At Coverhead we use a range of traditional land management practices and innovative new techniques to not just conserve, but actively improve the environment. Our aim is to turn the clock back a hundred years in terms of reviving the flora and fauna and this necessitates a rounded consideration of the whole ecosystem in which we operate. We like to term this philosophy posi-vation. Here are just some of our ongoing projects:
The River Cover originates on the Estate and has been histrionically mechanically straightened from the 1800s up until as late as the 1950s. Rivers, even in these upland areas, should wind across the river basin and spill out on to a flood plain during peak flows helping to reduce flooding pressures down stream whilst creating rich feeding grounds for wildlife. We have instigated a project lead by the The Yorkshire River Trust and Leeds University, with the aim to re-wind the river back to its pre-industrial course. The project to now well underway and starting to show benefits for fish and aquatic insects. By installing 'leaky dams' at strategic points and slowing the water in channel during periods of spate we expect to significantly slow flood water entering the larger catchment down stream. During periods of low water the pools formed by spate action behind these dames will provide refuge areas for fish and the slower water to the side of the main channel during normal flow conditions will further increase the existing high level of biodiversity of aquatic insect species.
We maintain 56 km of stone walls using traditional techniques both above and below the moorland line. Stone walls are an important archaeological, landscape and habitat feature. We have completely rebuilt some 5km of walls in the last 10 years.
Since 1997 Coverhead has undertaken a program of drainage reversal by blocking up 'Grips' on our moorland. We were among the first upland estates in the UK to embrace what is now accepted practice. Moorland drainage (deep regular ditches known as Grips) were originally installed post war in an effort to improve grazing to boost sheep production and was encouraged by government grants as late as the 1980s. Re-wetting moorland is good for wildlife, water retention, water quality and carbon sequestration (via the regrowth of carbon capturing Sphagnum Moss). With the help of the Yorkshire Peat Project we have now blocked up over 150km of moorland drains.
Re-wetting the moor is only half the story. Carbon can only be captured and stored as peat if Sphagnum Moss flourishes. We have encouraged the natural recolonization of Sphagnum through careful management, translocation of plants and a program of restorative burning to remove overmature grass and heather swards. Sphagnum Moss from Coverhead is now being regularly harvested to inoculate other moorland sites.
In 2010 we instigated a project, lead by the Game and Wildlife Conservation Trust and licensed by Natural England, to trans-locate and release male Black Grouse from their strongholds further north in an effort to prevent a looming local extinction. To give the project the best chance of success we abandoned a renowned high pheasant shoot so that the trans-located males (Black Cocks) could settle undisturbed to form displaying Lecks and attract passing females (Grey Hen). The project is ongoing and has been successful in establishing multiple Lecks in both Coverdale and neighbouring dales. We have recorded Black grouse breeding success at Coverehead in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and are pleased to confirm a success 2019 with a brood of seven almost fully grown chicks seen on the 29th of July. We are awaiting the results of a further three detected Grey Hen nesting attempts. This represents a major boost for Black Grouse in our area and will help with general population recruitment in the dales after two bad breeding years in 2017 and 2018.