How Yorkshire Dales can flourish for us all – Dr Amy-Jane Beer

ON the first of January during that weird festive warm spell I made a brisk ascent of Ingleborough with a group of friends.

The sun sets behind a lone tree on the limestone pavement at Twistleton Scar above Ingleton. Photo: Tony Johnson.

It was almost T-shirt weather on the way up, but once on the summit plateau, we met a ferocious wind that sliced through layers of hastily unpacked clothing and whipped tears from our eyes.

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We descended to Clapham via the dramatic cleft of Trow Gill, one of those corners of the Yorkshire that seem belong to an older, more mythological version of Britain.

Dr Amy-Jane Beer is the new honorary President of the Friends of the Dales.

While the grandeur of the place is principally geological, the character is greatly enhanced by its trees – pines on the brink of the gill and a procession of ash in the valley below.

It was a shock to see how many of them are now gone. One pine hangs upside down on the cliff face like an arboreal sword of Damocles, and the track below is a graveyard of ash – victims of early winter storms and of the dieback disease cause by the Hymenoscyphus fraxineus. The sight of so many taken in one swipe hit hard.

Whatever measures we manage to take now to limit the climate and biodiversity crises, we’re all in for a lifetime of unprecedented change and changeability: weird weather, ferocious storms, floods and fire-breeding droughts, waves of invasive species and novel disease.

But we do have choices and we’re far from helpless. The coming years must be about building resilience – environmentally, economically and socially.

A walker looks up at Trow Gill, a meltwater gorge near Clapham in the Yorkshire Dales.

To me it is clear that materially we must learn to be content with less – 
partly because much will be taken from us, and because the problems we face are driven by greed that will never be sated. But it needn’t be a hardship. Consumerism is a kind of addiction, but there is another kind, and it’s one that I’m only too happy to peddle.

Nature is not a panacea for all human ills, but it can be a powerful component in a healthy, fulfilled life, and we don’t have enough of it.

The international Biodiversity Intactness Index ranks the UK is ranked 189th, making it us one of the most nature-depleted countries in the entire world.

Access to diverse nature should be treated as a human right – not only because it enhances individual lives, but because our future depends on a shared respect and responsibility towards that which sustains us all.

We should be pushing for the restoration of nature everywhere, 
but National Parks are a good place to start. You might imagine these green swathes of the map are already havens 
for nature, but this is simply not the 
case.

At present, only 26 per cent of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest designated within England’s National Parks are in good condition, compared to 46 per cent elsewhere.

A National Park is for everyone. And I don’t just mean for a day out. These landscapes are important even if you never set foot in one. Most are uplands, where peatland, forests and grasslands have the potential to be massive natural carbon stores. They are places where waters gather and flow downstream, either devastatingly fast, or slowly and nourishingly depending on how we manage the catchment.

My personal ambitions for a wilder, more resilient and accessible National Park landscapes rich in both nature and culture chime closely with those of the small but dynamic charity I’ve recently joined as honorary (and voluntary) President.

Friends of the Dales positions itself as a critical friend to the National Park, and it’s a strong, respectful relationship. Some recent priorities include tackling the huge unwanted legacy of plastic tree guards used in woodland creations schemes and a switch to more sustainable alternatives; the biodiversity enhancing management of verges and greens and the urgent restoration of our precious peatlands, which play a vital role in both flood management and carbon storage.

As a result of recent restrictions of foreign travel and indoor leisure, the Dales had its busiest year ever in terms of visitor numbers in 2021. What’s more, the people coming are more diverse than ever.

The increase has put strain on the financial and human resources of the park but staff and local communities coped admirably, and I was hugely encouraged to hear senior managers describe the numbers as a great problem to have, because a love of nature that begins with a day out can be transformative in so many ways.

At an individual level, time in green space is shown to be physically, mentally and spiritually beneficial, and society that appreciates and reciprocate the gifts of nature will be nurtured in return. We have everything to gain.

Dr Amy-Jane Beer is the new honorary President of the Friends of the Dales.

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