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Landscapes for Water: Restoring the South Pennines

A young tree growing at Gorpley Reservoir, near Todmorden
A young tree growing at Gorpley Reservoir, near Todmorden | © National Trust/Victoria Holland

Learn about how we're restoring the uplands of West Yorkshire by planting trees, restoring the peat and working with nature to reduce flood risk, as the National Trust partners with Yorkshire Water, the Woodland Trust, White Rose Forest and others. This landscape-scale programme is dedicated to healing climate harm, improving habitats for our wildlife, reducing flood risk and cleaning up our reservoirs.

Working together for the South Pennines

Looking after the breathtaking uplands of West Yorkshire is crucial to support the region’s nature, wildlife and people. Water is a key part of this landscape; peat bogs, rivers, streams and reservoirs have shaped the ecology, history and culture of the area and continue to have a direct influence. Many of our uplands and watercourses have been damaged and degraded through centuries of industrialisation and the impacts of human activities.

We're using our combined expertise alongside partners including Yorkshire Water, the Woodland Trust, White Rose Forest, Moors for the Future and the Environment Agency to heal climate harm, reduce flood risk and clean up our reservoirs. Landscapes for Water is a joint programme of work to improve upland habitats across the Upper Calder, Colne and Holme catchments, stretching from Marsden Moor in the south to Heptonstall Moor in the north. The first areas we'll be focusing on are Baitings Reservoir near Rippponden and March Haigh Reservoir near Marsden.

A view of Marsden Moor Estate, West Yorkshire
A view of Marsden Moor Estate, West Yorkshire | © National Trust Images/John Millar

The woodlands of the future

Woodland creation is a central part of this programme; both the National Trust and Yorkshire Water have ambitious plans to plant more trees to benefit nature and capture carbon. Establishing new woodland requires careful planning and mapping to ensure that we plant the right trees in the right place. We are using advice from the Forestry Commission, Natural England, archaeologists, RSPB, upland specialists and the Woodland Trust.

Tree planting will focus on small valleys, called cloughs, where trees would naturally grow, but haven't due to past moorland management. In total, we'll plant 350 hectares of native trees including rowan, oak and birch which naturally thrive in harsh climates.

Many South Pennine uplands have been degraded by industrial pollution and fires, with the consequences being dry and exposed peat, soil erosion and water run-off. Reducing flood risk is a major aim of the Landscapes for Water programme. We'll use natural flood management interventions such as gully blocking, leaky dams and pond creation. In total, we'll install 3,500 leaky dams to help slow the flow of water on the moors.

A peat bund which is a pool that holds water on peatland as a form of natural flood management, installed near Gorpley Reservoir.
A peat bund near Gorpley Reservoir | © National Trust/Rosie Holdsworth

Slowing the flow

Slowing the flow will keep water where it's needed, on the moorland, to allow peat - which is made of organic matter that hasn't fully decomposed - to develop and act as a carbon store. A boggy moorland can also reduce wildfire risk. Our work will have the additional benefit of improving water quality in nearby reservoirs, and restoring habitats for existing and new species of plants, animals and insects.

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A common cause

Established in 2019, the National Trust Yorkshire Water Common Cause partnership aims to make Yorkshire’s water catchments more resilient and more beautiful as well as delivering benefits for nature, climate and for people. Together, Yorkshire Water and the National Trust are the largest landowners in Yorkshire. We have a responsibility to the people and wildlife that live in our catchments. Our work focuses on habitat restoration, but also natural flood management and improving recreation sites for visitors.


Landscapes For Water

Find out more about the Landscapes For Water project to restore the uplands of the South Pennines.

View looking north from Wessenden Head towards Wessenden Reservoir on Marsden Moor Estate, West Yorkshire.

Conservation on Marsden Moor 

Learn how National Trust rangers and volunteers are working to care for Marsden Moor by restoring peat, removing invasive species and minimising the risk of floods and fires.