Park life in the Dales and Peaks for asylum seekers and offenders on probation

They are the crown jewels of Britain’s countryside, but for some they are scarcely more accessible than the ones in the Tower of London.

A Yorkshire Dales project introducing asylum seekers to the National Park has been shortlisted for a national award.
A Yorkshire Dales project introducing asylum seekers to the National Park has been shortlisted for a national award.

The 13 National Parks of England and Wales, of which two are in North Yorkshire, welcome millions of visitors every year, yet only around one in 100 is from a minority community, according to annual surveys.

However, three years after the Government published a policy paper promoting a more diverse catchment, the landscape appeared to be changing.

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Two schemes in the North to open up the parks to new audiences are among six to be shortlisted for the annual Park Protector Award, an Oscar of the open air, and for the first Year of Green Action award from the Government’s environment department.

Skill Builder participants at work in the Peak District.

In the Yorkshire Dales, a programme called People and the Dales is said to have enabled asylum seekers and others from “a truly diverse range of backgrounds”, including inner-city youths, to experience the countryside. Further south, in the Peak District, an initiative known as Skill Builder is geared towards rehabilitating offenders on probation.

The winner will receive a £2,000 grant and the runner-up £1,500.

The projects are in sharp contrast to previous Park Protector winners, which have included a projects to restore swathes of wildlife habitat in the South Downs, and to pass traditional skills down through the generations in the Lake District.

They also differ from the traditionalist nature of this year’s other nominees, including the mapping of archaeological sites in the New Forest, and rescuing butterfly populations on Exmoor and Dartmoor.

The Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, which is running the asylum seekers project, said it would give thousands a “life changing experience” in the National Park.

Judy Rogers, the trust’s outreach officer, said: “We’ve worked with so many amazing people who have come through incredibly tough times.

“To see them engaging with Dales farmers and residents and really appreciating the countryside is both humbling and inspiring.”

The Peak District programme is made up of offenders who have completed enforced programs through the probation service but have “now made a conscious decision” to become community volunteers.

Dave Cramp, the park’s conservation volunteers officer, said: “It doesn’t really matter where they ‘come from – it’s a project about where they are going.

“Members of the group have come to their own conclusion that they need to make changes in their life, and that is a very powerful thing to do. They are now voluntarily contributing to protect and enhance the Peak District National Park for the good of the society that they are members of.”

Nikki Dyas, at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, added: “I feel privileged to have witnessed first-hand the huge benefits people have gained from this opportunity.”