ECOLOGICAL BRIEFING NOTES
Ourea Events races are located in Britain’s greatest upland areas that often contain features of outstanding biodiversity value and importance. Occasionally, the features that provide this interest can be vulnerable to the wear and tear that may result from the passage of event participants. The risk of ecological damage is carefully assessed during early stages in the planning process for each event, when every effort is made to avoid sensitive ecological interest areas that could be disturbed by the event.
We are keen to encourage personal route selection choices by participants on our events to further avoid the risk of local ecological disturbance. This Ecological Briefing Note has been prepared for the 2019 ROC Mountain Marathon event to identify key ecological interest features that contribute to the special character of the event area, with route selection comments to help minimise the risk of localised ecological disturbance.
The 2019 ROC Mountain Marathon event area is located within the Lowther Hills region of the Scottish Southern Uplands. The hills are formed from mudstones, sandstones and some limestones that were deposited between 490 million and 420 million years ago and now form an extensive, high-level plateau of rounded hills defined by steep-sided glacial valleys. Several of these valleys contain ancient passes that have been used to cross the Southern Uplands for centuries.
The majority of the Lowther Hills landscape is characterised by hill pasture where livestock grazing has maintained extensive areas of acid grassland. An extensive tract of upland landscape less significantly affected by livestock grazing is present at the centre of the ROC Mountain Marathon event area. This is characterised by a variety of distinctive upland habitat types, including blanket bog, montane heath, and calcareous spring-head habitats. The special upland character and nature conservation interest of habitats within this area is reflected in its designation as a site of national nature conservation importance. This ecological briefing note has been produced to communicate the special upland environmental interest of the event area to enrich the experience of participating in the ROC Mountain Marathon event.
The event area is crossed by a number of existing hill paths and tracks, and use of these by ROC Mountain Marathon participants, in particular to cross the central part of the event area, will help to avoid trampling disturbance of fragile upland habitats. Where courses require movement across hill land between paths and tracks this ecological briefing note provides recommendations for personal route choices that will help to avoid the risk of significant ecological disturbance.
- Dry acid grassland is the predominant vegetation type within the event area, where centuries of livestock grazing has converted heather moorland to open grassland. Areas of this vegetation type provide a relatively robust vegetation type that can generally withstand the trampling effects of hill running.
- Extensive areas of dry acid grassland in upland areas can include mosaics of other upland vegetation types such as blanket bog, heather-dominated heath vegetation and wet grassland creating areas of local vulnerability to a concentration of trampling by ROC Mountain Marathon participants.
- An important area of blanket bog is present within the centre of the event area. In places this habitat at has become degraded, where bog vegetation has been lost and peat erosion gulleys have formed. Vegetation loss may have been caused by a variety of factors in the past such as air pollution, moorland management with burning and drainage, but the resulting loss of peat and blanket bog vegetation is an important conservation management issue. At some locations, the bare peat exposed in gulleys may have become stabilised, allowing a slow recovery of blanket bog vegetation that will eventually help to prevent the loss of peat through erosion. More locally, areas of high quality, intact blanket bog are present within the event area. These comprise vegetation with a high proportion of Sphagnum mosses on deep peat with limited evidence of peat erosion and gulley formation.
- Disturbance of blanket bog by runners churning through the peat gulleys has the potential to trigger further peat erosion by de-stabilising the peat surface. Wherever possible, route choices in these areas should try to link the strips and patches of surviving moorland vegetation between the peat hags. These are often quite well-drained, providing areas of relatively robust vegetation and resistant to the trampling effects of running. If crossing peat hags is unavoidable, routes should try to link cushions of remnant moorland vegetation as ‘stepping stones’ across the bare peat surfaces. In some situations, the extent of peat erosion has been sufficient to expose the bedrock and glacial material underlying the peat. Running on this material is unlikely to cause significant harm to recovering peat surfaces.
- In contrast to areas of degraded blanket bog, some locations contain high quality blanket bog with an intact vegetation surface that lack eroding peat gulleys. These are typified by areas of wet heath vegetation interspersed with shallow pools, often associated with Sphagnum These areas often comprise a mosaic of vegetation types that will include slightly raised areas of better drained peat with drier heather moorland vegetation. These will be less vulnerable to disturbance through vegetation damage by trampling and should ideally be selected when making route choices for running through these intact blanket bog areas.
- Areas of wet acid grassland will be encountered where impeded drainage occurs within relatively level hill grassland areas or where groundwater emerges at the surface as seepages across more steeply sloping ground. Wet acid grassland can be of special nature conservation interest, in particular where groundwater seepages provide conditions for communities of specialised mosses, liverworts and other specialised plants. In places, groundwater seepages originate within base rick rock strata, and these support calcareous flush communities of considerable nature conservation value.
- These wet vegetation types can be vulnerable to persistent disturbance effects of trampling and should ideally be avoided wherever possible by selecting routes that keep to dry acid grassland to by-pass wet grassland patches.
- Wet grassland at groundwater seepages on steep ground can be difficult to avoid where they cross valuable contouring lines. Avoidance of these areas could involve a significant route change and deviation from the desired contour level. Despite this, it would be ideal if damage to seepage zone vegetation could be minimised, often located within shallow gulleys, re-entrant features or associated with ground level rock outcrops that cross steep slopes.
- On hillsides, soil movements within dry and wet grassland areas can develop well-defined micro-terrace systems, often referred to as sheep walks or trods. These typically follow contours and can provide extremely useful running lines. Grassland vegetation at the edge of these micro-terraces is often friable and easily broken off. Care should be taken when using these features for contouring to avoid running on the edge of these terraces to minimise grassland damage.
- Montane heath habitats are present on the highest summits within the central part of the event area that are potentially vulnerable to disturbance. These areas support fragile montane plant communities of high nature conservation value. Existing paths through these areas should be used where possible to avoid disturbance of these communities. Ice-shattered rock within these areas often supports specialised plant communities that utilise the microclimate of sheltered spaces within the rocks. Sections of ROC Mountain Marathon courses that cross these features should use existing paths where possible and should always minimise disturbance of shattered rock fields.
- Specialised rock ledge plant communities are present at a number of locations within the event area. If ROC Mountain Marathon participants need to negotiate low rock outcrops great care should be taken to minimise disturbance of ledge vegetation.
- The event area contains a network of streams and rivers, some of which are potentially vulnerable to ecological disturbance from repeated crossing by runners. Some of the watercourses have the potential to provide habitat for animal species of special nature conservation value such as otter and water vole. In many cases, the nature conservation interest of these rivers and streams concerns use of the banksides by these and other animals. As a consequence, great care should be taken by participants if stream crossings are necessary, minimising bank disturbance when entering and climbing out of stream channels.