New native woodland has been created at an even greater scale than hoped for during the past year in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, while water quality has improved, and ‘massive investment’ has been made in areas such as Upper Ribblesdale and Swaledale.
The annual report (see item 11) of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Management Plan 2019-24 (NPMP), published today, also highlights progress made in the past year on building broadband infrastructure, achieving International Dark Sky Reserve status for the National Park, and making more rights of way accessible to all including people using wheelchairs.
The annual report was finalised at a meeting of the NPMP steering group last Wednesday, and it will be debated at the annual general meeting of the National Park Authority a week today.
Alongside representatives from partner organisations such Natural England, the Dales Farmer Network and the District Councils, the NPMP Steering Group welcomed – for the first time – one of its two new ‘youth representatives’, 25 year old Laura Day from Orton in the ‘Westmorland Dales’ in Cumbria.
The steering group heard that the NPMP objective to create 450 hectares 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 ha in 2019/20 and 90 ha in 2018/19.
The completion of the Ingleborough Dales Landscape Partnership scheme – known as Stories in Stone – was noted as another important achievement. Over 5 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. Meanwhile 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% of rivers in the Yorkshire Dales National Park were assessed to be in good ecological status in the past year, up from 47% 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 (see picture) – 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.”