Friends of the Dales: Meet the volunteers fighting for the Yorkshire Dales - from better buses to river quality and more housing
Film script writer Bruce McLeod has been at the helm of the organisation as chair for four years and will relinquish his role in September. It is a term of office that has seen great strides made under his tenure and although he will no longer be chair his passion for the area he lives, the work he has seen taking place and the charity itself will remain undiminished as he stays on as a trustee.
“I have always been politically engaged but not with my local community and this has been my opportunity to be more plugged into the community and the Dales.
“Being chair has fulfilled a desire within myself to be more active in that area and to be a little bit more activist, to give back something to this beautiful area that I live in.
“That’s very much what Friends of the Dales is all about, making connections and bringing topics and issues to the awareness of members and the public and hopefully shifting attitudes in such a way that they then become active.
“I think we have built on our effectiveness, particularly with our quarterly review publication, which has been our calling card to our members and wider public. I am very proud that our editorial team put out such a quality magazine addressing the areas that people are really concerned about and I see us as cutting edge in terms of bringing visions to the fore, getting people to debate and to think about these things.
“Our raison d’etre is that these are your issues, that you’re concerned about, so what do you want us to do for you and what can you do? That way, with us working together, we can rectify whatever that issue may be.
Bruce is in no doubt over where the greater monetary support and delivery of what has been promised in the past needs to become real.
“It’s about government policy. Farmers are currently being left very vulnerable, given that they depend on the government to lay down a policy and fund that policy properly. For example, the ELMS scheme, where they are supposedly being rewarded for what they do for the environment. These schemes are still obscure.
“Government need to make policy clear, the funding clear and the objectives clear. We can only point out what we would like to see happen, but of course farmers have to deal with the bureaucracy and basically trying to figure out how to survive. That is very difficult if you are in a precarious position and that makes it hard to then embrace radical change. Support and security is needed to achieve that.
Friends of the Dales works closely with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority and Bruce believes the public support given by the charity has never been more important.
“We have a very good relationship with the National Park Authority. We’ve been very forthright in supporting their efforts to agree with what much of the park authority is about and their objectives.
“We really try to support them in calling for greater funding again. We cannot talk about nature recovery and tackling climate breakdown unless the National Park Authorities are properly funded and know that they are going to be funded over the long term.
“We try to shout about that as much as possible and exert as much pressure on the new North Yorkshire County Council who promise great things, but we don’t want just placatory words. We want action.
“It’s a little bit like when people talk about achieving zero carbon by this or that date. You say okay, that’s great, but let’s have more than the rhetoric, and what it comes down to is pushing for funding.
“One of the things we have been very supportive of is a proper public transport system so that people can use it regularly rather than private cars, which kind of undermines the whole carbon neutral idea of by such and such a date when 92 per cent of people visit the National Park in cars.
“We have Dales Bus but there’s a terrible paucity in terms of public transport and that means that people are forced to use their cars. It would be great to have a properly funded public service that is integrated with the railways in the region.
Bruce sees the sustainability of the Dales coming from better public transport, affordable housing and more jobs.
“Our spring edition of the review looks at ways we think about housing. There is a dearth of affordable housing within the Dales, which is increasingly becoming a retirement community with very expensive housing.
“The thing that’s really lacking is jobs. There’s really no point building more houses if there aren’t good, quality jobs within the Dales, because all you’re doing is adding commuter traffic. In order to keep younger people in the Dales you need affordable housing and good jobs.
“There is an easy win. We’ve a huge amount of houses that need retrofitting and that could employ a lot of people.
Bruce is proud of what the Friends of the Dales has achieved in his four years as chair but believes there is still much work to be done.
“In terms of public image, the amount of people that know about us has increased. Our From Peat to Paddling: What makes a healthy river? Conference last year was a terrific success highlighting the amount of sewage being pumped into the River Wharfe, and I'm also mightily proud of having 11 out of 12 national park societies and the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) endorse our campaign against plastic tree guards, calling for a ban on plastic tree guards in our national parks.
“The emphasis I wanted was to get younger people involved. Later this year we are hosting our first Creative Campaigners youth summit.
“We want to invest in them and give as much support as possible to follow their own interests for the good of the Dales and themselves.
Bruce believes there are serious environmental concerns that desperately need addressing internationally, and that the Friends of the Dales team is as committed as ever.
“If we aren’t serious about nature recovery then we are not serious about tackling the most pressing issues such as climate breakdown. We have a very committed and increasingly diverse board of trustees, a fabulous honorary president Dr Amy Jane Beer and an amazing membership.
“I’ve had a most rewarding experience as chair which has allowed me to be involved in local politics and environmental issues. I’ve very much enjoyed that.