Dales park authority heralds £1.3m land improvement scheme

Swaledale, by Stephen Garnett. Photo: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

The leaders of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority have spoken of their determination to inject fresh impetus into tackling the greatest challenges facing the protected area after being put in charge of the largest scheme the body has ever managed.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority heard the government revealed details of its post-Brexit Farming in Protected Landscapes programme last week, three months late.

As a consequence, officers said the body had been left just nine months to get £1.3m of grants for the first of three years spent.

Farmers and other land managers will be invited to apply for grants to make improvements to the natural environment, cultural heritage and public access on their land. It is envisaged the money will provide funding for farm-level projects to diversify incomes.

If an applicant will not make a commercial gain through a project, they could receive up to 100 per cent of the costs. Where an applicant would benefit commercially from a project, they could receive between 40 per cent and 80 per cent of the costs depending on how much commercial benefit the project will give them.

However, the meeting heard time was of the essence as due to the government not revealing details of the scheme until last week, and the scheme starting next week, it was vital to ensure that communities were aware of the funding opportunities as soon as possible.

Officers warned members that any of the £1.3m that remained unspent by the end of March would be lost to the park, but added they had already opened talks with environmental charities in a bid to avert any loss of money.

The meeting was told the programme presented a “tremendous opportunity” for the national park as it recognised the importance of farming to the protected landscapes.

Members were told while agri-environment schemes had traditionally been run nationally, the new programme an acknowledgement of the value of moving towards a farming system with more local delivery.

Officers and members agreed the scheme would help businesses start to make the transition to a post-Brexit system where public money will be for public goods.

The authority’s chairman, Neil Heseltine said: “Every so often something comes along that you can see has the potential to deliver something really positive.”

He said while it was clear the scheme would still be prescribed by government, it was bold in its ambitions, flexible in its approach and encouraged innovation.