New horizons at National Parks conference

Two weeks ago I was so proud of our National Park, our staff and our Members.  Somebody up there was looking after us when our Park got, by rota, the hosting of the UK National Parks NATIONAL conference!  And, because I am the Member Champion for ‘promoting understanding’, I got to work with our fab staff on the planning and organising.

Welcoming delegates to the UK National Parks Conference 2019

Our biggest challenge was to show off our wonderful, splendid, amazing National Park without turning the two days into a ‘full on’ tourist experience.  Let me explain.  We had representatives (Chairs, Members and CEOs) from all over the UK’s 15 National Parks: four delegates per Park, plus speakers and civil servants and writers and partners– over 100 delegates in total – and we all wanted to learn and talk ‘National Parks’;  that’s why we chose the theme ‘new horizons!’

So the way we did this was to offer 10 different all-day visits; each visit looked at the issues and a particular thing that happens in the Park, such as farms, quarrying, caving, cycling, and so on. 

(Images clockwise from top left: on their various tours delegates walked to Smardale Gill Viaduct in the western extension area of the National Park, had a thrilling underground adventure, were shown around Kirkby Lonsdale Brewery by business owner Stu Taylor, and enjoyed a behind-the-scenes visit to Swinden Quarry, thanks to the conference’s headline partners, Tarmac)

I had the privilege of co-hosting the visit to Hawes, which was on the theme of community sustainability.  Obviously, when we planned it, we expected former National Park Authority Member John Blackie to host it, but it turned out his legacy did him proud.

So we learnt about the community ownership and support of a petrol station, a post office, a library, a police station and a bus service.  We looked at how the Wensleydale Creamery brings in the tourists and creates local employment – lots of it!  We saw how, even with goodwill, not everything flies when we visited Gayle Mill.  And we finished at our lovely Dales Countryside Museum to hear about how a small, remote community sustains an award-winning museum.  We started and ended the day with a ride on the Settle-Carlisle railway – what was not to like.

(Images clockwise from top left: our tour to Hawes included a visit to Wensleydale Creamery, while other delegates summited Ingleborough, called in at the Kirkby Lonsdale Community Interest Company office, and enjoyed a sheep dog demo from Richard Fawcett)

Then it was back to the splendid Coniston Hotel for a great dinner, and the presentation of our Platinum Awards for both National Park and individual endeavours.  We also had briefings from the English, Scottish and Welsh governments on day 1, and three major debates on day 3 – on the environment, health and well being, and engaging young people.

(Images clockwise from top left: our conference session speakers on day 3 were Tony Juniper (Chair, Natural England) on the natural environment, Dr William Bird on health and well-being, and Georgina Umney on engaging young people. Meanwhile, Xander Johnston received the New Horizons young person’s award (seen here with Authority Chairman Carl Lis) for his passionate championing of Cairngorms National Park’s biodiversity)

So a very full-on 48 hours (only 48? really?) and a gauntlet thrown down to Exmoor National Park Authority to whom the baton has been passed for 2021!

Rare visitors cause a stir

The Wildlife Conservation Team at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority often receive a number of interesting reports of both common and, occasionally, more interesting wildlife sightings each year. 

This one, however, turned out to be something pretty special. 

Wildlife Conservation Officer Mark Hewitt received an email on the evening of 30 August from a visitor who reported seeing a chough above Settle.  Mark works part-time and I was away on leave, so it wasn’t until 6 September that we could actually get up and check out the report.      

As we walked up through the limestone grassland towards Victoria Cave (above Settle along the western fringe of the National Park), every corvid was carefully scrutinised. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, all turned out to be jackdaws. 

Attermire Scar viewed from the south

As we headed up the valley and the wind and rain picked up, two birds flew up in front of us: the first was a jackdaw, but the other called twice giving the distinctive ‘chow’ ‘chow’ call of a chough…

Before we could get anything on the bird it dropped out of sight behind a large knoll of exposed rock. We dashed over and then carefully inched around the rock until we could see the bird feeding on the ground. We could clearly see the red legs and down-curved bill of a chough, but couldn’t believe that we were watching one in the Yorkshire Dales National Park.   

Our first chough spotted at Attermire Scar

As we started to photograph the bird we were staggered to see it had landed next to another – so there were not one but two choughs present! 

Watching the birds feed, we could make out that both had colour rings on their legs, but they soon flicked up onto a wall and then dropped out of site just over the skyline. We sat down to double and triple check the photographs to convince ourselves that we had actually been watching two choughs. 

We zoomed in on the different coloured rings, to try and determine the combinations. While some captive birds will be ringed – we wanted to make sure that they hadn’t escaped from a collection – there are a number of projects that are looking to colour-ring wild birds, so their movements and life histories can be studied. 

…and our second chough! A very rare sighting indeed (Image: Mike Clarke)

The chough is a very rare bird away from coastal sites in Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and South West Scotland. In Yorkshire, there are historical records suggesting they may have bred on coastal cliffs in the 19th century. We subsequently determined that there had been only a further four records in the county, the most recent reported in 1994. 

