THE use of drones is usually associated with foreign conflicts – but now unmanned aircraft are being employed to save stricken peat bogs.

The technology used in creating drones is now helping preserve the ancient threatened landscape in the Yorkshire Dales thanks to a joint venture between a wildlife charity and a science and technology body.

Unmanned aerial vehicles, known as UAVs, are being flown over peatland sites in and around Cray Moss in the dales, to collect data and help experts create a detailed picture of the extent and severity of peatland degradation.

Images sent back from the aircraft are turned into a 3D model of the landscape.

The project is being piloted by the Yorkshire Peat Partnership in an initiative with the Science and Technology Facilities Council and the National Trust.

Mark Brown, data and monitoring officer for the peat partnership, said: “This technology was really only used by the military before, but it’s got to the stage now where it’s become affordable. It wasn’t really available to organisations such as ours, which are charities.”

UAVs can take such detailed photographs of the landscape that over the next few years experts will be able to pinpoint to the centimetre how much sphagnum moss has been lost.

The moss survives on wet bogs, and once bogs dry out is usually replaced by heather. Such is the environmental importance of peatland, that the RSPB recently lodged a complaint to the European Commission over what it claims is Natural England’s failure to regulate internationally protected blanket bog on Walshaw Moor, in Lancashire.

Yorkshire Wildlife Trust says blanket bog is one of the rarest habitats in the world, with Britain and Ireland supporting most of the world’s supply.

Mr Brown said the bogs were formed more than 10,000 years ago and acted as a massive storage of carbon. Once the peat is eroded away the carbon is released into the atmosphere or water.

Bogs also act as a large catchment for rainfall, helping prevent flooding and supplying water which eventually is used as drinking water. They also support a diverse range of rare wildlife.

Mr Brown said: “Normally peatland would be covered with vegetation, but this is disappearing because of various pressures such as livestock grazing and fires. Then you get left with exposed peat which can be eroded away with rain. We’re dedicated to preserving and restoring this environment.”