A significant project to conserve wildlife, improve drinking water and reduce flooding downstream is being carried out by Yorkshire Water on nationally important moorland overlooking Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire.

Yorkshire Water has commissioned more than five kilometres of fencing and dry stone walling for its Heptonstall and Widdop moors to help control grazing animals – mainly sheep.

Helicopters have spread lime and fertiliser across 75 hectares of the fenced-off moorland where 12,000 plug plants will be planted this spring to re-vegetate the bare, peaty soil.

400 bags of heather brash have been spread over bare peat to prevent further erosion while young plants establish. The work will improve wildlife habitats and help soak up heavy downpours, reducing flood-risk lower down the valley.

The project is being managed by the Moors for the Future Partnership for Yorkshire Water which is funding the majority of the work. We are working closely with Natural England, six commoners who have the right to graze livestock on the land, Calderdale Council, rural regeneration company Pennine Prospects, a local grouse shoot and contractors.

The wildlife habitats on this land have the highest protection level in the UK, but historic smoke pollution from former mills, over-grazing and wildfires have degraded the soil, leading to large stretches of bare moorland where little could grow.

The new fencing and walling will protect freshly vegetated areas from animal grazing, enabling the heather, cotton grasses, bilberry and sphagnum mosses to return and flourish.

This will create a more diverse and abundant site for wildlife, better catchment and natural cleansing of our drinking water and reduced flooding downstream as rainwater sinks in rather than running over once-bare peat.

New vegetation will hold together the peat and reduce erosion, enabling it to retain carbon in the soil and lessen the impact of climate change.

The scheme is part-subsidised by Natural England agri-environment payments to land managers, with the aim of improving the moors to ‘favourable’ condition – Natural England’s target for Sites of Special Scientific Interest such as this.