An ancient landscape has been designated a nature reserve by the Government's conservation body.

English Nature has backed Kirklees Council and Yorkshire Electricity's bid to make Tong Moor at Birkenshaw a designated local nature reserve.

The two organisations have formed a partnership aimed at improving the area's environment. Tong Moor is regarded as the most important of the four North Kirklees sites now designated as nature reserves.

A Council survey found the moor had a rich plant life dominated by different species of grasses and heather but it also featured a series of springs and ponds with their own vegetation.

Eric Brown, the Council's Heavy Woollen Countryside Officer, said: "Tong Moor is probably the most significant conservation site in that area but before we could apply to English Nature we had to have the whole area surveyed.

"The survey revealed that the moor had plants and vegetation similar to moorland in the Peak District even though it's right in the middle of an urban and very built-up area. We don't even know what else might be living in amongst the undergrowth but the species of plant we have found are rare for that area.

"From a nature conservation point of view this is very important and could pave the way for the moor becoming a site of scientific interest."

Mr Brown said the idea of local nature reserves was to encourage people to use and learn about the natural environment around them.

He said: "It's not a case of granting the local nature reserve status and then fencing it off from all human contact. It could be with the work we do with local people we find even rarer animals or plants thriving in the moor."

Regan Cooper, Yorkshire Electricity's community affairs manager, said its new status would give the site more protection from building development and extra chances to win environmental grants.

He said: "Communities also have an opportunity to have their say on how the sites are managed and to get involved in preserving wildlife habitats."

The three others sites are the Lower Spen Nature Reserve in Ravensthorpe, Sparrow Woods in Dewsbury, and the Sunny Bank Ponds in Mirfield.

l For more information about Tong Moor or helping with its development call Eric Brown on 01924 325105.

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