AskDefine | Define Moorland

Dictionary Definition

moorland n : open land usually with peaty soil covered with heather and bracken and moss [syn: moor]

Extensive Definition

Moorland or moor is a type of habitat found in upland areas, characterised by low growing vegetation on acidic soils. Moorland nowadays generally means uncultivated hill land (such as Dartmoor in South West England), but the Anglo-Saxon ‘mŏr’ also refers to low-lying wetlands (such as Sedgemoor, also SW England). It is closely related to heath although experts disagree on precisely what distinguishes the types of vegetation. Oliver Rackham points out that long-term general usage has been that moors are used to describe Highland (and therefore high-rainfall zones), whereas heath refers to Lowland zones which are more likely to be the result of human activity.
Moorland habitats are most extensive in the neotropics and tropical Africa but also occur in northern and western Europe, Northern Australia, North America, Central Asia, and the Indian subcontinent. Most of the world's moorlands are very diverse ecosystems. In the extensive moorlands of the tropics species diversity can be extremely high. Moorland also bears a relationship to tundra (where the subsoil is permafrost or permanently frozen soil), appearing as the tundra retreats and inhabiting the area between the permafrost and the natural tree zone. The boundary between tundra and moorland constantly shifts with climatic change.

Heather moorland


A variety of distinct habitat types are found in different world regions. The wildlife and vegetation forms often lead to high endemism because of the severe soil and microclimate characteristics of moorlands. For example, in Exmoor is found the the rare species of Exmoor Pony, which has adapted to the harsh, arid conditions of that environment.
Some hill sheep breeds, such as Scottish Blackface, thrive on the austere conditions of heather moors.


Burning of moorland has been practiced for a number of reasons, for example when grazing is insufficient to control growth. This is recorded in Britain in the fourteenth century. Uncontrolled burning frequently caused (and causes) problems, and was forbidden by statute in 1607. With the rise of sheep and grouse management in the nineteenth century it again became common practice. Heather is burnt at about 10 or 12 years old when it will regenerate easily – left longer the woodier stems will burn more aggressively and will hinder regrowth. Burning of moorland vegetation needs to be very carefully controlled as the peat itself can catch fire - and this can be difficult if not impossible to extinguish. In addition, uncontrolled burning of heather can promote alternative bracken and rough grass growth which ultimately produces poorer grazing. As a result burning is now considered, at best, a controversial practice; Rackham calls it ‘second-best land management’.
Mechanical cutting of the heather has been used in Europe, but it is important for the material to be removed to avoid smothering regrowth. In Europe, it has been found that heather seeds germinate better if subject to the brief heat of controlled burning.
In Europe, if the heather and other vegetation is left for too long, a large volume of dry and combustible material builds up. This may result in a wildfire burning out a large area. However, generally, moorland wildlife has evolved to cope with even major fires and are easily able to recover if such intense burnings are not too frequent.

Moorland in literature

The development of a sensitivity to nature and one's physical surroundings grew with the rise of interest in landscape painting, and particularly the works of artists that favoured wide and deep prospects, and rugged scenery. To the English Romantic imagination moorlands fitted this image perfectly, enhancing the emotional impact of the story by placing it within a heightened and evocative landscape. Moorland forms the setting of various works of late Romantic English literature, ranging from the North York Moors in Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights and The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett to Dartmoor in Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmesian mystery The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Notable moorlands

Notable areas of upland moorland in Britain include the Dark Peak, the Forest of Bowland, the Lake District, the Pennines, Mid Wales, the Southern Uplands of Scotland, the Scottish Highlands, and a few very small pockets in western Herefordshire. There are numerous moorlands outside the UK; some other notable examples are:


See also

Moorland in German: Moor
Moorland in Spanish: Páramos
Moorland in Italian: Brughiera
Moorland in Japanese: ムーア (地形)
Moorland in Norwegian: Lynghei
Moorland in Norwegian Nynorsk: Lynghei
Moorland in Russian: Вересковая пустошь
Moorland in Simple English: Moorland
Moorland in Slovenian: Močvirje
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