LAND from Winter Hill to the South Pennines looks set to be given a new lease of life as part of an environmental stewardship scheme over the next nine years.

Ecologists from Natural England believe that the wide-ranging restoration initiative, also covering the West Pennines, which will see upland heaths and peat bogs restored, could bring benefits in kind totalling more than £15million.

Large tracts of turf will benefit from the introduction of a moss called 'sphagnum', which will increase water retention, to sustain peat bogs, providing good grazing conditions for cattle and grouse.

Gullies across the moors will also be unblocked and heather brash spread across the wild terrain.

Improvements will also be made to paths for recreation and measures to guard against peat erosion into reservoirs and other watercourses.

Andrew Sells, Natural England chairman, said: "The end result will be amazing - the peatlands will become active again providing long-lasting prosperity for the environment and businesses.

"There will be improvements for people and wildlife, cleaner water for surrounding areas, reduced flood risk, better public recreation and increased global carbon storage.

"What a fantastic way to work with rural businesses to undertake necessary regeneration and to harness benefits from the moorlands, whilst also enhancing the rural economy."

The South Pennines, which is home to a number of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), was the focus of an extensive scheme, the Watershed Landscape Initiative, backed by the National Lottery, which led to a number of benefits for hay meadows around Hurstwood and Worsthorne, forest cycle paths and a new tourist facility focusing on Todmorden Moor.

Mark Scott-Campbell, of the Moors for the Future group, which runs the Private Lands Project Manager, added: "We look forward to more opportunities to work with private businesses to help achieve conservation on their land and to contribute to the landscape scale effort funded by environmental stewardship."

Less heather burning will be encouraged and a return to traditional shepherding techniques will also be encouraged. Repeated attempts have also been made to designate parts of the West Pennines as a SSSI.