By Jane Hargreaves
Do we take our natural environment too much for granted in our relatively remote and less populated part of Yorkshire? The Biodiversity Forum’s Nature in the Dales 2020 Vision is working on your behalf to retain and enhance the diversity and splendour of nature that we enjoy in the National park. I am the UWFS representative on the Biodiversity Forum. We meet three times a year to exchange ideas and knowledge and to update on what is happening in the area of the National Park. The entire National Park now includes the extension area of the Northern Howgills and Orton Fells and land to the north of Kirkby Lonsdale. Members of the forum include a wide range of people with ecological interests and expertise. The organizations represented are the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Yorkshire Dales River Trust, Yorkshire Dales Environment Network, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust, National Trust, Natural England, Parish Wildlife Projects, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, Wharfedale Naturalists’ Society, Upper Wharfedale Field Society and a number of independent individuals. Representation from farmers’ groups is to be added as farmers are a key to much implementation of good biodiversity practice which will change in emphasis as we leave the European Union. We are now more than half way through the Nature in the Dales 2020 Vision with the aim “to promote biodiversity conservation in the Yorkshire Dales National Park and to encourage greater understanding and involvement of people in looking after their natural environment”. Some of the major projects are highlighted below:
Yorkshire Peat Partnership
The Yorkshire Peat Partnership is working closely with the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust in a huge project to restore peat bogs all over Yorkshire which were so damaged by the gripping (drainage) promoted in the 1950s and more recently to try and bring the uplands into more production. Large areas at the top of Wharfedale have been worked on to close the grips and encourage less rapid water flow off the bogs so that the sphagnum moss and other plants can regrow and establish the natural peat development again. Monitoring will be carried out over many years to establish how well the bog plants grow and lock carbon in the ground and retain more water in the uplands, helping to prevent severe flooding downstream.
Hay Time Project
The Hay Time Project has been led and funded by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust and works towards enhancing the flora and fauna to be found in our unique hay meadows. Rich meadow seed is transferred to meadows with less plant variety to upgrade the flora and this is being done and monitored in our local upper dales, especially in fields in Halton Gill and Litton parishes.
The National Trust is very conscious of the need for biodiversity in their care. Conifers have been felled above Darnbrook and many native trees planted on the Malham Tarn and the Yockenthwaite estates. Over 100 000 trees have been planted in the last two years. The numbers of grazing animals on both National Trust land and land in other ownership have been reduced and changed from predominantly sheep to include increasing numbers of hardy breeds of cattle, such as Longhorn and Belted Galloway, which graze the land all year in a more sympathetic way than sheep. This is visibly altering the landscape and it is being monitored to see what happens in years to come.
The 2016 reintroduction of water voles into Malham Tarn has so far been a success but only years of careful study will show how they survive in years to come. The habits and migration routes of bats in our local limestone caves are being studied and the knowledge will hopefully enhance their chances of survival. Raptors are a controversial topic, especially the persecution of Hen Harriers and other birds of prey associated with grouse moors.
Parish Wildlife Project
Important smaller projects are promoted by the Parish Wildlife Project which has over 40 sites where local groups work together. What the future hold depends on nature itself and how it reacts to big changes such as ash dieback. Many organizations can offer both young and older people hands-on experience and advice on enhancing biodiversity in their areas.