Chris Miles, the former area manager of Scottish Natural Heritage in Dumfries and Galloway, knows Langholm Moor well, partly through his job with the organisation and as a botanist.
Chris is the chairman of the board of trustees at the Botanical Society of Britain and Ireland and is the county recorder for Dumfriesshire. He runs the Dumfriesshire Botany Group.
The E&L Advertiser asked him to write an article about the moor from the point of view of its ecological interest and its importance as a designated environment.
LANGHOLM Moor: Why it needs a secure future.
The Langholm moorland covers the hills between Langholm and Newcastleton.
It is a predominantly open, wild landscape rising to just over 560m or 1,800 feet on the rounded ridge of Roan Fell. The broad open hill plateau contrasts with the steep slopes around its edges.
The hills are cut by deeply-eroded watercourses, like the Dinley Burn and the Tarras Water.
The underlying rocks are complex and the central hills overlain by deposits of boulder clay laid down by past ice ages on which extensive peat has developed.
The underlying rock comes to the surface on the steeper slopes such as below Arkleton Hill. It is this complexity, together with a high rainfall, which gives rise to a particularly wide variety of upland habitats.
Consequently, there is a particularly wide variety of typical plant communities, both on the moorland and in the steep-sided cleughs.
In the lower sections of these watercourses some native woodland can be found, mainly of birch, alder and willow, along with rare fragments of aspen, as at Tarras and below Cronksbank.
The vegetation types include blanket bog, typified by cotton grass and cloudberry on the highest areas where drainage is poor.
On the better drained slopes heather heath is dominated by ling, blaeberry and bell heather and in other places bracken and acidic grasslands are dominated by mat-grass and fescue.
Extensive areas of purple moor grass occur on shallower slopes lower down.
Over many of the mid and lower slopes the complex of cleughs, burns, sikes, springs and flushes are enriched by water seeping through the boulder clay.
These are botanically exciting with patches of species-rich grassland, with the likes of northern marsh and common spotted orchids, grass of Parnassus, marsh valerian and quaking grass.
More than 250 species of flowering plants and ferns are known, including several rare and locally-scarce species.
The moor also supports a diverse population of breeding moorland birds which include black and red grouse as well as nine species of wader and six raptor species. It also has a wild goat population.
A large part of the hill ground is included in the Langholm-Newcastleton Hills Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and is a Special Protection Area (SPA).
The SSSI is of national importance for the mix of upland habitat types, the number of breeding birds and the presence of breeding hen harrier.
The further designation as an SPA is because the site supports more than one per cent of the UK’s breeding hen harriers.
Historically, the site has been managed as grouse moor and for hill farming.
This meant people were present to undertake management of the bracken, grassland and heather through grazing and burning and some control of predators of ground-nesting birds.
There is a delicate balance between burning and grazing which does not lead to the loss of heather and the conservation interests.
The owners have worked with others to try to improve the habitat and raise the numbers of red grouse.
In the 1990s Langholm Moor was the main study area for the Joint Raptor Study (JRS) which looked at the relationship between predatory birds and grouse.
The moorland debate is around the premise that grouse and raptors cannot co-exist, leading to the lack of protected species, notably hen harrier on grouse moorland.
When the JRS ended, grouse shooting ceased at Langholm but hen harrier and grouse numbers continued to decline.
In recent years it has been realised that the hill had become grassier and a substantial area of heather had been lost.
In 2008 a new attempt to address the grouse raptor issue began with the Langholm Moor Demonstration Project. This ended in 2018 and has yet to publish its final report and conclusions which are due this year.
Langholm Moor is a fantastic place for nature and, consequently, for people.
It provides the context for the Langholm and Newcastleton communities and their futures are, to some extent, tied to the future of the moorland.
The moorland provides many natural services, capturing carbon, regulating water flow, safeguarding a rich mix of wildlife, dramatic scenery and many recreation opportunities.
While the SSSI gives some assurance that land use cannot change dramatically, the only way communities can be certain about the future for the moors is if they take more direct control over how the site develops from now on.
Given the moor’s prominence in debates about upland management, I am sure that, if they take this step, they will find some willing partners to work with.