For Peat's Sake
Vast swathes of Yorkshire's iconic moorland, damaged by over 200 years of air pollution, wildfires and overgrazing, has been restored to its former glory following a ground-breaking multi-million pound project carried out by Yorkshire Water.
The project, which began back in 2003, has seen the company transform the fortunes of almost 11,500 hectares of Sites of Special Scientific Interest which it owns, running from Nidderdale to the Pennines and down to the Peak District, near Sheffield.
Work to improve these areas has included using helicopter airlifts to transport in tonnes of geo-textile mats, grass seed and cut heather, usually harvested from nearby sources to put on and stabilise damaged areas of bare peat to try and heal the landscape's wounds.
This has been followed by the spreading of fertiliser and the planting of seed and plants of various traditional moorland species to encourage increased biodiversity, with other work consisting of tree planting, blocking moorland drains to help stop peat drying out, as well as fencing off sensitive areas to prevent stock from grazing.
One such example of the restoration work can be found near Holmfirth at Black Hill - a 1,909ft peak that sits on the Pennine Way route - which prior to the work being carried out very much lived up to its name as a churned-up sea of black with the northern Peak District hill and surrounding moorland's fragile peat layer exposed to the elements. However, following the introduction of geo-textile mats, grass seed and cut heather, Black Hill is now greening up again with a range of vegetation such as ling, bilberry and cotton grass growing on and around it, with users now suggesting it should even be renamed Green Hill in celebration of its new appearance.
The genesis of this quiet revolution was in 2003 when the Government decided it wanted to see all the UK's SSSIs in either a favourable or recovering condition by 2010. It was a challenge Yorkshire Water accepted with gusto, restoring Yorkshire's bleak moorland in the knowledge that the work was also contributing towards helping it to improve water quality in catchment areas.
Yorkshire Water's senior rural surveyor, Lisa Harrowsmith, said: "Two centuries of industrial pollution and intensive farming techniques had led to SSSIs falling into a pretty poor state, so we knew we had a big job ahead of us.
"Thanks to a lot of hard work, investment, and time - as well as the support of our farming tenants, other land users and the efforts of our partners Natural England and Pennine Prospects - we've got there in the end, restoring diverse habitats and enhancing a much loved part of Yorkshire's landscape to benefit all users."
And while the company is encouraging the public to get out and take advantage of the region's moorland, it's also asking for their help in protecting all the good work carried out so far.
"Thousands of visitors flock to enjoy Yorkshire's moorland every weekend, and we'd ask them to help us in preserving all the work that's been carried out, just by sticking to the footpaths wherever possible, keeping dogs on leads, making sure all litter is put in bins and properly extinguishing any cigarettes," adds Lisa.
For more information on walks and other activities available to visitors to Yorkshire's moors, visit www.yorkshirewater.com/recreation.