A pioneering million pound project to restore endangered peatlands on the moors above Nidderdale is due to start this week.
Water company Yorkshire Water are funding the £1.2m scheme to “re-wet” the peatlands – said to be rarer than rainforest – above Scar House and Angram reservoirs near Lofthouse, in a bid to improve drinking water quality in the area.
The scheme will see helicopters flying heather from nearby moors onto the peatlands, and artificial drains called grips will be filled in to stop peat washing down into reservoirs.
Peat washed down into the reservoirs causes the water to be discoloured, meaning that Yorkshire Water has to spend more treating the water to reach national standards set by the independent regulator.
Andrew Walker, Yorkshire Water’s Catchment Manager said: “Centuries of change have led to Yorkshire’s peatland habitats being degraded and this is now causing us an issue with the colour of drinking water in these areas.
“It’s far better for us to invest in restoring the peatlands – with all the extra habitat and carbon benefits that brings – rather than keep paying more and more money to treat the water.
“It’s about treating the causes not the symptoms, and providing a better environment to boot and we’re grateful that we’ve found a forward-thinking land owner in the Middlesmoor Estate which wants to work with us to restore these rare peatland habitats.
“We recognise that we have the opportunity to make a huge difference to some of Yorkshire’s most iconic landscapes by restoring them back to health, boosting local biodiversity and benefitting the thousands of visitors and user groups who currently derive enjoyment or income from them.
“Our work will also have wider environmental benefits too, as we’ll be protecting and enhancing peatland which serve as some of the largest natural carbon reservoirs in the UK.”
The restoration of over 1,000 hectares of land above Angram Reservoir will include extra vegetation to grow by cutting heather from nearby moors, mixing it with lime and fertiliser to create mini ecosystems in which peat-forming vegetation will thrive.
Helicopters will be used to transport heather cut from nearby moors on to the top of the peatlands where it will be spread by hand.
The project will also protect the embedded carbon that peatlands contain. Research shows that for every £1 spent restoring peatlands £3 of public money is saved, and for every £1 not spent on restoring peatlands the tax payer has to foot a £5 bill.
Concern is growing around the condition of peatlands in the UK, with climate change experts forecasting it to become increasingly warm and dry over the next fifty years - the worst possible conditions for peatlands to thrive.
Dried up areas of peat across the UK are now reckoned to release the equivalent of 10 million tonnes of carbon dioxide every year - that’s roughly the same as the emissions from a million households.
Yorkshire Water’s restoration work will help to restore the water level of a number of peatlands. Keeping the moors wetter for longer should reduce colour loss and keep the peat on the moors and not in local rivers and reservoirs.
The work is being managed in partnership with the Yorkshire Peat Partnership, which is affiliated to the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, and the restoration work itself is being delivered by Conservefor, a peatland restoration specialist company, based near Settle in North Yorkshire.