THE chance to see what goes on in heather moorland recently attracted 60 members of the public.

The invitation went out from the Moorland Association and centred on Snilesworth Moor, on the edge of the North York Moors National Park.

Moorland gamekeeper Jimmy Shuttlewood and farmer Tony Flintoff gave a three-hour guided circular walk showing visitors every aspect of life on the moors, including red grouse and sheep management.

Walkers keen to exercise their new right of access to open country in the area discovered how it was being put into practice, while protecting the wildlife and livelihoods of the moors.

"Britain has 75 per cent of the world's remaining heather and we are very lucky to have the largest unbroken block in England on the North York Moors," said George Winn-Darley, the association's North York Moors representative.

"Heather is on the decline in some areas but, where it is managed for red grouse shooting, it continues to thrive and supports up to five times more wading birds than moors not managed for grouse.

"To ensure that this natural heritage is not lost, we want to help people appreciate and understand how the hills are managed and how they can do their bit.

"We will arrange further visits in different moorland areas to raise awareness."

The party was told, and shown, how predator control helped protect vulnerable ground-nesting birds. Heather burning was carried out to provide new shoots for grouse and sheep to feed on, as well as acting as a safeguard against wild fires.

They were also told about a other management practices which provided a range of habitats for other wildlife.

Time was also spent on explaining what the new rights to open country actually allowed people to do.

The association has printed a moorland visitor's code for anyone planning a moorland walk. Copies are available free of charge from 0870 120 6466.

The code explains exactly what is open, and stresses that dogs are not allowed on most access land on grouse moors to protect rare moorland birds.

It says fires should never be lit on moorland, not even gas stoves or barbecues, and warning signs during periods of high fire risk in the spring and summer should be respected.

Plants and animals should be protected and litter taken home. Gates and property should be left as they are found and other people considered - moorland keepers and farmers play a crucial role in the wellbeing of the moors.