Improvements needed to Swaledale wildlife habitats, study finds

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

A survey of some of the most important habitats in Swaledale outside of sites of special scientific interest has found that only 60 per cent of them are, by area, in good condition.

The survey – which was carried out between May and September last year – and was the first of its type for Swaledale – confirms that significant investment is needed to create a resilient habitat network.

A summary of the survey results has been published.

It shows that less than 10 per cent of native semi-natural woodland, rock outcrops and upland flushes, and only 23 per cent upland hay meadow, was in good condition.

More encouragingly, 80 per cent of blanket bog, by far the largest priority habitat surveyed, was in good condition.

The Swaledale survey was part of a ten-year programme of surveys funded by the National Park Authority.

When completed in 2020, they will give a much better picture of the condition of priority habitats right across the National Park.

YDNPA member champion for natural environment, Ian McPherson, said: “There are pockets of astonishing beauty and diversity in Swaledale but, as in other parts of the national park, too many of our nationally-important habitats are in a poor to middling condition.

“Much of the data confirms what we already suspected from previous surveys of habitats inside Sites of Special Scientific Interest.  That is why we have been working with the North Pennines AONB and other partners to develop the Tees-Swale Naturally Connected project.

“It will look at how we can enhance the vital role that low-intensity, high nature value farming plays in managing upland landscapes for a host of public benefits.

“The Heritage Lottery Fund recently awarded the partnership £400,000 to undertake an 18-month development phase.

!The information from the Swaledale survey will be an important part of the in-depth research and collaboration with farmers and landowners to build the case for what we hope will be a five-year, £8.5 million project to start in 2020.”

“The evidence also confirms what we have been saying for some time: that we urgently need to move toward a locally-designed and locally-delivered agri-environment scheme which properly rewards high nature value farming – and which pays according to results. “

The story in numbers

  • 217,900 hectares (ha) – total area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park
  • 34,689 ha  – combined area of the 12 parishes of Swaledale
  • 16,903 ha – combined area of the 22 Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Swaledale i.e outside the scope of the survey
  • 3,958 ha – the area of land parcels outside SSSIs that the YDNPA estimated might contain priority habitat
  • 827 ha – the area of the land surveyed that was priority habitat
  • 492 ha – the area of priority habitat found to be in good condition (60%)

Last month, the Campaign For National Parks published its Raising the Bar report, calling for action to improve nature in national parks. It recommended a national programme of monitoring of the extent and condition of priority habitats across all National Parks.

Mr McPherson added: “Over the last seven years, the surveys that we have carried out have provided valuable data that is now being used to inform the policies and programmes of many bodies.

“I would like to wholeheartedly thank all the landowners who have permitted access onto their land.”

The latest review of the overall trends and status of priority habitats and species in the Yorkshire Dales National Park can be found here.

This year’s YDNPA priority habitats survey is currently taking place. Ecologists are – for the first time – surveying areas which became part of the National Park when its boundaries were extended in 2016.  News on that to follow in the coming weeks.