A few yards from the summit of Crag Fell, Ennerdale, in West Cumbria, wild Heather grows in abundance on the moorland, many miles away from human activity. It’s truly a sight to behold when vibrant purple flowers carpet the landscape.
- The word heather is derived from the word hather which is middle english and means an open land covered with heather and or moss. This land can be hilly and rocky which is exactly where heather is happiest.
Heathland and moorland are the most extensive areas of semi-natural vegetation in the British Isles. The eastern British moorlands are similar to heaths but are differentiated by having a covering of peat. On western moors the peat layer may be several metres thick. Scottish “muirs” are generally heather moors, but also have extensive covering of grass, cotton-grass, mosses, bracken and under-shrubs such as crowberry, with the wetter moorland having sphagnum moss merging into bog-land.
Calluna vulgaris (known as common heather, ling, or simply heather) is a low-growing perennial shrub growing to 20 to 50 centimetres (7.9 to 19.7 in) tall, or rarely to 1 metre (39 in) and taller, and is found widely in Europe and Asia Minor on acidic soils in open sunny situations and in moderate shade. It is the dominant plant in most heathland and moorland in Europe, and in some bog vegetation and acidic pine and oak woodland. It is tolerant of grazing and regenerates following occasional burning, and is often managed in nature reserves and grouse moors by sheep or cattle grazing, and also by light burning.
Heather is an important food source for various sheep and deer which can graze the tips of the plants when snow covers low-growing vegetation. Willow grouse and red grouse feed on the young shoots and seeds of the plant. Formerly heather was used to dye wool yellow and to tan leather. With malt, heather is an ingredient in Gruit, a mixture of flavourings used in the brewing of heather-beer during the Middle Ages.