A struggling North Yorkshire charity that champions and helps conserve one of the county’s most precious landscapes is commissioning a review to identify how it can address a worrying slump in income and volunteer numbers that threaten its long-term future.
The Friends of Nidderdale AONB (Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty) was set up in 2005 to help protect the landscapes for future generations to enjoy but its role is in jeopardy, according to the group’s chairman Heather Garnett.
Nidderdale is among 46 areas of the UK to have been designated AONB status, but the bodies that run them operate on little government funding and therefore benefit greatly from any additional support.
The special landscapes share the highest level of protection as National Parks, but Nidderdale AONB received £178,120 from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) in 2018/19.
By comparison, even after swingeing austerity cuts over the last decade, Defra funding is currently worth more than £5.2m to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and nearly £4.4m to the North York Moors.
Tight budgets for all authorities that act as guardians of protected environments has increased the reliance on volunteers, and groups like the Friends of Nidderdale AONB that qualify for grant funding that is not available to public-funded bodies, yet the Friends are facing a mounting financial crisis of their own.
To remedy the situation, the group has secured a £8,800 grant from the National Lottery Heritage Fund. The money will pay for an external review, which will make recommendations on the best ways for the charity’s small group of trustees to attract fresh financial and voluntary support.
Ms Garnett said: “We are passionate about Nidderdale AONB and supporting local projects for the benefit of local communities and visitors, and have a key role in conserving the area.
“The trustees have detailed knowledge of the AONB, but we are seeing income and membership levels decrease jeopardising the future of our organisation.”
She said the newly-awarded grant funding will “kick start the charity on a journey to greater resilience”, adding: “This grant fund will allow us to explore new and imaginative ways to look at alternative ways of generating income and support, so we can not only survive but thrive.”
Speculating on ways in which the group may seek to boost its income, she said this could involve seeking greater corporate backing from local businesses and online fundraising bids for specific projects in an attempt to encourage a younger demographic to show their support.
The charity currently has 100 members who helps trustees to host events and contribute to heritage projects.
Over the last 14 years, the charity has raised funds and supported projects such as “Nidderdale in the City” which took a family-friendly countryside experiences to people in inner city Leeds, and the Prince’s Countryside Fund farm project which offered business support to family-run farms.
Sarah Kettlewell, manager of the Nidderdale AONB, backed the Friends’ review, said: “This review will provide the platform for Friends of Nidderdale AONB to develop a new strategic plan supported by a training and mentoring programme for trustees.
“It’s an initiative all staff at Nidderdale AONB whole-heartedly support.”
Ms Garnett said the Friends will meet this month to discuss who to appoint to conduct the review and that the exercise will be completed later this year.
Nidderdale was designated an AONB 25 years ago. It spans 233 square miles between Wharfedale and Harrogate in the south eastern part of the Yorkshire Dales, is home to about 16,000 people and attracts 1.4m visitors a year.
It contains 11 reservoirs, Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal World Heritage Site, more than 500 listed buildings and nationally and internationally important habitats and wildlife.