Farmers to get less help for walls and hedges

Grant funding awarded to farmers to help them maintain precious heritage features of the North York Moors landscape is expected to be cut this year as austerity cuts continue eroding National Park budgets.

More than 2,600 square metres of dry stone wall have been restored and 2,330 metres of hedgerow have been planted in the Moors thanks to grants totalling £64,000 over the last 12 months.

The funding was provided to farmers and landowners by the North York Moors National Park Authority’s Traditional Boundary Scheme, which was set up to help maintain these key landscape characteristics.

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While the Park does hope the scheme will be run again this year, it will draw on less funds, the Authority said, as it learns to live with less grant funding from central government.

Rachel McIntosh, the National Park Authority’s communications officer, said: “Grants like the Traditional Boundary Scheme are an important part of how we work with and support farmers and landowners for the good of the North York Moors. We will do all we can to continue to offer these grants, but the substantial cuts to our own funding has meant we had to reduce the total amount offered last year and will have to make further reductions to the pot for this year.”

Funding for conservation work of this ilk is important for the environment, farmers’ livestock and in maintaining the Moors as an attractive place to visit.

Hedgerows and drystone walls provide boundary markers and shelter for stock, help to reduce soil erosion and provide homes for wildlife across the National Park, as well as being aesthetically pleasing.

Brian Hope, of High House Farm near Sutton Bank, was a recipient of a boundary grant last year and he used it to restore 260 metres of dry stone wall.

He said: “Getting the grant was a very simple process and has transformed a dilapidated eyesore into a good secure boundary for our stock.”

Conservation project assistant Kirsty Brown, who oversees the boundary scheme in the North York Moors, said: “Various dry stone walls in the National Park are believed to go back to the Iron Age or earlier, with some on the coast being noted from Viking times, while some of our hedgerows are remnants of ancient woodland margins.”

She added: “In addition to supporting our local farms and benefitting wildlife, upkeeping our walls and hedges has an economic element too in making the area more appealing to visitors.

“The National Park Authority is keen therefore to do what it can to continue to support these traditional boundaries.”

David Perry from Robin Hood’s Bay used funding from the scheme to carry out hedgelaying at Low Askew Farm.

He said hedgelayers were a dying breed 30 years ago but grants like these, as well as increased environmental awareness of landowners, has sparked renewed interest in hedgelaying.

“Many farmers and landowners recognise the wildlife benefits and the shelter for stock that a well maintained hedge provides,” he said.

“Hedges act as wildlife corridors for a range of birds and animals that will not normally cross expanses of open land, provide nesting sites for birds and are an important food source for many creatures. In addition, the wall and the hedge are an underpinning visual characteristic of the landscape of the British Isles.”

Martin Dawson-Brown received a grant to assist in laying 194 metres of mixed hedgerow at his farm in Cropton.

He said: “It is one of a number of hedges we have planted over the years – all with wildlife in mind by choosing species that produce berries for birds.”

Tough times

National Parks remain gripped in an unprecedented squeeze on grant funding which has meant staff redundancies, cutbacks on services and volunteer recruitment campaigns to aid conservation tasks.

The North York Moors is no different and in the latest compromise on its budget, the Authority’s members reluctantly agreed in September to approve a cuts package to reduce its staff numbers by 10 per cent. Since 2012, the National Park Authority’s grant will have been slashed by more than 24 per cent to £4.1m by 2015/16.

Members are also sounding out the Charities Commission over setting up an independent charitable trust as it comes to terms with the government cuts.