Yorkshire Water is working with the National Trust and Natural England to stabilise and increase water levels in the peatlands above Wessenden, Blakeley and Butterley reservoirs near Marsden so that sediment is not washed into nearby drinking water reservoirs.
The project is part of a £9m county-wide investment in peatland areas to restore them to their former glory.
Peat washed down into the reservoirs causes the water to be discoloured, meaning that Yorkshire Water has to invest in treating the water to ensure it reaches 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 National Trust 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 benefiting 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 peatlands which serve as some of the largest natural carbon reservoirs in the UK.”
The restoration of 976 hectares of land on Wessenden Moor will include grip-blocking – the blocking up of artificial drainage channels – and around 50kms of gulley blocking and reprofiling as well as encouraging 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.
Because of its remote location, helicopters will be used to transport heather cut from nearby moors – including National Trust property Brimham Rocks – on to the top of the peatlands where it will be spread by hand.
The project at the Site of Special Scientific Interest has a number of additional benefits, including protecting the embedded carbon that peatlands are known to contain and improving the habitat for a range of bird species.
Now considered rarer than rainforest, concern is growing around the condition of peatlands in the UK, with climate change experts forecasting conditions becoming warmer and dryer over the next 50 years – the worst possible conditions for peatlands to thrive.