A prominent Cumbrian farmer claims hill farmers should have been consulted over plans to restore the country's iconic peatlands.

The £10 million grant scheme will be available for wildlife trust and charity projects to re-wet mosses, bring back missing plants and restore a thriving habitat to peatlands.

But Alistair Mackintosh, a west Cumbrian farmer, said hill farmers, who were likely to be the most affected by the plans, should not have been overlooked at the discussion stages.

"They needed to pull on the experience of farmers and get feedback to make sure the money gets best value," said Mr Mackintosh, National Farmers' Union Cumbrian council delegate.

Peatlands cover 11 per cent of England’s landscape and provide a habitat for a wide range of birds such as the merlin, dunlin and golden plover.

They also provide 70 per cent of the country's drinking water and reduce greenhouse gases by locking away at least 3.2 billion tonnes of CO2.

Alistair Mackintosh The funding will be available for projects that restore upland and lowland peatlands to their natural state, increasing their capacity to prevent carbon entering the atmosphere, reduce flood risk by slowing the flow of rain water and create habitats for vulnerable wildlife.

The scheme will open in May and funding will target sites with the greatest potential for greenhouse gas reduction. Projects that deliver better value for money and maximise environmental benefits will be favoured for funding.

Funding will be available for three years from April 2018 as part of Defra’s £100 million of capital funding for direct investment in projects that support the natural environment.

More details, including how to bid for grants, will be provided when the scheme opens for bids.

Announcing the project, environment minister Thérèse Coffey said it was part of Defra’s ambition "to be the first generation to leave the natural environment in a better state than we found it".

Natural England chairman Andrew Sells said the investment would support practical restoration initiatives such as 'rewetting and seeding with Sphagnum mosses, an essential ingredient in restoring peatlands for future generations'.

But NFU uplands forum chairman Robin Milton was quoted in a national farming magazine as saying: "If you are indulging in a re-wetting exercise that is directly impacting on reduced stocking, use of commons and sheep numbers on moors, you are going to have a direct effect on that farming and that social and cultural approach.

"You won’t be maintaining farms in those areas. They are not going to be viable. I think there has to be some wider recognition of the wider rural impacts of this type of approach.”

Mr Milton warned that by specifically targeting one area for restoration, it may create unforeseen consequences in other areas, such as soil compaction, or increased nitrogen use on areas of “in-by” land to grow more grass to keep sheep there.

"You may have changes in types of sheep. You may also lose some breeds that are hefted to moorland areas,” he added.

"Farmers recognise the value and attributes of these landscapes better than anyone and it would seem reasonable to ensure they are properly recognised for their contribution to restoration projects where they can be facilitated appropriately."

Defra has already allocated £4m to existing Natural England peatland restoration schemes in England.

There are six-and-a-half thousand - plus commercial upland farms with an average net farm income of £6,424 (2014); The average Less Favoured Area farmer has 340 breeding ewes; 44 per cent of breeding sheep are farmed in the uplands; 18 per cent of agri-environment money (£81m) goes to the uplands each year; 86 percent of open access land is in the Uplands (Source: Julia Aglionby, Foundation for Common Land) .