Farmers and grouse moor owners are teaming up with conservationists to restore vast expanses of Peak District and South Pennines peatlands, home to extensive tracts of semi-natural moorland with upland heath and peat bog, birds of prey and wading birds.

The peat bogs have been in decline since the industrial revolution, but thanks to individual moorland business owners, 30 large Environmental Stewardship (ES) agreements are now underway to bring about £15 million of moorland restoration measures over the coming 3-5 years.

Funding from the scheme will be of great importance in bringing upland Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSIs) into better condition.

The ES scheme, which is administered by Natural England on behalf of Defra will also allow for changes to management on 39,000 hectares of moorland, such as less heather burning and a return to traditional shepherding to help improve the moorland environment.

Running through to 2024, the agreements will bring great benefits to water quality, wildlife, recreation and business through these restoration measures.

How it works:

Restoration management such as gully blocking, heather brash spreading and re-introduction of a wonderful moss called ‘Sphagnum’ will provide the following benefits:

  • increased water retention on the SSSIs to sustain peat bogs and their special plant life and birds
  • good conditions for grazing animals and grouse
  • reduced peat erosion into reservoirs
  • improved paths for recreation and reduction in disturbance to wildlife habitats
  • slower run-off into rivers after downpours, reducing flood-risks
  • more carbon retention in peat, which helps mitigate climate change

Agreement holders can choose to organise the work themselves or collaborate with a specialist moorland conservation organisation such as the not-for-profit Moors for the Future Partnership.

Natural England’s Chairman Andrew Sells said “The end-result will be amazing - the peatlands will become active again providing long-lasting prosperity for the environment and businesses. There will be improvements for people and wildlife, cleaner water for surrounding cities, reduced flood risk, better public recreation and increased global carbon storage.

"What a fantastic way to work with rural businesses to undertake necessary regeneration and to harness benefits from the moorlands, whilst also enhancing the rural economy.”

The scheme is also supported by the Moorland Association, which represents many owners.

Peak District representative Simon Gurney welcomed the ambitious large-scale restoration plans, explaining the extensive experience and knowledge of land managers would be invaluable to the project’s long-term goals and success.

He added: “By working collaboratively, changes and improvements can take place while safeguarding the land use which is essential to the economy of our internationally recognised moors.”

More about the Private Lands Project

Many new agreement holders are joining Moors for the Future’s Private Lands Project to deliver restoration.

With over 11 years’ experience, the Moors for the Future Partnership has already made significant progress on restoration projects and can assist landowners with practical work, expertise, cash-flow and indemnification.

As more individuals join the project, a patchwork of special sites across neighbouring areas of private land come together to create large ‘landscape scale’ improvement for people and wildlife.

Matt Scott-Campbell, the Private Lands Project Manager said: “Moors for the Future is pleased to be working with five private land managers across the Dark Peak at Saddleworth, Crowden, Moscar, Peaknaze and Stalybridge”.

“We look forward to more opportunities to work with private businesses to help achieve conservation on their land and to contribute to the landscape scale effort funded by Environmental Stewardship.”