THE Weardale Estate in Upper Weardale has received the coveted gold award in the 2012 Purdey Awards for Game and Conservation.

Owner Michael Stone was presented with the Purdey Shield and cheque for £4,000 by Jonathan Young, editor of The Field magazine.

The presentation ceremony was held in Purdey’s historic Long Room in Mayfair.

Award judges praised Mr Stone and head keeper Nick Walmsley for outstanding leadership and skilful grouse moor management.

They were said to have successfully created one of the country’s finest grouse moors – one regarded by Natural England as a “model of best practice”.

Mr Stone bought 4,300 acres of land from the Forestry Commission in 1984.

With Mr Walmsley, he began a project of development and improvement and now, almost 30 years on, Weardale is regarded as one of the finest driven grouse moors in the country.

They overcame many obstacles – not least the challenging climate and altitude, prolific vermin, and the clearing of 900 acres of mature conifer plantations – to return the land to heather moorland.

This has led to a dramatic increase in the numbers of grouse as well as other birds including golden plover, merlin, curfew, lapwing, grey partridge and woodcock. Red squirrels have also benefited.