Conservation chiefs have given reassurances about the future of Ilkley Moor following the launch of a country-wide uplands strategy.

The comments came after Natural England unveiled its 50-year vision called Vital Uplands to landowners, local authorities and environmental groups at the Craiglands Hotel in Ilkley.

Ilkley Moor has been chosen as one of three pilot projects for research and development as part of the South Pennines uplands area.

The Moorland Association attacked the plan, describing it as “the beginning of the end for iconic heather moorlands”.

A statement from the organisation said: “The Moorland Association is alarmed that Natural England wants to stop the traditional land management techniques of heather burning and grazing and instead encourage the encroachment of trees and scrub on some of our most iconic and treasured landscapes.”

But Natural England’s uplands director, Martyn Howat, said Ilkley had been chosen as a launch venue as it was the “best of the best”.

He said: “There are many areas of upland in England far away from Ilkley where heather moorland has been destroyed, where there are no trees, where there is little or no significant agriculture, and severely degraded habitats, and our wish is very much aimed at achieving environmental gains in these degraded areas.”

“We are not proposing trees on Ilkley Moor but we would see trees in stream edges or ghyll edges where we are hoping to stabilise the soil and carbon lock up.”

The report, called Vital Uplands, aims to ensure the future of food production and clean water supplies, tackle the effects of climate change, reduce risks of flooding and fire, and provide a haven for wildlife and recreation.

Recommendations include:

developing woodland to prevent soil erosion,

filter water and store carbon restoration of blanket bogs with pools,

moss and cotton grass

renewable energy systems such as small scale hydro power installations on streams

restoration of hay meadows.

After the launch, chairman of the Moorland Association and Bingley Moor Partnership member Edward Bromet said he welcomed Natural England’s desire to look to the future but added: “The difficulty we have with the vision is that there was no consultation with the Moorland Association before the initial draft was put together. Our members are the landowners and managers of the uplands so that would seem odd.

“It does also suggest in the vision that grouse moor management should change in some specific areas and we disagree with that.”

Chairman of the Friends of Ilkley Moor group, Owen Wells, said: “We are aware that the moorlands are the way they are because of the way they have been managed in the past but that’s not necessarily to imply that it has to be the same forever.

“We are against trees as we would like it to remain Ilkley Moor and not Ilkley Forest, but there are beneficial changes we would wish to see. There are areas of the moor we think in the past would have been blanket bog which we would like to see again.”

Poul Christensen, acting chair of Natural England which advises the government on environmental issues, said: “The uplands face many challenges and in the face of this we need a 21st century approach which recognises that food production, a healthy natural environment and the economic stability of the uplands go hand in hand.”