Residents work together on nature improvements scheme

Residents from a string of villages in Holmedale are working together on a new nature improvement initiative.

The idea was kick-started around a year ago by residents Sally Zaranko and Lizzie Rumble of Whashton, who organised a public meeting attended by about 40 residents.

This followed an approach from National Highways, which was looking for a large biodiversity project to fund as compensation for the A66 improvement works.

Lizzie said: “A project that will benefit nature and increase biodiversity will have knock-on benefits for us as residents, landowners, farmers and businesses in Holmedale.”

Representatives from Ravensworth, Kirby Hill, Gayles, Dalton, Newsham and Barningham agreed to work together.

Since then, the Holmedale Nature group has consulted with residents and met on a regular basis to build a vision for the project.

The aim is to boost biodiversity and strengthen connections between local communities by coordinating activities to nurture nature.

These will include conservation, improvement and establishment of new habitat for wildlife, alongside educational and voluntary activities to get people involved. Residents would also like to see improvements in the quality of footpaths and public rights of way to make it easier to enjoy nature.

A further consideration for the group is to build local resilience to climate change, such as reducing impacts from drought and incidences of flooding, where interventions will also be of benefit to nature.

Starting in January, the group launched a series of talks and activities which are open to anyone to attend.

January’s talk on healthy rivers by Charlotte Simmons of the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust had to be postponed due to Storm Isha but is now rescheduled for April 16 in Dalton and Gayles Village Hall.

A training course on watercourse naturalness assessment, funded by Natural England and delivered by Josie Neimira of the Freshwater Biological Association, went ahead in Ravensworth on January 30 with 17 attendees.

The training covered a new citizen science project which engages volunteers to assess their local watercourses for their current condition and quality. It is particularly focussed on smaller rivers and streams which have not been covered by larger monitoring projects.

The aim is to identify and prioritise areas for protection and restoration.

The Holmedale Nature group believes that assessing the condition of our local watercourses is an essential contribution to planning local biodiversity improvements.

Most of the communities in the group are connected by streams that originate on moorland above Newsham, converge and eventually run into the Swale at Brompton.

Following a major pollution release into this watercourse in April, residents joined with local anglers to set up a Riverfly monitoring network.

The new Riverfly group has recently been nominated by Aaron Murphy and Rachel Spry of the Environment Agency for the BBC Springwatch Wildlife Hero Awards.

In February, the Holmedale group’s activities will focus on helping birds, while March activities will look at how we can help wildlife in our gardens.

Running in parallel with the programme of activities, the group is working to establish a new charity that would enable it to apply for grant funding to undertake larger projects.

A number of ideas have already been suggested including work on improving and expanding woodland areas, hedgerow restoration, creation of new wetland, use of natural flood management to reduce road flooding by improving water retention in the landscape, and removal of Himalayan Balsam and other invasive plants.

It is also hoped that a farming liaison officer can be employed in partnership with another local organisation to support local farmers in transitioning to the new Environmental Land Management scheme and work with them on their medium- to long-term environmental improvement plans.

Parish officers at Gilling West and Skeeby have been contacted to see if their residents would like to participate.

Martha McBarron, a member of the Holmedale steering group, said: “Our plans may be ambitious, however by joining together with nearby villages, we believe that substantive improvements in our local environment are possible.

“The project will also strengthen social connections locally and reconnect people with the wonderful natural world that surrounds us.”

More information about the Holmedale group can be found at: or by emailing

Details for the Natural England citizen science project can be found at:

Talks and activities planned for the next few months are:

  • Away with the birds. A talk by Carl Watts on his journey in wildlife conservation from the UK coastline to the uplands of the Yorkshire Moors and into our gardens. Is there a best way to look after our birds?  Carl is the Reserve manager at Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve and has previously worked for the RSPB and The Wildlife Trust. Monday 12th February, 7:30pm to 8:30pm.  Newsham Village Hall.  £2 donation to include refreshments.
  • Bird nest box making. A workshop run by Brian Rogers a volunteer at Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve during National Nestbox Week. Sunday 18th February 10:00am to 3:00pm. Foxglove Covert Local Nature Reserve, Catterick. £5 minimum donation.  Booking is required and 30-minute time slots will be arranged please email:
  • Gardening for Pollinators. A talk by Malcolm Hockham (formerly of Eggleston Hall Gardens and Plantsman’s Corner). Wednesday 6th March, 7:30pm to 8:30pm. Barningham Village Hall. £2 donation to include refreshments.
  • Seed propagation, grafting and other skills for growing your plant inventory. A workshop by Malcolm Hockham. Wednesday 13th March, 10:30am-12:30pm. Barningham Village Hall. £3 donation. Booking is required please email: Option for lunch in Coghlans Tearoom afterwards.
  • What is a Healthy River? A talk by Charlotte Simmons, Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust, will be held at Dalton & Gayles Village Hall, Tuesday 16th April, 7:30pm.  £2 donation to include refreshments.