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Leap forward for wildlife on Peak District estate

This is an archived press release

Tuesday 7 March 2006

7 March 2006

Leap forward for wildlife on Peak District estate

Wildlife habitats on the Peak District’s Eastern Moors estate have improved by almost 100 per cent in just over two years.

This remarkable turnround on the 2,505-hectare estate – the Peak District National Park Authority’s largest land-holding – has been achieved thanks to a major restoration project in partnership with farmers, English Nature and Defra.

The Eastern Moors, on the borders of Sheffield, are an internationally-recognised wildlife area, a designated Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), Special Area of Conservation and a Special Protection Area.

Yet just over two years ago English Nature found that only 42.5 per cent of the SSSI was in favourable or recovering condition (largely due to heavy grazing, drainage, extensive burning and agricultural reclamation inherited when the Authority purchased it in 1984). Now, thanks to rigorous conservation work, that figure has risen to 83.6 per cent.

The restoration measures include:

  • A reduction in sheep-grazing on Big Moor by agreement with farmers, allowing heather to regenerate naturally.
  • An experimental heather moorland regeneration project on a fenced-off section close to Owler Bar.
  • Introduction of Exmoor ponies and cattle, which keep grass down but (unlike sheep) do not eat the heather.
  • Management of heather by cutting and mowing instead of burning (huge white bags are used to harvest the heather – which is passed on to the Moors for the Future project for restoration of Black Hill).
  • Removal of birch scrub – restoring habitats and opening up views.
  • Blocking drains and ditches to retain moisture in bog eco-systems on Totley Moss and Leash Fen– attracting birds, water-voles, dragonflies.
  • Creating shallow muddy pools to encourage upland birds such as curlew and snipe.

The free-living Exmoor ponies were introduced by arrangement with locally-based Ecopona, a non-profit company which provides and manages the hardy, rare breed to help farmers and landowners with conservation grazing.

National Park ecologist David Smith explained: “Before putting heather-seed down in the experimental regeneration area we mowed the moorland to inhibit the purple moor grass. Re-growth of the grass will be controlled for the next five years by the Exmoor ponies and cattle, while the heather recovers.”

David has been working with Eastern Moors estate manager Matthew Croney and estate wardens on the project. Much hard work is going on across the National Park by conservationists and partners to achieve the Government’s national target of 95% of SSSIs in favourable or recovering condition by 2010.

“We have just short of 400 hectares to turn around on the estate,” said David, “and this will hopefully be achieved by resolving some of the remaining grazing issues. The long-term aim is not only to achieve the target of having all the SSSI in favourable or recovering condition, but to go beyond this and continue to look at ways to improve the moors for wildlife.”

This is an archived press release

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