Shooting Times has been sent images showing severe damage on a moor in the Peak District which is run jointly by the RSPB and the National Trust (NT).

Big Moor, which is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), is managed on behalf of the Peak District National Park by the Eastern Moors Partnership. This is a joint venture between the RSPB and National Trust.

The damage, shown in the photographs taken last December, was caused by heavy machinery used by a contractor working on the site. A local source told Shooting Times that: “The contractor’s instruction was to collect 7,000 bags of brashings. He was shown the route and he used a tracked dumper. That they accepted the muddy mess across what seems to be well over a mile, maybe two, has caused questions to be asked. They [the RSPB/NT] have tried to blame the contractor. Any landowner would have stopped the operation after the first trip, the area is so wet.”

The damage was reported to the Peak District National Park, and while some cosmetic work has been done, the lower level of peat, which can take 1,000 years to form, has been brought to the surface in places. According to reports, the RSPB asked the contractor to stick to the same path to minimise damage.

Adrian Blackmore, director of shooting at the Countryside Alliance, told Shooting Times: “I understand that this significant damage to Big Moor has been caused by heavy plant machinery by a contractor who was tasked with the cutting and removal of thousands of bags of brashings for use on moorland elsewhere in the Peak District when the ground was totally unfit to do so. The National Trust and RSPB must take responsibility for this damage to moorland that has been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.”

Shooting Times’ source also noted: “Natural England took legal action against Wemmergill Moor and Walshaw Moor for tracks and managed to get a conviction and massive costs for an area that was minute compared with Big Moor. Their terms — ‘hydrology’, ‘wildlife’, ‘carbon peat’, ‘rare habitats’, ‘European designations’ and so on — were all used in court to smear a grouse shooting moor that had tried to make a hard surface track to save any mess in the future.”

A spokesman for the RSPB told Shooting Times: “Part of the management of this SSSI involves cutting heather, under a Higher Level Stewardship agreement. As part of the SSSI management, Natural England consented to this work and a contract was awarded to a firm which had previously been involved with heather cutting at the site. This former work was undertaken in 2010-11 without damage. This winter, due to the wet conditions, a small part of the access route was damaged, including an area of active blanket bog. Bog mats were used, but these were insufficient to prevent partial damage to the site. The damage was limited to three 20m to 30m stretches of the 3m-wide access route.”

He added: “The Eastern Moors Partnership carries out regular inspections of the site. As soon as the damage was discovered, all heather cutting at the site was suspended. The machinery was left on site to prevent further damage. This was only removed once the partnership agreed a method of removal as part of a restoration plan agreed with Natural England, who were satisfied that its removal would cause no further harm to the site.”

Roy Taylor, of the Eastern Moors Partnership, said: “Though this damage is regrettable, we are confident the restoration plan [agreed with Natural England] will lead to the full recovery of the site.”