Action plan unveiled to protect ‘outstanding cultural heritage’ in Yorkshire Dales

One of Swaledale's famous hay meadows in Muker.

A fresh action plan has been unveiled to protect the Yorkshire Dales National Park’s outstanding cultural heritage, as the body charged with its conservation has said the scale of task of doing so means it must focus on specific projects.

The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has approved its first cultural heritage strategy in a decade to step up its restoration of historic features synonymous with its unique landscapes, such stone barns, drystone walls, former lead mines and ridge and furrow ploughing patterns dating from the Middle Ages.

Gary Smith, the authority’s conservation director, said the strategy would enable a more coordinated and planned approach to dealing with listed buildings at risk, to reflect that some buildings are quite easy to solve issues with while others, such as the crumbling Victorian Yore Mill at Aysgarth Falls were complex.

He said: “What we can’t be trying to do is five or six Yore Mills all at the same time. We just haven’t got the capacity to do that. The historical environment is more visible here than it is in almost any other part of the country.”

Key elements of the strategy include continuing to make use of the authority’s cultural heritage volunteers to carry out programmes of condition surveys and undertake maintenance works and focusing on geographically-targeted conservation projects.

During Brexit transition, the strategy aims to support farmers and landowners to continue to deliver a range of public benefits through national agri-environment schemes and other similar initiatives, and monitor take-up.

By 2022, the strategy targets securing significant funding to repair, restore, and, where appropriate, find adaptive new uses for traditional field barns, particularly those in Swaledale, Arkengarthdale and Littondale.

The document states: “Traditional field barns are one of the most distinctive elements of the Dales’ landscape. The most recent estimate was that there were over 4,000 field barns within the national park. Over 2,000 of these were assessed as being in poor or very bad condition.

“While previous national agri-environment schemes have provided significant investment in repairing and restoring barns, the sheer scale of this issue means they have had limited impact on the overall trajectory of decline.”

The authority’s cultural heritage champion Julie Martin welcomed the strategy, saying the authority’s small historic environment team achieved “really good value for money” and did its best to take advantage of the considerable input and enthusiasm of volunteers.