Repairing the damage caused to Ilkley Moor by a devastating blaze could take up to 20 years and cost hundreds of thousands of pounds, it has been revealed.

As fire on the moorland was brought under control last night by firefighters, attention began to turn towards assessing the scale of long-term damage to the historic land.

More than 500 acres has been affected by the inferno, ruining vegetation and heather used by nesting-birds and farmers for sheep-grazing.

The land's owner Bradford Council will foot some of the bill but will be looking for other sources of cash aid whether from the Lottery, European Community or a general appeal.

Councillor Anne Hawkesworth, environment portfolio holder and Ilkley ward councillor, said: "The damage is extensive. I'm concerned about the effect on the moorland. We have to look to the future we are looking at a 20 year recovery and it will be very expensive. We are responsible landowners and we have to do the right thing."

When asked to give an estimate of the possible cost of the recovery operation, Coun Hawkesworth conceded it could be well into six figures.

She said a meeting was to be called to analyse the situation, once the blaze has been damped completely and experts from across the country will be drafted in for advice.

Coun Hawkesworth added: "We have not had a fire on the moor like this so we will be looking at best practice from around the country."

The authority's countryside officer Richard Perham said the full extent of the destruction would depend on how badly peat had been burnt. He said re-seeding the area would be an option.

Farmer Richard Ellis, whose family has enjoyed grazing rights on Ilkley Moor for generations, will directly suffer from the destruction.

He said: "This will effect my livelihood. The heather will take a while to grow back and I graze my animals on there."

Mr Ellis has been using beaters and a quad bike to patrol the fire's perimeter to halt its spread since it sparked up on Wednesday.

He was one of many locals who joined up to fight the blaze along with firefighters from across the district.

Countryside officers have been using their Land Rovers to ferry water to the scene. Helicopter crews used a giant bucket of reservoir water to dump on the worst-affected areas and water has been carried in slurry tankers on tractors.

Keighley fire crew manager Richard Spencer said last night: "It's fairly well beat. It will be very unlucky if it flared up again. The rain helped, apparently it was bouncing down. But it still did not put it out. Because the fire is so deep-seated into the peat, it keeps flaring up. We will now continue damping it."

Coun Hawkesworth said she would be organising an event to thank all those who have been battling the flames.

  • Don't miss Thursday's Ilkley Gazette for in-depth coverage of the Moor fire with a selection of pictures from readers, latest news from the scene, and analysis