Heather dropped by helicopter to undo years of hilltop damage

Emma Dunlop FOR hundreds of years the picturesque Peak District has been harbouring an ugly secret – scarred and ravaged hilltops, ruined by acid rain.

Three hundred years ago the tops of its highest hills sported beautiful and luscious heather.

Not only did it look pretty, it also helped regenerate and protect what is widely regarded as one of the world's most breathtaking vistas.

But ever since the Industrial Revolution took a stranglehold on the local communities, the hilltops have suffered badly.

Once small sleepy towns like Glossop were suddenly transformed into dirty, grimy places with numerous heavy-duty mills. Manufacturing activities in both the Manchester and Sheffield areas also took their toll as fumes from industrial chimneys created acid rain.

Now hilltops like the summit of Black Hill are scarred and barren, void of any natural habitat.

Yesterday the Lottery-funded Moors for the Future project, which aims to restore large parts of the Peak District moors, took to the sky to help reverse the damage.

Helicopter teams sprang into action to lift and spread 163 tonnes of heather brash, cut from areas of moorland on the Peak District National Park Authority's Eastern Edges estate, over the barren summits.

By working to reverse erosion and regenerate vegetation, it is hoped there will be long-term improvements in the peat and water courses of the area, which is home to rare plants and wildlife.

Blanket bog like that on Black Hill is one of the world's rarest habitats and helps combat climate change.

It is the largest restoration project ever undertaken by the Moors for the Future partnership, which includes both the Peak Park Authority and the National Trust.

Ramblers can expect to see benefits as this notorious peat bog, famous as one of the toughest stages on the Pennine Way National Trail, is restored to moorland vegetation.

Moors for the Future conservation works manager Matt Buckler said. "We are delighted to be able to work on such a high-profile site with such a long history of damage. It is our aim that the walkers on the Pennine Way in 2050 look back on their passage through the Derbyshire moorlands with wonder rather than the current horror."

Work to revegetate the moor will begin initially on about 46 hectares around the trig point, at present a morass of wet, soggy peat. The area is especially vulnerable to the smallest changes in pollution, use and damage.

The first stage will be the spreading of the heather brash. The cut heather, spread to a depth of only a centimetre or so, acts as a protective blanket to the peat, helping to prevent further erosion and as a source of seed.

The revegetation work is completing a process begun in 2000 to repair trampling damage, reduce sheep grazing and reverse the effects of acid rain and fire.

emma.dunlop@ypn.co.uk