Cover image: A field barn in Muker within the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Photo: Mat Robinson Photography – www.matrobinsonphoto.co.uk
A vision to make the Yorkshire Dales “more natural” and save scores of species is only possible if there is a step change in the resources available to farmers and land managers to create viable businesses, the custodians of a national park have been warned.
A full meeting of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority saw members unanimously approve a plethora of objectives to counter declines in one quarter of the priority species, such as the yellow wagtail and white-clawed crayfish, in the protected landscape.
The Nature Recovery Plan, which has been 18 months in the making, includes nearly 400 “species of conservation concern”, but 41 species have been singled out for bespoke action.
Only 30 per cent of the park’s designated sites of special scientific interest are in favourable condition, and the most recent study showed wider declines in the condition of several habitat types since 2010.
Similarly, the condition of priority species is also declining overall – despite
individual success stories for species like red squirrel and dormice.
The meeting heard there is a pressing need to improve the condition of habitats, and reconnect them where they are fragmenting, through large-scale programmes of restoration of peatlands, woodlands, grasslands and watercourses.
The masterplan will aim to create or restore more than 20,000ha of habitats, protect enhance 1,000km or rivers and see some 250km of species-rich hedgerows restored.
The meeting heard following analysis, officers had concluded focusing on improving habitats was key to ensuring the national park had a wildlife-rich future.
An officer told members the blueprint was “ambitious, but realistic, given the resources we have.”
The meeting heard there would be scope to do more if the Government put its full weight behind nature recovery in national parks.
The meeting heard the Government had been due to reveal habitat restoration targets in England last week, but it had been postponed due to fears they would clash with Rishi Sunak’s announcement of a series of U-turns on climate change pledges.
Mark Corner, member champion for natural environment, said while the plan aimed to deliver “a more natural national park”, he feared an upcoming report about the state of nature in the park would show further species decline.
He said: “The Dales as a protected landscape could and should be an exemplar of how thriving nature and profitable land management can go hand in hand.
“There is so much more we can be doing for wildlife and many farm enterprises are struggling economically.
“Delivering this plan depends on support of an alligned Government, and other funding, without which under the current environmental land management schemes the sustainability of farming and land management businesses will remain challenging.
“It depends on creating the conditions so that farmers and landowners can see benefits from adapting practices and testing new approaches, particularly with regard to grazing and moorland management.”
Mr Corner said progress was being made on moorlands with peat partnerships and many of the estates working to re-wet bogs, but he added little progress has been made on “the blight of raptor persecution”.
He added a key issue would be the pace and scale of the move towards lower input farming systems, which the meeting heard was the single most effective means to bring about the desired changes.