Jules Marley: Our Christmas wishes for the Yorkshire countryside

Whipperdale Bank in North Yorkshire, one of the natural landscapes that needs protecting in 2016. Picture: James Hardisty.
Whipperdale Bank in North Yorkshire, one of the natural landscapes that needs protecting in 2016. Picture: James Hardisty.
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FATHER Christmas. We wanted to wish upon a star earlier in the year but sadly we couldn’t see any for all the unnecessary light pollution in some areas. So we decided to write to you instead.

For a start, I suppose, we would quite like more awareness around the impact of light pollution on habitats and the night skies. We all love to see twinkling stars and witness our precious habitats. We need more sensitive lighting and community-led light-dimming projects.

But there are a few other things we might like for next year…

Though it might sound a little boring, we really would like a fair and balanced planning system. One where reasoned and logical thought ensures we get the right kind of development in the right place at the right time for the right reasons.

The Government has recently moved to increase the development of low cost market homes in place of homes that everyone can afford to live in. Yet we desperately need genuinely affordable homes across Yorkshire.

In place of the current system, which crudely predicts the number of homes we need and aims to provide them, we would really like a smarter process that plans, monitors and provides the right kind of homes. Planning is not a simplistic numbers game: it’s about real people and living places!

We’d also be very grateful if you could help us to protect the green belt around York. Green belt stops our cities from sprawling, but it also does so much more than provide a green ring around large settlements.

It enables people to get out into the countryside quickly to walk their dogs and go on rambles. It provides nearby land to produce local food. The green belt assists urban regeneration by encouraging the recycling of derelict land and buildings within towns and cities.

By maintaining green belt and redeveloping derelict land, we can make urban and rural places better places to live.

We promise we’re not swearing, but there is a fracking awful problem in Ryedale right now – one that threatens the area on the edge of our precious North York Moors National Park.

We need your help. We know we need to use better energy, but is fracking really the answer? Is it really right to destroy acres of land on the boundary of such a heritage and community asset for something that is so controversial? Landscape and countryside should be given the value and protection that it deserves. If fracking is to go ahead, despite community opposition, we need clear and better safeguards – and we need them now.

Yet, if we build better insulated homes and businesses, we will save energy and we will need to produce far less. Solar power has also come such a long way in recent years and all those businesses and factories could use their vast roof areas to generate power.

There are cleaner, safer and more sustainable answers to our energy needs that should be receiving much more support and investment.

One thing we would really like for next year is a greater awareness of the importance of food and farming in the North Yorkshire area.

Farmers don’t just provide food: they are guardians of our countryside, maintaining our iconic dry stone walls, hedgerows and field systems that are seen across the world. They maintain the countryside for the visitors our successful Yorkshire tourism industry depends upon.

There really is no such thing as an unimportant field! On the surface, grasses grow to feed the grazing livestock that ultimately go into the food chain, some fields grow crops (and sunflowers) and some produce acres of lavender.

Each field contributes to the biodiversity of the county. Every dry stone wall is part of the amazing biodiversity superhighway. Farming really isn’t the poor relation of industry.

So, I appreciate that this is a very big ask, but please could you help us to make sure that we ensure the beautiful, stunning and awe inspiring countryside of North Yorkshire from Whitby to Selby to Craven is allowed to live and thrive for our generation and those generations of the future? It’s the only countryside we have and, once it’s gone, it’s gone forever!

We would really appreciate it if we could help all the people who contact our charity asking for our help. They often sound so desperate and lost in the complexities of planning – and it breaks our hearts when we cannot help them all.

We try our best but all too frequently we have to take on only the largest issues.

So, if you could help us to achieve some of this, we would be so very grateful. In the meantime, to all the hard working volunteers of the Campaign to Protect Rural England in North Yorkshire: a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year and thank you all.

Jules Marley is chairman of the CPRE in North Yorkshire.