Colin Speakman: We can break new boundaries in the battle to protect beauty of our glorious national parks

Walkers at Malham Cove in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Picture: Simon Hulme
Walkers at Malham Cove in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Picture: Simon Hulme
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STAND on the summit of the Howgill Fells, in the northwest corner of the Yorkshire Dales, say on Langdale Fell or Uldale Head, and you understand why Alfred Wainwright could enthuse about these “steep sided, but gently domed” fells which he suggested are “beautiful in a way that few hilly areas are”.

Such words can equally be applied to glorious Wild Boar Fell overlooking Mallerstang, or the gentler, limestone Orton Fells, so reminiscent of Malhamdale. These landscapes are as fine as anything in any national park in England or Wales.

It is a shock to then learn these stunning areas receive absolutely no special landscape protection, whereas similar areas immediately to the south do.

Why on earth should there be an invisible line across the top of the Howgills or at Aisgill, to determine that areas to the north are not national park, but identical, perhaps slightly less dramatic, hillsides to the south are?

The only reason these and other areas to the east and west of the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales National Parks were excluded in the 1950s was owing to forgotten and irrelevant political boundaries between Westmorland and the old West Riding.

After more than half a century, these absurdities are finally being put to rest.

Natural England, successor to the old National Park Commission, in its major Lakes to Dales Landscape Designation Project, is looking again at the boundaries of the two national parks, and after massive local consultation, has come up with proposed new boundaries that make much more aesthetic and geographical sense.

There can only be one criterion for inclusion of countryside in a national park and that is landscape quality. Anyone with an eye for landscape knows these areas fully meet such a criterion.

Yet these landscapes are under serious threat. Given the Government’s massive proposed expansion of state subsidised wind turbines, any ridge or fell outside a designated landscape such as a national park or AONB will be under threat from this form of highly intrusive industrial development.

Little wonder therefore that a massive 68 per cent of Natural England’s consultees, including a majority of local residents, support the proposals.

So what are the arguments against? As always, local councillors see a threat if any powers, especially for development control, are possibly being taken away from them.

If additional elected representatives from, say, Eden District mean that some existing North Yorkshire councillors might no longer enjoy their power and importance on the National Park Planning Committee, wild claims of democracy being under threat are made.

In truth, development control matters only affect a tiny minority of people living within the parks. Planning control in national parks is basically no different, if somewhat more stringent, than in areas outside their boundaries, but major development is far less likely to occur in parks, a fact most local people welcome.

The other side of the coin is that farmers and landowners within such landscapes are more likely to receive extra help to maintain and manage the countryside in sustainable ways.

The nostalgic view that farmers, by themselves, can maintain the walls, barns, footpaths and wildlife is sadly far from the truth.

Though farmers, understandably, hate the word “subsidy”, in 21st century Britain, without significant financial intervention from the public purse, farming in our precious uplands could not survive. This financial support comes primarily from the Common Agricultural Policy which is going through massive changes, with cuts in support certain. Vital support through High Level Stewardship schemes is currently threatened, but designated areas such as national parks are rightly regarded as high priority for such support under new EU rules.

The Campaign for National Parks is currently working at the highest level with Government to ensure a fair deal for economically hard-pressed farmers in national parks, to fully support their superb work caring for our landscapes.

And let’s not forget the vital issue of future food security as world cheap food surpluses begin to vanish and home- produced beef, milk and lamb become ever more vital for our economy. A study some years ago proved that national park areas in Yorkshire were actually more prosperous than other rural areas. Visitors spend money that helps keep the local shop and pub open, the bus service running. Many farmers have diversified into small-scale tourism enterprises.

But the final objection is that if new areas in Cumbria are included with the Yorkshire Dales National Park the word “Yorkshire” might have to be dropped.

Interestingly, the popular ITV documentary series about the Dales, sponsored by Welcome to Yorkshire, is simply called The Dales. Would it be such a tragedy if there was a Dales National Park Authority, caring for both the Yorkshire Dales and the Cumbrian Dales?

For a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to protect one of the greatest and most spectacular parts of England from ugly development or neglect, tweaking the authority’s name (not that of the two actual areas) would be a small price to pay.

Colin Speakman is chairman of the Yorkshire Dales Society.