'Invention' needed for future of North York Moors National Park

The beck in Little Beck Wood Nature Reserve at Littlebeck on the North York Moors
The beck in Little Beck Wood Nature Reserve at Littlebeck on the North York Moors

The leader of a Yorkshire national park authority has spoken of how “inventive and imaginative” ways of working are key to its future as further uncertainty looms over Government funding.

The North York Moors National Park Authority’s finance committee heard about how a rising amount of work to conserve and improve the area is going ahead despite a continuing squeeze on its finances – Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs funds have roughly halved over the last 15 years.

Members were told that while it was proposed to cut the amount of grants it gives for work such as conservation next year, the move masked the increasing spending and efforts to fulfil its main statutory purposes.

While pressure was again rising around its core government funding, its income from sources such as car parking fees and planning charges were helping the authority to provide match-funding from external sources.

Speaking yesterday after the meeting this week, the authority’s chief executive Andy Wilson said: “The problem for us is that we need to spend time and money to generate more money. We’re certainly reliant on income in a way we weren’t 10 years ago.”

DEFRA used to provide about 80 per cent of the park’s budget but it decreased to around 45 per cent, according to Mr Wilson.

Officers said the authority was also facing growing financial risks, with an unknown level of Government funding following March 2020, possible “radical impacts” from Brexit, legal costs and match-funding requirements, but despite this action would continue fighting to increase external funding.

They told the meeting the authority was set to reduce its funding for apprentices and grants it gave for community schemes from £212,000 to £118,000 for the coming year to balance its books.

Officers said as the authority gave a large number of grants through other sources, its goals could be achieved despite the discretionary grant cutbacks.

He said: “We need to be imaginative about how we get things done, inventive and imaginative about how we do our work.”

This includes expanding its workforce with a “huge, enthusiastic army” volunteers to help with conservation.

Around 14,000 working volunteer days took place across the park last year, said Mr Wilson.

Mr Wilson told the meeting: “The total amount of money that the authority is spending on these things if all our plans went ahead would be increasing by a lot.”

Mr Wilson pointed towards the millions of pounds of funding the authority had attracted for large-scale landscape improvement schemes such as This Exploited Land of Iron and Ryevitalise.

Sounding a note of caution, he added: “There is an issue as to where the money comes from and what you define as a grant, but I think it’s important we are spending a lot more in these areas and the issue is that requires staff to do it.

“We can’t go on doing everything.

“This could be the future and there could continue to be a shift towards this. For the time being the good thing is we are protecting in the years afterwards those core grants.”

The national park, one of 15 in the UK, covers an area of 554 square miles and has 26 miles of coastline, and contains the largest expanse of heather moorland in England and Wales.