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.