Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority has moved to ensure a major natural heritage project that focuses on some of England’s remotest landscapes and communities is not undermined by a lottery fund’s decision-making process.
The authority has agreed to pay the salaries of key project officers of the £8.5m Tees-Swale: naturally connected scheme for six months despite uncertainty remaining over whether National Lottery Heritage Fund bosses will approve funding for the scheme.
It is hoped the project will enable farmers in Upper Teesdale and Upper Swaledale to share knowledge and their land management skills and work to improve and restore habitats for the benefit of wildlife and to allow farms to work as a whole system.
The programme will help sustain valuable low intensity farming systems, which benefit wildlife, the environment and people as well as connect visitors with the way the landscape is managed and why this is important to them, through interpretation, activities and improvements to rights of way.
It will also build skills through traineeships and volunteering, develop on-farm activities and a programme of temporary landscape art and build resilience in the farming communities for a strong future workforce.
Gary Smith, the authority’s director of conservation, said: “This is a big deal for us in terms of its scale. The money is going to be directed very much at the current hot topics of nature recovery, habitat restoration and the long-term future of farming in this national park.
“It’s also important because of the geographical location of the project. which is Swaledale, in that area that was hit by the horrendous floods in July and clearly this investment in that area potentially goes quite a long way to helping recovery from the impacts of that flooding.”
Mr Smith said all National Lottery Heritage Fund bid programmes “always face this awkward issue of what you do in the period between putting the bid in and finding out if you have got the money or not”.
He said: “It’s just too long to think people are going to sit around and say I’ll wait to see if I’ve still got a job in six months time. With this one in particular it creates a real issue for us because so much of the fundamentals of this project are about building trust between the project officers and the people they are working with.
“We think the national park authority ought to be the one that steps up the plate in terms of the majority of costs of doing that simply because of the difference in scale between the two organisations.”
Authority members said the scheme had become even more important to pursue following the flooding in Swaledale.
The authority’s natural environment champion Ian McPherson said the scheme was a “really significant project”.
He said the approaches to the environment and to farming are slightly different in the two areas, but this is a wonderful opportunity to help each area understand what is happening over the border. I am delighted that the project is going ahead and I think there’s a very good chance we will be successful in the final bid. I think it’s essential that we keep that we keep the existing staff by bridging through.”