The Moorland Association, which represents grouse moor owners responsible for more than 1m acres of land, has brokered deals with Natural England to reduce the burning of heather, which increases bird populations but which climate experts say is a threat to protected peat bogs.
The announcement, two days before the start of the grouse shooting season on the “Glorious Twelfth” of August, signals a move away from rotational burning towards a “traffic light” approach to management intervention when it is needed.
The Wemmergill Estate near Barnard Castle is the first to sign a 25-year agreement with Natural England, with upland catchments in Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and Wensleydale set to follow.
Yorkshire has nearly 70,000 hectares of upland peat soil, which is a valuable habitat for plant and animal species and is rich in carbon. Around 70 per cent of the UK’s drinking water comes from the uplands.
Three years ago, a report by Leeds University warned that managed heather burning had “a profound impact on the life support systems of the peatlands”, harmed aquatic life and released large quantities of stored carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The Moorland Association said the Yorkshire deals, which were still being negotiated, had been prioritised because of the amount of deep peat in the area.
A spokesman for the organisation said: “Natural England, as the custodian of the English countryside, is keen to get all the people who are interested in the uplands working together.
“Wemmergill is the first example of grouse moor owners, conservation bodies and environmental bodies coming together and realising that they have a lot more in common than they have that divides them.”
The association’s director, Amanda Anderson, added: “The plans map out extensive and innovative work to provide tangible environmental and conservation benefits alongside viable grouse shooting operations.”
The environment minister, Thérèse Coffey, who visited Wemmergill, said “The UK’s unique upland ecology must be safeguarded for future generations to enjoy.
“This approach is helping to achieve this by highlighting the benefits that can be reaped from a variety of grouse moor management practices.”
Meanwhile, campaigners will stage a peaceful protest on Ilkley Moor on Saturday, as the shooting season gets under way on the only publicly-owned moorland in Britain where the sport is permitted. The season will be the last under the current licence granted by Bradford Council.