Extensive public rights of way have been created in the largest area of woodland in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
New bridleways of nearly seven miles in length, as well as footpaths of nearly half a mile now exist at High and Low Greenfield in Langstrothdale and the adjacent Cam Woodlands.
The conifer woodlands are in the geographical centre of the Yorkshire Dales National Park and were once a subject of local and national debate.
They are currently managed by the forest management company, Tihill, on behalf of Gresham House Timberland LP which has welcomed and supported the new public access.
The new bridleway and footpaths are the longest lengths of public rights of way to be created in the Yorkshire Dales National Park since 2010, when 12km of new bridleways were created as part of the Pennine Bridleway National Trail.
The new bridleways in fact link directly to the Pennine Bridleway, providing a loop for riders that weaves a way through plantations covering 1,258 hectares.
Dylan Cammack, senior forest manager for Tilhill, said: “The new access at Greenfield will allow people to enjoy this woodland, allowing them to appreciate and learn about sustainably managed productive forestry within the National Park, and at the same enjoy the health benefits associated with being outdoors.”
Member champion for recreation management at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Nick Cotton, said: “Any new public rights of way creation in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is a cause for celebration.
“In this case it’s especially significant because of the scale of these new bridleways and the interesting history of the land use change from farming to forestry.
“Some people might turn up their noses at access through a vast conifer plantation. If they did, they would be missing out on the red squirrels, the star lit dark skies and the opportunity for some of the freshest air in the country.
“It’s great news that Greenfield Forest and Cam Woodlands has become yet another place to discover on foot, bike or horse in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.”
The new rights of way were created following the signing of a deed of dedication on 31 March 2017. The signatories were the then owners of Greenfield Forest and Cam Woodlands and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.
Work on the routes was completed earlier this year.
Langstrothdale woods debated in Parliament
In the House of Commons in 1965 the MP for South Shields Arthur Blenkinsop asked a minister if he was aware of proposals for large-scale afforestation at the head of Langstrothdale and on nearby slopes. He said ‘such extensive proposals may very well alter the whole character of the national park’.
The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Land and Natural Resources, Arthur Skeffington, replied that he was aware and that ‘amenity and beauty aspects here are very much present in our minds’. (Source: Hansard, HC Deb 08 March 1965 vol 708 cc1-21)
Five years later the proposals had moved on. The MP for Sunderland North Frederick Willey asked the minister of housing and local government ‘what action has been taken, and notified to him, by the Countryside Commission and by the Yorkshire Dales West Riding Planning Committee about the afforestation of Upper Langstrothdale’.
The minister, Anthony Greenwood, replied that the Yorkshire Dales West Riding Planning Committee (a predecessor of today’s Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority) had opposed the granting of a licence for afforestation at Langstrothdale, although the Countryside Commission (today’s Natural England) had ‘decided not to oppose the proposals’. (Source: Hansard, HC Deb 10 March 1970 vol 797 c276W276W).
In 2015, the local newspaper, the Craven Herald and Pioneer, recalled that time and wrote that: ‘The Cam Fell and Greenfield plantations caused such upset that there was a letter to the Times by celebrated author JB Priestley stating that covering the Dales with spruce trees would change the landscape forever.’
Today the plantations have high biodiversity value, with red squirrels and otters present as well as birds of prey.