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Project aims to recreate upland heath.

LARGE tracts of heather moorland are to be recreated in a major landscape project in Northumberland.

The 14,000-acre Linhope Estate, which includes a substantial part of the Cheviot Hills and much of the Breamish Valley in Northumberland National Park, is to be the focus of efforts to recreate a large area of moorland wildlife habitat known as upland heath.

This habitat is of international importance for its mix of plant species and the wildlife, particularly birds, which it can support.

Plants include ling heather, bilberry, bell heather, cross-leaved heath, crowberry, cranberry, cotton grasses and various mosses.

Wildlife attracted to the habitat includes black grouse, red grouse, curlew, golden plover, raven, ring ouzel, merlin, hen harrier, emperor moth and fox moth.

Heather moorland is important for maintaining the peat soils of the uplands, which are an important carbon store.

Today, agri-environment schemes such as Higher Level Stewardship, funded by Natural England, support this type of conservation work.

Over the past few decades, the area of moorland habitats has decreased throughout the UK, including Northumberland National Park, mainly due to the intensification of agriculture, increased sheep numbers encouraged by agricultural subsidies, and the creation of conifer plantations.

Lord James Percy, who owns Linhope Estate and Northumberland National Park Authority staff have taken the opportunity to implement their shared aims to conserve and enhance the existing moorland habitats on the estate and attempt to recreate former heathland areas. The partnership has secured funding from Natural England.

To improve the condition of the existing moorland, the number of sheep and the length of time they graze the sensitive areas has been reduced. Over the next few years, on some areas of the estate where heath plants are no longer present and have been replaced by grassland with a lower wildlife value, restoration work will take place.

This is the first large-scale heath recreation project to take place in Northumberland.

Restoration work is beginning this month with grassland trial plot areas being prepared for seeding. This will involve spraying small areas of grass to enable heather seeds to germinate and heather seedlings to establish.

Later in the summer, on suitable areas where there is not competition from vigorous grass, heather seed mixed with water will be applied, and in some less accessible places, this will be done by helicopter.

Mary Gough, farming officer for Northumberland National Park Authority, said: "We hope to be able to apply what we learn from the project on the Linhope Estate to other areas in Northumberland National Park to make it an even better place for wildlife and people. " Lord James Percy said: "The goal is to restore areas of moorland lost to the intensification of agriculture in the 20th Century.

"Increasingly farmers and landowners will need to sustain the socio-economic fabric of remote areas through organising their business to manage the uplands in an environmental way, rather than trying to maintain incomes based on heavy stocking rates and reduced labour. "This project will deliver economic stability for at least 10 years, as well as conservation and landscape benefits for wildlife and visitors to the area."

This is the second large-scale restoration that Northumberland National Park Authority has promoted to ensure a distinctive, living-working landscape throughout its 405 square miles. The first was a restoration of the Border Mires - the largest peat bogs of their kind in Europe, in conjunction with the Forestry Commission.

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RETURNING Heather moorland in Northumberland by Simon Fraser
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 3, 2010
Words:575
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