Peak District: Moors for the Future

County: Counties in the Peak District
Contact details
Organisation: Moors for the Future Partnership
Website: Moorland restoration in the Peak District National Park on the Royal Geographical Society website
Project description

The Moors for the Future Partnership exists to tackle the serious degradation of upland blanket peat and moorland habitats in the Peak District, and to restore eroded public footpaths and trails. Well before the Partnership was formed, pioneering work on heather moorland restoration was carried out and the paper below describes one of those projects that took place in the early 1990s.

Heather matters: redressing the balance

Clive Weake, Ian Harper (Enact, 1993)

The West Pennine Moors, which cover ninety square miles of moorlands, valleys, farmland and reservoirs in south Lancashire, have seen a 50% loss in heather cover, mostly between 1963 and 1988. Clive Weake and Ian Harper describe the projects taking place to redress the balance.

The attraction of the landscape and all that it holds has made the moors a traditional recreational venue for many generations of local people from the surrounding towns of Bury and Bolton in the south and Accrington, Blackburn, Chorley and Preston to the north and west.

As this pressure has increased, management of the area has been co-ordinated through the West Pennine Moors Recreation and Conservation Plan. The work of the plan is taken forward by Lancashire County Council with support and funding from North West Water, Bury and Bolton Metropolitan Borough Councils and the Countryside Commission.
The management takes many forms including the provision of recreational facilities, access, information and interpretation, working with local communities, and also conserving wildlife and landscape. West Pennines has large open expanses of moorland, nearly all of which is used for rough grazing. Up to the late 1950s and early 1960s much of the moorland had a good cover of heather and bilberry, but since the disappearance of the gamekeepers who were employed by the previous Liverpool and Bolton Water Corporations, the moors have suffered from grazing and large uncontrolled fires. As a result, much of the moorland is now dominated by Molinia.

A recent survey commissioned by the West Pennine Moors Conservation Advisory Committee used three sets of aerial photographs dated 1946, 1963 and 1988 to chart the rate of decline of heather cover. Figures showing the amount lost and the rate of decline were most disturbing, revealing a 50% loss in heather cover mostly between 1963 and 1988.

The Countryside Rangers have now started the daunting task of redressing the balance. The first project converted 4 ha of rough grazing on Anglezarke Moor just north of Belmont Village and part of Manor House Farm.

The second project will take in 15 ha of rough grazing at Higher Pasture House Farm to the east of Belmont, using funding from the Countryside Stewardship Scheme.

The following procedure was used on the 4 ha project following advice from John Phillips of the Joseph Nickerson Reconciliation Trust, whose staff have pioneered this work in Scotland:

March 1991. The previous winter's build-up of dead grass was burnt off. At the same time strips were burnt into existing heather stands on the north west slopes of Anglezarke Moor, to prepare for heather seed collection.

August 1991. The area was left until the resulting fresh growth of grass was flowering. Roundup herbicide was then applied to kill off the grass.

September 1991. The grass had completely died back, six weeks after the application. The area was then burnt again to get rid of the dead material.

November 1991. The remaining tussocks and top two inches of peat/soil were rotavated.

December 1991. The area was fenced out from the rest of the moor to protect the plot from sheep grazing.
The seed trash collected from Anglezarke Moor using a vacuum technique was applied. These seeds germinated and appeared as seedlings in July 1992. These are now very healthy plants.

February 1992. Some of the area was covered with trash from heather bales donated by the North York Moors National Park. Germination has taken longer but there is now a high density of young seedlings.

May 1992. More seed trash was collected from the burnt strips and put down in July 1992. These have now germinated and the young seedlings are easily seen. The remaining areas of the plot were seeded in April and July 1993 and should germinate in 1994.

Heather seed

Seed has been collected from the Moores Estate adjacent to Wycoller Country Park using a vacuum technique, and seed collected from North West Water's Longdendale Estate in the Peak District, using a harvester made available by the Joseph Nickerson Reconciliation Trust.

The heather seed trash was applied at a rate of 10 grams/square metre, i.e. less than a handful. We have estimated that there are approximately 320 seeds/10 grams and it is expected that 65% will germinate.

Now that seeds have germinated successfully, future trash will be mixed with sawdust in order to spread it further. Up until now the seed has been broadcast by hand. On the larger scheme it is intended to use mechanical seedling with a standard tractor-mounted spreader.


Roundup was applied at a rate of 6 litres/ha. A high concentration is required to kill off the Molinia. This herbicide has been approved as safe to use in catchment areas by North West Water.


Disturbance of the peat by rotavating has resulted in a fresh growth of rushes and rose-bay willow-herb. The rushes have been spot treated with Roundup, while the willow-herb has been handpulled. The grasses are now beginning to grow back. This does not present a problem as the heather seedlings are now established and should be able to compete.


It is hoped that light summer grazing will be introduced in 1995 or 1996 to keep grasses down and encourage the heather to till out. The fence is unlikely to be removed as the plot will offer good grazing on the edge of a large unproductive moorland, so the sheep would over-concentrate on it.

Future work

The present plot is a very small proportion of Anglezarke Moor (0.3%). We would like to continue and extend the work but this is dependent on the farmer agreeing to give up more land. Constraints will be long fence lines and finding sufficient heather seed.

One option would be to restore large areas without fencing thus reducing the impact of grazing damage. The scheme is intended to start the ball rolling and encourage others to take on the initiative or at least become more involved.


Monitoring of progress on the first plot will start this November using quadrats and fixed point photography. We are discussing a system for monitoring both the extension of the work on to the wider area of moorland and the effect of changing sheep grazing regimes.

This will involve Lancashire County Council Planning Department. It is quite possible that changes in grazing will have positive effects and lead to overall improvement in heather cover.

The biggest difficulty with the project has been establishing a reliable source of heather seed, which is not commercially available at a realistic price:

It is not possible to keep collecting from Anglezarke Moor as there are few heather stands suitable for strip burning.
The heather bales from North Yorks. Moors National Park were of great value, but this is not a realistic source for the much bigger schemes we are now working on, for which a larger number of bales would have to be transported.
The seed from the Moores Estate, Wycoller, was collected by contractor using a vacuum technique. We will continue to pursue this as a supply, but there are constraints of time and weather. The seed from Longdendale is a good source and we are currently looking into the possibilities of ensuring a regular supply of large quantities of seed.

Where we go from here on the large scale is a complex issue involving the tenant farmer, the landowner North West Water and possible shooting interests. To carry out large scale works would require a major cash input which means that the farmer and landowner would be looking for a return.

Page last modified on Thursday 25 of April, 2013 11:08:55 BST