North Yorkshire landscapes to be restored in £5.7m plan to put farmers at heart of nature's recovery

A clarion call on green spaces once warned the nation must make room for nature, in thinking bigger to better manage cherished landscapes which are slowly in decline.

Dr Ruth Starr-Keddle carrying out a meadow survey in Upper Swaledale. Image: North Pennines AONB
Dr Ruth Starr-Keddle carrying out a meadow survey in Upper Swaledale. Image: North Pennines AONB

A decade on, and those tentative steps can now turn to reality for some of Yorkshire’s remotest communities, with £5.7m secured for a momentous scheme.

It is hoped the project, one of the most significant in the UK, can boost Dales’ nature from hay meadows to blanket bogs by putting upland farmers at the heart of recovery.

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Doing so, said those leading the scheme, could also prevent a return of flash flooding which devastated many communities last summer, while further enforcing an agenda to ‘level up’ the North.

Swaledale scenes. Image; YDNPA

Tony Juniper, chairman of Natural England, said: “Work like this helps combat both the climate and nature crises that are now upon us, while also bringing wellbeing benefits for people.

“At the same time as creating a collection of high-quality and well-connected areas that allow wildlife to thrive and cope with climate change, this project will enhance natural beauty and bring benefits in relation to flood alleviation.”

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The wider £8.5m project, called Tees-Swale: naturally connected, looks at two landscapes for restoration covering more than 500 miles in Upper Teesdale and Upper Swaledale, with £5.7m funding secured from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

A farmer at Hill Gill. Image: Natural England

The aim is to support natural habitats and reverse a decline in biodiversity by restoring hay meadows, peatlands and rivers, and by creating new wetlands and woodlands.

There are warnings that these areas, though rich in wildlife, still face a threat with nature in retreat, and the hope is that through farmer-focused recovery they can thrive.

Sixty farmers and landowners have already committed to the scheme, and the aim is to work with 300 over the next five years.

Parts of Swaledale were hit by flash flooding last July, with homes inundated and bridges swept away when 113mm of rain fell in less than three hours.

Species rich meadow in Teesdale. Image; North Pennines AONB

Richmondshire District Council has pledged £50,000 towards the wider cost of the project, in the hope that investment can prevent a return of such devastation.

Boost to communities

Neil Heseltine, chairman of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority which is collaborating on the project with the North Pennines AONB, said this will be a great boost to these communities.

“There’s never been a more important time to help our farmers to make the transition to producing food in a way that turbo-charges nature recovery as a core part of their business,” he said.

“It’s also never been more evident how much we need to create opportunities to connect people with nature in our National Landscapes.”

The programme, focusing on engagement and investment in assets, is also hoped to bring economic benefits to communities.

David Renwick, director for the North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “We want to ensure that the nature recovery at the heart of projects like this, is connected in with social and economic agendas too, that make sure communities have the best chance of linking in with the nature on their doorsteps.”

Putting farming at 'heart of recovery'

Prof Sir John Lawton, author of the original 2010 national report called Making Space for Nature, is now chairman of the Tees-Swale board.

He ‘fell in love’ with these rural landscapes after moving to York in the 1970s, he said.

“The area is a stunning cultural landscape, moulded by human activities for millennia,” he said. “It is also one of the most biodiverse parts of the English uplands, partly as a result of some of the nature-friendly farming practices that take place there.

“The programme allows us to build on those practices and put farming at the heart of nature recovery.

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