Park and promote its conservation and enjoyment. Donations to Caremoor for Exmoor are gratefully received towards the upkeep of the National Park and its special qualities.

Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram or visit for more information.

Useful and informative article? Please share it!

Mindful EmployerFire Pride and AlliesEmployers Network For Equality and Inclusion Member Achieving - Fire & Rescue Service Equality Framework Firemark LogoBQF Member Logo An image of the disability confident committed logo