Restoring the rugged landscaped behind Wuthering Heights

Wild and dramatic, the moorland landscapes around Top Withens set a vivid backdrop as the inspiration behind one of the world's greatest literary classics.

Top Withens high on the Pennine Moors above Haworth, the ruins have long been associated with the Bronte's as the home of the Earnshaw's in Emily Bronte's novel 'Wuthering Heights', even though the buildings bore no resemblance to the house she descibed the situation may have been in her mind when she wrote of the moorland setting of the heights.

But the remote South Pennines of Wuthering Heights, rugged and unruly, have faced a bleak chapter in history with the advance of the industrial revolution.

Conservation work has been underway since 2003 to preserve this treasured moorland and reverse its decline, bringing the blanket bog landscapes back to life.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

And with Monday marking the bicentenary of the birth of author Emily Brontë, this, say conservationists, is a more important part of literary history than ever before.

Tom Hardy as Heathcliff and Charlotte Riley. ITV/PA Wire

“The moors around Haworth are a source of huge admiration for literary fans across the globe,” said Carol Prenton, surveyor at Yorkshire Water which owns the land.

“It is barren, it is peaceful. These landscapes are quite remote, but that’s what people love about them.

“They visit in their thousands every year to see the places that inspired Emily Brontë’s novel.

“But oer the years they have degraded through air pollution, with a lot of the peat bogs disappearing.

“This is all about conserving them, and making them resilient for the future.”

It has long been acknowledged that Emily Brontë took inspiration from the moors around Haworth for her tale of doomed lovers Heathcliff and Catherine.

These landscapes, said John Thirlwell, chairman of the Brontë Society Board, were the “playgrounds” of the young literary sisters, and the inspiration for their imaginations.

“Emily was the fifth of the six Brontë children,” he said. “After the loss of her mother in 1821 and her two oldest sisters in 1825, Emily, Anne, Charlotte and Branwell, with only five years separating them, became a close and exclusive band.

“They neither went to school, nor made friends, in the village. Their playgrounds were the open moors at the back of the house, and their own imaginations.”

But in the years after Wuthering Heights was penned, these moors faced pollution from nearby quarries and factories, with much of the delicate bog plant life killed.

The Moors for the Future Partnership has been working since 2003 to revive it, carrying out specialist conservation and scientific research with the support of Yorkshire Water.

Miles of dry-stone walls have been built, alongside fences to enable the best grazing management for wading birds. Lime has been spread, along with seed, fertiliser and heather brash, to re-vegetate bare peat and block up eroded channels.

“We, as custodians of this landscape, are trying to put it back,” said Ms Prenton.

“Not to where it was in time, but to a working peatland bog, so that it doesn’t keep wasting away.”