Survey launched of Swaledale’s priority habitats

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

A survey of priority habitats in Swaledale is taking place to check that the most threatened plant species are surviving and, hopefully, flourishing.

Commissioned by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority (YDNPA), ecologists from Otley-based Haycock & Jay Associates are surveying a vast area of nearly 4000 hectares – sometimes on their hands and knees.

“To see the plants you have to get down close to them,” said the firm’s principal ecologist, Gordon Haycock.

“We mark out two-metre by two-metre areas – in which there can by 30 or 40 different species.

“We’re looking for indicators of good quality habitat, so in Swaledale’s calcareous grasslands we’d like to see plants such as fairy flax, wild thyme and quaking grass.”

Priority habitats are defined in law as being of principal importance for the purpose of conserving biodiversity.

There are 14 such habitats in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, ranging from blanket bog to upland hay meadow.

The YDNPA’s Senior Wildlife Conservation Officer, Tony Serjeant, said: “The Swaledale survey is part of our rolling programme of condition assessments.

“Putting this together with data collected by partner bodies like Natural England means the whole area of the National Park is assessed over a period of about ten years.

“The information we’ll get from Gordon and his team will enable us to help the local farmers and landowners look after Swaledale’s most vital habitats.

“We’ll also be able to see whether Local Biodiversity Action Plan targets are being met.”

The information will be assessed alongside other surveys carried out by local volunteers and naturalists in the YDNPA’s next major Biodiversity Trends and Status report, which will be published this autumn.

Landowner consent is always sought in advance of the surveys taking place.