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Yorkshire moorland owners could help reduce flooding

Calderdale councillor Steve Sweeney
Image caption Calderdale councillor Steve Sweeney said moorland owners are not entitled to manage estates "in a way that threatens the lives, livelihoods and properties of people further down the valleys."

Pressure should be put on Yorkshire moorland owners to reduce flooding downstream, a councillor has said.

The Yorkshire moors are cut to provide food for red grouse, boosting numbers for shooting.

But experts have said the land should act as a sponge, with vegetation soaking up rainfall and slowing water before it reaches urban areas.

Calderdale councillor Steve Sweeney said moorland owners should consider people further down the valleys.

The Calder Valley was particularly badly flooded in December, as was York below the North York Moors.

Image caption Rainwater runs off hills into rivers and streams which take it further down the valley to urban areas
Image caption Large parts of West and North Yorkshire were badly flooded in December when rivers burst their banks

Mr Sweeney, who is also on Yorkshire Regional and Coastal Flood Committee, said: "Landowners are entitled to manage their estates in a way that is to their benefit.

"But they are not entitled to manage that estate in a way that threatens lives, livelihoods and properties of people further down the valleys."

Dr Mark Avery, an environmental campaigner, said the removal of vegetation means water runs off hills and into built-up areas more quickly.

"About 70% of UK rainfall falls on our hills, and the way we manage hillsides will affect how quickly that water gets down to the lowlands, where most of us live," he said.

"Forestry plantations, sheep farming and grouse shooting all have a part to play in reducing flood risk."

'Step-change' in attitudes

Moorland on the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales has been burned to encourage new growth for around 150 years, because tender heather shoots are ideal food for red grouse.

However, the Moorland Association, whose members manage one million acres of uplands in England and Wales, says there has been a "step-change" in attitudes to peat management since 2014.

A spokesman said: "It is not the aim of grouse moor managers to 'dry the peat to increase the grouse population' or to 'burn the peat'. Peat is the basic building block supporting the habitat for red grouse."

The association said grouse moor managers appreciated that "wetter is better".

"They are working hard across vast tracts of land in northern England, rewetting peat by blocking up thousands of kilometres of historic, ill-advised, agricultural drains, slowing and cleaning water, re-vegetating hundreds of hectares of bare peat and reintroducing the king of bog plants, sphagnum moss.

"The Moorland Association is fully engaged with doing all that can be done to help flood alleviation, but even with every inch restored to active blanket bog... the help this will add to the needed suite of flood mitigation in the North of England is limited.

"However, we will continue to work closely with the country's leading agencies and organisations as flood prevention action plans are explored and instigated."

Image caption Yorkshire flood envoy Robert Goodwill said it was "simplistic" to say that to stop managing moors for grouse shooting would reduce flooding

Landowners said shooting also delivered around £20m to Yorkshire's economy annually, with grouse numbers increasing in recent years.

Yorkshire flood envoy Robert Goodwill, Conservative MP for Scarborough and Whitby, said: "Grouse shooting brings money into these communities and means people are out there managing moorlands," he said.

"It's simplistic to say to stop managing the moors for grouse [will reduce flooding]."

Image caption Vegetation removal for grouse shooting means water runs off hills and into built-up areas more quickly
Image caption The Yorkshire Dales and North York Moors are above large conurbations in North and West Yorkshire

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