Significantly more time is being invested by volunteers to help conserve the protected landscapes of the North York Moors, but efforts to support local farm businesses are being undermined by uncertainty over the future of farming policy.
At the halfway point of the national park authority’s latest four-year business plan, its progress towards a wide range of ambitious targets is assessed in a new report by chief executive Andy Wilson.
He explains that “significant progress” has been made towards increasing the number of volunteer days involved in conservation work by 5,000 a year between April 2017 and April 2021, and restoring historic woodlands.
However, other targets are proving harder to hit, such as supporting farm businesses to become more resilient and adaptable to changing economic circumstances whilst contributing to the park’s special qualities.
Support is being offered to farmers entering new ‘higher level’ agri-environment schemes and by trialling a new Environmental Land Management Scheme, but in his report, Mr Wilson says: “Uncertainty around future policy and post-Brexit schemes makes it difficult to provide targeted advice.”
Another challenge is the availability of data and records for monitoring and surveying the authority’s work, with Mr Wilson listing this as an area of concern.
The authority’s progress since 2017 will be discussed by members on Monday.
Overall, 35 of the 54 objectives in the authority’s business plan have either been achieved or substantial progress has been made towards them.
The authority is set to exceed a target to secure £6m in external income and work is underway on more than 200 hectares of ancient woodland.
Some 132 potential sites for wildlife corridors have been identified, with a focus on areas around the rivers Rye and Esk. Hedge and tree planting, riverside fencing and grassland management is underway to create the corridors, but the work is not as far on expected and its long-term targets are under review.
A target for 80 per cent of the park’s rights of way to be easy to use has been exceeded, with 99 per cent user satisfaction recorded in a survey.
A 2.1km route has been created around Cod Beck reservoir to open up access to disabled visitors by working with the National Trust and Yorkshire Water.
The authority aims to inspire more young people to understand and experience the Moors and more than 18,000 ‘contacts’ had been made through the education service since April 2017.
More on-site interpretation boards are being erected for visitors and the authority is working with 600 tourism businesses and organisations to support promotional activities.