Future of farming ‘most important issue’ facing Yorkshire Dales National Park, meeting hears

Photo: Guy Carpenter.

Farmers could be facing a huge adverse economic shock, members of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority were told this week.

The risk is so great that they agreed unanimously that the authority’s working group on the future of farming and land management in the Yorkshire Dales National Park should continue.

Ian McPherson, the authority’s member champion for the natural environment, who has chaired the working group since its inception in June 2017, told the meeting: “We began to realise that the future of farming was probably the single most important issue facing the authority at this time.”

He pointed out that the authority’s head of conservation and community, Gary Smith, had warned that farmers were  entering an even deeper state of turmoil during this period of political uncertainty.

“The situation is changing from day to day,” said Mr McPherson.

He said the working group, which includes farmers, should have the widest possible remit so that it could keep abreast of changing circumstances

Mr Smith had asked how the authority wanted to influence the design of the new environmental land management scheme.

“We really want to build on the fine work that is going on in Wensleydale,” he told members.

Recently retired farmer, Richmondshire District councillor John Amsden, reminded the members that it was the farmers in the national park who managed the land not the authority.

“Its hard work and a lot of them are tenant farmers. They are working seven days a week, long hours and are often lonely as in a lot of cases the farms are one-man bands.”

He therefore suggested that Dales farmers should be paid £25,000 to £30,000 a year to manage the countryside.

North Yorkshire County councillor Robert Heseltine commented that one in six of all jobs in the Yorkshire Dales were connected with farming.

He added: “That’s a lot of families who rely on farming.”

Dales farmer and the authority’s member champion for sustainable development, Chris Clark told the meeting: “The adverse economic shock is a huge reality for this authority.”

He warned that the economic viability of farms must be kept in mind when considering policies that have nature and climate change at their heart and added: “There’s no point in having  ‘pay by results’ unless this includes the viability of the farms.”

The members had already  voted unanimously to declare a ‘climate emergency’.

Mr Smith reported that the authority had reduced its own greenhouse gas emissions by 62 per cent and had directly funded projects in the national park that were removing around 500,000kg of carbon dioxide emissions each year through planting trees and peat restoration.

He said the authority has effectively been ‘net zero carbon’ since 2013.

“By next year it is likely that we will be sequestering twice the amount of greenhouse gas emissions than we will be emitting,” he said.

Julie Martin said: “I think this is an absolutely fantastic and really important opportunity for us to lead what is a very, very crucial area for all of us, but perhaps particularly for our young people.

“I know from my own children how important it is. And we are in a key position to inform and motivate others.”

Cumbria county councillor Nick Cotton said: “I think we should be really proud of what we have done. Let’s see how we can concentrate our efforts on those two things – peat restoration and tree planting, which have already proved to be so successful.”

The importance of planting trees was also emphasised by the authority’s head of ranger services Alan Hulme during his report on the impact of the flash floods which hit Langthwaite and Lower Swaledale on July 30.

This event was a warning that flooding could occur at any time of the year and not just in winter, he said.

He showed slides of the devastation caused by the rocks and debris which had been swept down the valleys by the flood water.

“The debris on the fields is mostly contaminated as there is lead in the area,” he said. This, he added, would take years to rectify.

About three and a half kilometres of rights of way had been either washed away or covered by landslides and debris, he reported. In addition, 16 bridges had been lost 11 of which were on rights of way as well as several footbridges.

He emphasised that the tourist trade in the area depended a great deal on rights of way being open.

He told members: “The bridge are our big loss. It will probably take about two years [to repair them]. The cost to us, we think, will be about £600,000 to restore rights of way.

“We are making some headway already by utilising some of the local community’s equipment, contractors and volunteers.”

He and several members praised the community’s response and resilience and the way groups of volunteers had come from other areas to help.

They were grateful for the funding being made available and for the way Richmondshire District Council had responded.

Richmondshire district councillor Stuart Parsons hoped that money would continue to be available for several years through some form of long-term sustainability fund.

“It will take years to repair the damage,” he said.

ARC News Service