New countryside leader sets out ambitions in ensuring a sustainable future for Nidderdale AONB

Determining agricultural policies that work for upland farmers will define the lay of the land in Yorkshire’s ‘undiscovered dale’, its incoming leader has said, as he sets out ambitions for protecting one of the nation’s most treasured landscapes.

Iain Mann, who has taken up a new post as Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Manager. Image: James Hardisty

Iain Mann, recently appointed manager for the Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), has spoken of his priorities when it comes to the countryside’s conservation and growth.

As he cites a myriad of major issues from sustainability to climate change, biodiversity and woodland creation, he reflects on a complex knot of how it all comes together for the preservation and enhancement of habitats and communities.

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At its heart, he said, is an ambition to ensure that farmers’ voices are heard when it comes to constructing policies which will “underscore” what the landscape will look like for generations to come.

Sunshine over Gouthwaite reservior in Nidderdale. Gary Longbottom

“We all want to see a viable future for upland communities, hand in hand with enhancing the environment,” said Mr Mann. “These things aren’t separate - and that’s what we need to get right. It is probably the most important thing, that we have a system that really recognises the needs of upland farmers.

“The AONB is a big area of the country, and it is incredible important that we find a way to look after it and also to look after the environment in a natural way.

“We’ve got to get it right, otherwise it’s going to really challenging in the future.”

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Iain Mann, who has taken up a new post as Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty Manager. Image: James Hardisty

The Nidderdale AONB is one of 38 areas across England and Wales protected in recognition of its significant landscape value, from the dales of the Washburn Valley to its wildflower meadows, heather moorlands and hamlets.

Mr Mann, appointed manager this summer as Paul Burgess stood down after 25 years, is charged with its direction and leading the Pateley Bridge team.

The area’s thriving wildlife is a priority, he said, in protecting the “signature sound” of the dale in its wading birds and curlews, while ensuring its diversity of habitats.

Additionally he is keen for the area to play a part in climate change debate, through mitigation and in helping nature to adapt, and in a contribution through woodland creation - though not by ‘putting conifers everywhere’, he quickly adds.

Now is a critical time, he said, not only as the Government considers the role of protected landscapes, but also as society seeks out the countryside in new ways.

This access to green spaces - for health and happiness and wellbeing - is crucial, he said, but comes with a knowledge that the countryside must be recognised for what it gives.

“It’s this idea that farmers are looking after public goods, and we need to recognise them,” he said. “That could in supplying the area’s drinking water, or a haven of wildflowers. We are playing our part in that.

“We want to make sure that people can continue to enjoy the countryside, but also to learn about how the countryside works - and how to look after it,” he added. “It is a place where people live and work, and a place to respect.”

Vast area

The Nidderdale AONB covers 233sq miles stretching from the high moorland of Great Whernside to the edge of the Vale of York.

It is home to over 16,000 people, and houses one world heritage site, 564 listed buildings, 123 scheduled monuments and 11 reservoirs, drawing 1.4m visitors every year.

There are four dark sky discovery sites within its bounds, as well as 14 conservation areas.

Mr Mann, who previously led the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership and worked with the Yorkshire Dales ranger services, most recently served as a senior policy advisor for Defra and hopes he can bridge a gap to what works in practice.

“It’s hugely important to Yorkshire,” he said. “It’s a significant part of the region’s land area, and what it adds is a huge array of natural habitats, and a really special place for people to live.”


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James Mitchinson