More new native woodland has been created in the Yorkshire Dales since 2018 than park authority bosses expected

New native woodland has been created at an even greater scale than hoped for during the past year in the Yorkshire Dales National Park in what a senior official described as 'the big story' for the protected area.

The annual report of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan published yesterday also shows that water quality has improved, and ‘massive investment’ has been made in areas such as Upper Ribblesdale and Swaledale.

But one of the authors of the report said that while progress on water quality and peatland restoration, "the scale of the task ahead is absolutely huge” and that there was yet to be "any real improvement in the condition of the most important habitats in the National Park".

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The annual report, which will be debated at the annual general meeting of the National Park Authority next week, also highlights progress made in the past year on building broadband infrastructure, achieving International Dark Sky Reserve status and making more rights of way accessible to all including people using wheelchairs.

The steering group which wrote the report heard that the NPMP objective to create 450 hectares - or 1,100 acres - of new native woodland in the National Park between 2018 and 2024 had already been exceeded. A total of 232 hectares were planted in 2020/21, compared with 131 in 2019/20 and 90 in 2018/19.

The completion of the Ingleborough Dales Landscape Partnership scheme – known as Stories in Stone – was noted as another important achievement.

Over five years, the programme provided grants worth almost £1.7m to 170 individual projects, covering wildlife, cultural heritage, access improvements, and benefits to the local economy.

And the National Lottery-funded Tees-Swale: naturally connected programme had just started to bring ‘massive new investment’ to Swaledale and Arkengarthdale.

The Environment Agency reported that 62 per cent of rivers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park were assessed to be in good ecological status in the past year, up from 47 per cent in 2017.

Since 2009, millions of pounds worth of grants had been provided through Natural England’s Catchment Sensitive Farming initiative to farmers to carry out work to reduce diffuse pollution, such as roofing over muck middens, and that had benefited water quality, the steering group meeting heard.

Chair of the NPMP Steering Group, David Sharrod, who is Chief Executive Officer of Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, said: “Overall there has been really encouraging progress on many of the National Park Management Plan objectives, despite the impact of the coronavirus epidemic and the restrictions that have come along with that.

"The management plan is about bringing together everyone working in the National Park – organisations and individuals.

"Woodland creation is the big story at the moment and the success in exceeding what was an ambitious objective is down to a range of partners, not least Natural England, the Forestry Commission, YDMT and individual landowners.

"The completion of the Stories in Stone scheme is also a cause for celebration, as many great projects – such as the restoration of the Swarth Moor SSSI have been made possible by it.

“There have been some challenges in the past year. The coronavirus epidemic has knocked us back in a few areas, such as activity days for under-represented groups and volunteer days, and we have also yet to see any real improvement in the condition of the most important habitats in the National Park.

"It also has to be acknowledged that although the progress on water quality and on peatland restoration is remarkable, the scale of the task ahead is absolutely huge.”