Making more of restored moorland

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CALDERDALE farmers Rachel and Stephen Hallos spoke up for the accelerating programme of taking moorland back to its natural condition when their farm, at Sowerby Bridge, was made a showcase for the results.

Yorkshire Water has 11,500 acres of Sites of Special Scientific Interest and claims that, over the past 10 years, it has brought 98 per cent of that land back into “favourable or recovering condition”.

Beeston Hall Farm, near Sowerby Bridge, takes in Yorkshire Water land on Soyland Moor, and Mr and Mrs Hallos have used Higher Level Stewardship, run by Natural England, to help the landlord hit Defra targets and give themselves a more reliable income from some very rough ground.

Yesterday, the farm was the venue for a press conference about what had been done to restore the peat and so cut discoloration of run-off water and improve wildlife variety, CO2 storage and floodwater retention.

The project has been under way since 2004, when biodiversity was the concern. Since then, flood prevention and carbon-storage concerns have made moorland restoration fashionable. And Yorkshire Water and Natural England want to push the message that it is compatible with farming.

The stewardship rules and targets encouraged Mr and Mrs Hallos to cut back their ewe flock and build up a herd of Saler cattle, which forage on the moorland in a different way from sheep, tearing up tussocky molinia grass and making room for a comeback by other species. The Salers also fitted with a switch from dairy to beef.

The farm plan includes improvement of the in-bye pastures so the sheep numbers can be built up again. Meanwhile, the stewardship money compensates for some loss of freedom in use of the moor.

Mrs Hallos said: “Working with Yorkshire Water and Natural England introduced us to new people and different ways of farming, enabling us to get the best out of the farm while protecting and enhancing the moorland and the wildlife. Thanks to the cattle, the heather is now on the increase and other seeds, dormant for probably 20 years or more, are coming through.”