THE IMPORTANCE of the thousands of acres of heather moorland to the Ryedale economy was emphasised during a visit to the 7,000-acre Spaunton Manor Estate by MP for Ryedale, John Greenway.

He toured moorland around Hutton-le-Hole, Spaunton and Appleton-le-Moors with George Winn-Darley, head of the estate, and Tim Baynes, the Countryside Alliance's moorland policy and information officer.

Mr Baynes said Britain had 75pc of the world's remaining heather, most of it in the North York Moors National Park. "The support of politicians is crucial to ensure there is a coherent moorland policy to maintain a balance of wildlife, landscape value, recreation and the rural economy," he said.

George Thompson, head keeper on the estate, said integrated management was vital: heather burning to provide food for both sheep and grouse and nesting habitats for endangered birds; control of foxes, crows and stoats to protect other birds, and a balanced sheep grazing regime. One of the biggest headaches had been the spread of ticks, which are totally lethal to grouse and 20pc lethal to sheep.

Spaunton Manor, renowned for spectacular scenery, was grazed by 5,000 sheep said Mr Winn-Darley, whose family have owned the moor since 1780. Almost 2,000 acres had been cleared of bracken in ten years, with grant aid, principally from the European Union's Objective 5b scheme and the MAFF and National Park scheme before it. Follow-up work would be needed for probably five years, he said.

Grouse shooting had been the dominant land use for the last 200 years. with annual bags consistently producing 500 to 600 brace and that was virtually the only income derived from the moorland.

There were a number of competing interests on the moors: various grazing rights; common rights of turbary and stone picking; 20 scheduled ancient monuments; 20 miles of public footpath; eight of public bridleway, and eight of roads; five miles of permissive bridleway in a Countryside Stewardship Scheme; 5 miles of cycle track on the old Rosedale Railway line, and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Protection Areas, and other environmentally designated areas.

"The challenge is to manage these competing interests and find a compromise among them all," said Mr Winn-Darley.

Mr Greenway said almost 13pc of his constituency was heather moorland, almost all managed for grouse shooting which provided jobs and income and was worth £80,000 a year to the local economy. "People coming here also stay in hotels and spend money in our restaurants and shops. These moors are invaluable to the local tourist economy and help to provide and sustain many jobs," he said.