I FIRST encountered the Yorkshire Dales as a boy on visits from my home in Sunderland. I loved the place and returned frequently thereafter.
Several years back when we were looking for a school where our children could board while we were overseas, Giggleswick ticked all the boxes, including its fantastic location just outside the Dales.
We moved our family home to nearby Langcliffe at the same time and it was always a joy to return to the tranquil and inspiring Dales from the oil fields of the Niger delta whenever we could.
When I had the opportunity to take early retirement in 2009, we jumped at the chance and have been learning more about the natural beauty, the wildlife and the cultural heritage of the Dales ever since, and about some of the challenges faced by the place and its people.
I firmly believe that the need for the Yorkshire Dales Society, and other groups like ours, has never been greater. The benefits of National Parks are well recognised and appreciated by those who live and work in them or are fortunate enough to visit them.
It is not so clear that the Government feels the same way.
This is manifested in the severe budget cuts being experienced by the National Park Authorities (custodians of our National Parks) and service providers (for transport, for example); increasing pressure to permit developments which are inconsistent with the statutory purposes of National Parks; and increasing political apathy towards environmental issues.
We, of course, recognise the pressure that the public finances are under and the need for all to share the pain, but if you consider that the English taxpayer pays less than £1 per person per year for the administration of our National Parks and Areas of Outstanding National Beauty, it does beg the question if further reduction to the Park Authorities’ budgets is wise.
The living, working landscapes of these areas underpin the economy and the health and wellbeing of society and these benefits are surely worth this modest cost.
Together with hundreds of others across England, I had the pleasure of walking in a National Park earlier this month in support of the campaign to stop the cuts to their funding and to make sure National Park Authorities have enough money to conserve our most famous landscapes for future generations.
The walk I joined around Ribblehead was enjoyed by over seventy participants of all ages and backgrounds. Some were familiar with the area and were lending their support to help keep what they know and love for their children and grandchildren. Others had never been in the Dales before, and it was a privilege to see how inspiring they found the experience and a reminder of how fortunate we are who live here.
With regard to the development challenge, we also recognise the potential tension between the need for economic growth and the requirement to “conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage” of the National Parks as specified in their statutory purposes.
Conservation means, to me, “wise use” of resources, and this can go hand in hand with the economic wellbeing of our local communities. The sympathetic conversion, for example, of a derelict roadside barn to a residence conserves it while benefiting local builders and suppliers.
We, however, need to speak out when we see this economic/conservation balance going awry, which we feel it has done in the potash mine decision in the North York Moors National Park.
The society, as a campaigning organisation, alongside partner groups, objected to this development. We have our own issues in the Dales National Park with crushed rock quarrying where we hope to see the growing use of rail reduce the blight of lorries trundling through villages and towns.
As well as “campaign” and “protect”, the society’s other core purpose is “enjoy”. We are blessed with having so much in the Dales to enjoy – the interaction of people with nature has produced a landscape of remarkable beauty and distinctive character – and I hope we can entice more prospective members to join us in the events we organise.
Our “Dales Insights”, “Vibrant Communities”, “Classic Countryside” and “Focus on the Dales” events offer wonderful opportunities to learn more about our landscape, communities, cultural heritage, and wildlife as well as spending time with like-minded people. To get to them, use can be made of our own DalesBus service, operated by our subsidiary the Dales and Bowland Community Interest Company.
If I had to choose my favourite parts of the Dales, the list would have to include the Howgills (wonderful open space without walls or fences), Mallerstang, Dentdale, Muker’s meadows just before hay making, and watching the salmon jump up Stainforth Foss.
Next year is the Society’s 35th birthday and as well as using the anniversary to reflect on what the Society has achieved so far and to chart our way forward for the next few years – which I hope will include attracting more trustees, volunteers and members to join us – we need to find an appropriate way to celebrate and mark the event. We’ve got our thinking caps on!
n Mark Corner is the new chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society.