£5.7 million lottery grant announced for Tees-Swale environmental project

Swaledale. Photo: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund has agreed to fund the Tees-Swale: naturally connected programme with a grant of £5.7 million.

The five-year scheme is being led by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership in collaboration with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The scheme aims to be the country’s “leading example of farmer-focused nature recovery” and will focus on upper Swaledale and upper Teesdale.

The programme covers an area of 829 km2 and aims to mitigate climate change, improve wellbeing and boost biodiversity,

Tees-Swale will put farmers and landowners at the heart of nature recovery, leaders say.

More than 60 farmers and landowners have already committed to carrying out work to benefit people and wildlife in the first two years of the scheme.

The partners aim to work with all 300 farmers in the area over the life of the programme.

Chair of the Tees-Swale board is Professor Sir John Lawton.

He said: “I fell in love with the Yorkshire Dales and Upper Teesdale in the 1970s, not long after I moved to live in York.

“It is a wonderful area, so it was a huge privilege to be asked to chair the board of Tees-Swale: naturally connected and to help steer the project during our successful bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund.

“The area is a stunning cultural landscape, moulded by human activities for millennia; it is also one of the most biodiverse parts of the English uplands, partly as a result of some of the nature-friendly farming practices that take place there.

“The programme allows us to build on those practices and put farming at the heart of nature recovery. From a personal perspective the programme allows me to be part of putting into practice the central principles of the Making Space for Nature report which I led ten years ago: nature recovery needs more, bigger, better managed and joined up habitats.”

David Renwick, director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The natural assets of the North are world-beating, and the species-rich upland hay meadows and blanket bog that are at the heart of the Tees-Swale: naturally connected programme are a superb example of this.

“However, the need to aid nature’s recovery, particularly in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, has never been more urgent. Ambitious and forward-thinking projects such as this, align firmly with our key priorities in ensuring that National Lottery funding supports bigger, better-connected and more resilient habitats for nature, but also bring people together.

“We want to ensure that the nature recovery at the heart of projects like this, is connected in with social and economic agendas too, that make sure communities have the best chance of linking in with the nature on their doorsteps.

“This programme is also really timely at a moment where the partners behind Tees-Swale and many other conservation organisations are coming together through the Nature North consortium to support green recovery at a strategic scale.”

Experts say that although in some ways rich in wildlife, nature is in retreat and the future of these landscapes is uncertain.

Those behind the scheme say it aims to reverse this trend, combining the ‘Lawton principles’ with economically viable farming, for the benefits of people and wildlife.

Coordinator say the programme will support farming methods which value and work in harmony with nature, restore at-risk natural heritage, connect priority habitats, and help to reverse the decline in biodiversity, through hay meadow restoration, peatland restoration, river enhancement, wetland creation and woodland creation.

An important feature of Tees-Swale will be peer-to-peer learning between farmers and conservation organisations and helping farmers to appreciate the public goods that they manage and provide.

The programme aims to help make farmers as ready as they can be to respond to new agri-environment measures, and initiate new, innovative ways of working that can be emulated across the UK to shape future policy.

Chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Neil Heseltine said: I’m really excited about the potential for this project.

“There’s never been a more important time to help our farmers to make the transition to producing food in a way that turbo-charges nature recovery as a core part of their business.  It’s also never been more evident how much we need to create opportunities to connect people with nature in our National Landscapes.

“We are very grateful for the support we have received from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and from Lottery players, that has made it possible. This investment will be a great boost for communities in Swaledale that were so badly affected by the flooding last year.”