PLEAS for the regeneration of the famous heather tracts on the North York moors have been made by leading conservation groups.

The chairman of the moors association, Mr Geoff Belbin, said: "While we concern ourselves with telecommunication masts, the landscape is slipping away - 50pc of the heather moorland has gone in the last 50 years."

He warned that unless the landscape was well managed, the moors would be abandoned by sheep and grouse and the natural forests which once covered them would take over.

"Choices are inevitable. We can abandon the landscape to the forces of nature, or worse, to the forces of declining economics. Alternatively we could decide to maintain a managed landscape. If the landscape is managed, it must be against a long term vision."

Writing in the association's latest newsletter, Voice of the Moors, he urged the national park authority to draw up a vision. "Show us where the great natural forests and sweeping heather will be, where the hedgerows will be replanted and flourish with wildlife, and where rivers freed from the damage of acid rain and run-off will live again."

He suggested farm subsidies for food could be replaced with subsidies for landscape and habitat. While the authority's farm scheme was applauded, he said it was like "applying sticking plaster to a terminal haemorrhage."

He added: "Diversification is an option, but to what end - to enable an exit from farming, to bring local employment outside of farming?"

He said the park landscape was defined by the economics of farming, grouse management and forestry. "Economic decline is scything through upland farming".

Meanwhile the North Yorkshire Farming and Wildlife Group is exploring ways of re-establishing heather moorland.

Mr Phil Lyth, its conservation adviser, said: "There is a great need to learn from the heather re-seeding work which is being carried out around Britain and to develop best practice systems which will increase the degree of success".

Eight landowners in the county were already carrying out heather re-seeding work in areas ranging from one to 600 hectares.

Re-establishing heather had been successful on land in Northumberland and Durham which had been subject to open cast coal extraction said Mr Lyth.

New watch could restore faith

CLEVELAND police and religious leaders are trying to stamp out crime in places of worship with faith watch.

The multi-denominational support system has been masterminded by PC Mick Quinnell, Middlesbrough crime reduction unit officer. He said: "Places of worship are being targeted more and more. There have been increased attacks of vandalism, burglaries, thefts and arsons. The fire at Middlesbrough Cathedral was prime example.

"A lot of clergy in different areas do feel intimidated and this is a way of building up confidence again."

Faith watch will cover dozens of religious centres throughout the area. It will be launched today.

The Archbishop of York, Dr David Hope; the Bishop of Whitby, the Rt Rev Robert Ladds, senior police officers and Home Office officials will attend