£400,000 funding received towards environmental scheme for Swaledale and Arkengarthdale

One of Swaledale's famous hay meadows in Muker.

A £5m-plus scheme which could change the face of some of the Yorkshire Dales’ most beautiful and environmentally-important areas while providing a post-Brexit economic boost has secured financial backing.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and North Pennines AONB Partnership said their Tees-Swale naturally project, a large scale habitat restoration initiative, has received £400,000 for its development phase.

Officers now have 18 months to build a business case for the Heritage Lottery Fund to create “the foundations of a robust and resilient ecological network” across Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and Teesdale.

Under the scheme, the authorities are set to work with farmers and landowners to restore internationally-important peatlands, improve upland hay meadows and expand woodlands.

Other key features of the scheme, work on which is starting after a previous lottery bid for £7.4m was rejected, include the creation of small-scale wetlands to create habitats and natural flood management.

Habitat improvement works would be undertaken through improved management, increasing the size of wildlife sites and enhancing connections between sites.

The initiative would also see access improvements, environmental interpretation, landscape management traineeships created and a workforce of 350 volunteers engaged in the project.

The funding comes as the national park authority is seeking an extension of up to three years for a pilot scheme in which Wensleydale farmers are incentivised for delivering environmental gains, rather than prescribed management options under European Union rules.

Environment Secretary Michael Gove has said such schemes will be supported post-Brexit.

Rebecca Barrett, of North Pennines AONB, said the timing of the Tees-Swale high nature value farming scheme was “highly appropriate”.

She said: “We are absolutely thrilled. It’s a big request and we know how competitive it is for that degree of investment. We’re also delighted that they are endorsing our approach to work closely with farmers.”

Ms Barrett said the project would conserve “iconic species that have disappeared from the rest of the country” and the boundaries of the scheme had been set by “biological reality”.

She said species such as the yellow wagtail, which had become rare in the area, could benefit from the scheme.

She added: “At the moment we are losing species, so we want to reverse that loss.”

“The most significant thing is talking and listening to farmers and landowners. We don’t want to come up with loads of ideas and spring it on them because we know that won’t work.”

A meeting of the park authority, whose members have previously approved contributing £250,000 to the scheme, yesterday heard it would work with the Environment Agency to develop a minewater remediation plan within the upper Swale catchment as part of the scheme.

Upper Dales councillor and park authority member John Blackie welcomed the investment in the area, saying there were concerns for upland farms post-Brexit.

He said: “This scheme could make a real difference to the future of upland farms, which face great challenges.”