EXMOOR National Park has teamed up with the Exmoor Hill Farming Network, National Trust and the local fire service to raise awareness of the need to seasonally burn moorland to conserve the habitat and cut the risk of wildfires.

Together they are hosting a walk this Friday (November 16) for people to find out more about the centuries-old practice, known locally as swaling, and its 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 over a hundred 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.

Since the Second World War, the UK’s heather moorland has been in steep decline despite efforts to protect it as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. On Exmoor the area of heather has decreased by around 40 per cent in the past 40 years.

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 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 less than 10 hectares at a time.

"The heat and smoke help germinate heather seed and stimulate fresh growth in spring, creating a mosaic of different aged heather that is ideal for 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.”

To join the Swaling Walk, meet at Bossington Hill Car Park at 2pm.