A restoration game

Robert and Helen Brown have restored degraded peatland that resulted in more effective carbon capture and an enriched habitat attracting wildlife and threatened bird species
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Robert and Helen Brown purchased Howesyke Farm in Bishopdale in 2009 and subsequently acquired additional land. With a combination of freehold and rented shooting rights, Howesyke covers 5,000 acres in the Yorkshire Dales.

Historically, the freehold land was used as a stock farm, which led to the degradation of large swathes of peatland. Both Robert and Helen are as keen on shooting as they are about conservation and set about restoring the peatland to its former state along with gamekeeper Stuart Dent.

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Peatland is a real powerhouse when it comes to carbon storage. In the UK, where peatland covers just over 12% of the landmass, it is estimated there are over 3bn tonnes of carbon stored. However, damaged peatlands through human activity are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, releasing around 6% of all global CO2 emissions.

In the UK, the net benefits, in terms of climate change emissions alone, of restoring 55% of peatlands to near natural conditions are estimated to have a value of approximately £45bn to £51bn over the next 100 years. Robert and Helen believe shooting and conservation can go hand in hand, and for just over a decade, they have embarked on numerous projects to regenerate the environment while developing it to host 18 shoots a year.

While the restoration is critically important, it is not solely about restoring denuded peatland to enhance carbon capture and storage. The active management of this moorland also benefits the area’s biodiversity, which in turn, helps sustain the local economy.

Peatland restoration

Work to restore peat on nearly 1,000 acres was undertaken in conjunction with Yorkshire Peat Partnership and Yorkshire Wildlife Trust. The barren peat was exposed to the elements and polluted the Bishopdale Beck waters – one of the most important salmon spawning tributaries of the River Ure.

Restoration work involved a careful management plan. Old and rank heather was burnt and cut, and steep hag-exposed areas of peat were reseeded and reprofiled. This led to other native grasses and plants such as bilberry, crowberry and blaeberry becoming established – benefiting not only grouse but also wader species.

The mix of vegetation on the moorland now increases water retention and prevents the peat from washing away, making it more effective at capturing carbon. This work to enrich the habitat, including vermin control, has led to a year-on-year increase in bird numbers, particularly red list species.

Tree planting

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Working with the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, Robert and Helen have also planted trees along the Bishopdale Beck to reduce erosion and improve the gravel beds. The Howesyke team also created wetland areas by fencing in some areas to protect it from livestock and rabbits and to benefit wader birds.

Additionally, more than 100,000 native hardwood trees have been planted thanks to funding from the Forestry Commission, Natural England Higher Level Stewardship (HLS) scheme and the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust. The Trust estimates that the woodland at Longridge will generate 27,000 saved carbon units (tonnes) over the next century.

Trees were strategically planted along river edges, banks and gills to naturally alleviate flooding further downstream. Robert and Helen have also installed a 60-kilowatt hydro generator in the upper reaches of the dale, which generates electricity for them and the National Grid. They are also teaching children about how shooting and conservation can help regenerate the environment.

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