Debate over nature recovery plans in the Dales

Swaledale. Photo: Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.

National park custodians are set to consider a bold and wide-ranging programme of projects to increase the number of species which live in the Yorkshire Dales, following a ‘vigorous debate’ between interest groups such as farmers, shooting estates and conservationists.

A meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority will tomorrow hear issues such as what proportion of the park should be used for different purposes, the amount of habitat creation schemes, potential species re-introductions and moorland management needed to be resolved before a long-term nature recovery blueprint can be adopted.

The authority is aiming to launch the strategy next year in response to the Government’s 25 Year Environment Plan.

Whitehall officials are consulting on legally-binding national environmental targets, and on options for protected species and sites, including the role of national parks in contributing to national commitments to protect 30 per cent of land and sea by 2030.

In addition, a new National Landscape Strategy – which will be accompanied by new targets specifically for national parks – is due to be published early  next year.

A report published earlier this year into the state of the natural environment in the Yorkshire Dales has led to the drawing up of lists of priority species and habitats outside of SSSIs on which attention needs to be focused.

However, the authority’s officers have highlighted how the draft nature recovery plan is based on the assumption that the park’s the current balance of farming, managed moorland and forestry will remain roughly as it is today.

An officer’s report to the meeting states no consensus has been reached over the proportion of the national park that should be included in such ‘nature recovery areas’ as the proposed 15 per cent of the total land area has been
challenged by some on the basis of being “insufficiently ambitious”.

In addition, during consultations some interest groups have argued current ways that land, especially moorland, is managed has to change radically, which has been met with “vigorous” opposition by others who maintain traditional methods are delivering for nature recovery.

Officers said the debate had crystallised around the issue of heather burning with some proposing that burning should be phased out altogether by 2040.

There has also been a call to exclude livestock from more areas of limestone pavement, many of which are perceived to be in poor condition due to grazing pressure.

The report added proposals to supplement populations of rare alpine and sub-alpine plants threatened by global warming, might be ineffective if climate change renders habitats in the Dales inhospitable.

It adds: “In the long term we may have to resign ourselves to the loss of some of our most iconic plants.”

Neil Heseltine, the authority’s chairman, said while he wanted to see a bold and ambitious nature recovery programme, changes on the ground would be subtle and “will not alter what we love about the national park”.

He said: “We are always dealing with people who are pulling in different direction and there’s always different perspectives on how we achieve our goals, and we have got to respect those different views.”

Mr Heseltine said while about 4.5 per cent of the park is currently classed as woodland, the authority’s target of adding 600 hectares a year for a decade had become a focus for debate.

He said: “There seems to be a feeling that the national park authority wants to put trees on every part of the national park. That certainly isn’t true.

“However, the limestone landscapes and the biodiversity in the park is unique, so we have to be mindful that we are looking after that as well.

“If we are to achieve hectares of new woodlands a year that we would have to do that with the goodwill and agreement of landowners and farmers, but even with that we still only get to about 6.5 per cent woodland cover across the national park, while the national average for woodland cover is about ten per cent.”

Mr Heseltine said while he doubted whether the national park would look vastly different in a decade, he was optimistic the landscapes would be home to significantly more species.


  1. Apart from the burning of moorland heather which I appreciate needs to be carried out for the Grouse, I believe we should let nature take it’s own course, otherwise we could well finish up with a Theme Park and not a National Park!

  2. Great idea to increase bio-diversity, but do it gently and with sensitivity for what we already have. Essential that you thoroughly consider the introduction and impact of 5G Electro-magnetic frequencies upon all living things. There is plenty of strong scientific evidence to show that this is a dangerous instrument whilst being highly desirable for todays communications. Let us not forget Mother Nature and proceed cautiously in a balanced manner.

  3. I agree with Carol Clark. Whereas there has been meetings and discussions on the efficacy of introducing new species etc. 5G was railroaded with minimum consultation.
    4G is far less harmful and fulfills all that’s necessary for todays communications.
    The Grouse industry only benefits the few, moorland drainage causes flooding down stream affecting thousands of people in places like York. Planting more woodland would combat this but it must be mixed both evergreens and deciduous. How about introducing the beautiful red kite. The Earl of Harewood introduced them around Wharfedale with no detrimental effect on livestock.

  4. This is a National Park. The natural environment and our native flora and fauna should be the priority. If these are not the absolute priority in a National Park then there is no hope for nature and biodiversity in modern Britain. Current grouse moor management is a disgrace with widespread environmental harm and persecution, both legal and illegal, of our native species. The shooting industry benefits very few and is directly responsible for significant harm to our environment. Heather burning destroys moorland vegetation, vertebrate and invertebrate species and fragile moorland peat soils. The resultant air pollution is toxic and unwelcome and is particularly harmful to the very young and the elderly in our communities. Current moorland management practices lead to rapid run off and enhanced flood risk to downstream communities. This is incredibly distressing to affected individuals and unnecessarily costly to the the public purse. This is a National Park, it should be a world leading example of best practice rather than the largely damaged and degraded environment we see at present.

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