We knew that these birds would be very popular with Yorkshire birders in particular and, as they were showing well from a public footpath in an area of Open Access and nearby roadside parking shouldn’t be too problematic, we immediately put the news out.  Well, not quite immediately as I had to wander around to find somewhere with sufficient mobile signal to tweet out the location and a photo of the birds.   

Behind the scenes, several of Yorkshire’s keenest birders were trying to track down the location where the birds had been ringed, and it wasn’t that long before we got a message that they had come from one of the study areas in Wales. As we knew that a number of people were heading to the site, we settled down to keep a watch on the birds. 

A small number of local birders arrived and, by mid-afternoon, several had arrived from much further afield. By this time, the birds had moved further down the valley and, at one point during a heavy shower, flew up on to the crag, enabling the inscription on the rings to be read and for their identity to be determined.   

The Cross & Stratford Welsh Chough Project has been undertaking a long-running study of choughs in mid and North Wales. They’ve marked over 6,000 individual birds during the past 28 years, providing key information on their movements and nesting behaviour.  Thanks to their prompt response we found out that ‘our’ two birds were juvenile siblings ringed out of a brood of three on the north east coast of Anglesey in late May this year.

Although the project has had several birds cross the border from its Welsh study area – including one seen on the Lancashire coast and a few on the Isle of Man – the c. 150km movement of these birds to Yorkshire is unprecedented. There must be something in the family genes as the same nest produced young in 2016 that moved around 220km from Anglesey to Porthcawl, Kenfig and Ogmore, all on the south coast of Wales, the longest movements of any birds studied in the project.    

A steady stream of birdwatchers has now enjoyed watched these rare visitors in this spectacular area of Yorkshire Dales limestone landscape.

I think that everyone who has been up to see them would like to thank the person who took the time to report the sighting, enabling many enthusiasts to see two truly remarkable visitors to the National Park.   

For more on the rare – and common, but equally fascinating – wildlife of the Yorkshire Dales National Park, visit our website

What’s on: UCI World Championships

Cyclists whizzing past on the road with many spectators, as part of the Tour de France

Interested in the bike race that will soon be gripping the attention of Yorkshire this September?

You can find below all of the special events that will be happening in the Yorkshire Dales National Park to celebrate the UCI World Championships. These include community activities that you and your family can be involved in, extraordinary land art that’s definitely worth a photo, and so much more.


Community Fun Day in Bainbridge – Sunday 29 September from 9am to 5pm

The community in Bainbridge have arranged for a family fun day on the village green, right on the route of the Men’s elite race on Sunday. Activity includes pop-up stalls, inflatables, music and entertainment and a big screen to watch the race!


Community Fun day in Carperby – Thursday 26th September from 11am to 2pm

The people of Carperby are coming together on the village green for a ‘bring and share’ picnic. About 20 villagers have been knitting little UCI jerseys to form bunting and decorating the village cross in UCI colours. They’re asking people to come dressed completely in one of the UCI Rainbow colours. There will also be Land Art on the football pitch which will include a UCI jersey and the name of the village. The race will also be shown on a big screen, and the riders are expected in Carperby around 12.45pm.


Community Fun day in Hawes – Sunday 29 September from 10am to 6pm

Hawes are having a Family Fun Day on the Hawes Community Fields as the Men’s Elite Road Race passes by! They’ve arranged for a bar, disco, cake stalls, bouncy castle, craft stalls, face painting, body glitter and sports!

Dales Countryside Museum (Hawes) Activity day – Saturday 28 September

There will be film screenings, family activities and workshops, and open air cinema on the evening of Saturday 28 September at the Dales Countryside Museum. The day will be organised by Stage 1 Cycles. During the day the museum will be hosting cycle related activities for families such as make-your-own bike handle bar streamers.

Buttertubs Pass Land Art – Sunday September 29 at 11:15am

Yorkshire based artist Adrian Riley and student designer Emily Vitty were chosen by Richmondshire District Council to design, create and install the land art close to the Buttertubs Pass.


Caravan – Sunday September 29 from 8am to 9.20am

For the very first time in the event’s 98-year history, Yorkshire 2019 have organised a publicity ‘Caravan’. This was hugely popular when the Tour de France came to Yorkshire in 2014, and this year, the flotilla will travel the Men’s Elite Road Race route from Reeth in the Yorkshire Dales National Park down to Harrogate.

Reeth was chosen especially as a way of recognising the resolve and spirit shown in the wake of the severe flash flooding which ravaged parts of the Yorkshire Dales last month.

Swaledale (which encompasses Reeth) was particularly badly hit with many residents suffering damage to their homes and businesses. The bridge on Grinton Moor – which was due to feature in the Men’s Elite Road Race – was washed away completely but North Yorkshire County Council have acted swiftly to build a temporary replacement, meaning the route for that race will be unchanged. 

So far, confirmed for the Caravan are Harrogate Spring Water, Global Autocare, Alpecin, Sigma Sports, Welcome to Yorkshire, UK Sports and Leeds Cares.

Swaledale Fan Hub at the Dales Bike Centre – This will take place throughout Championships week

The Dales Bike Centre in Fremington have set up a Swaledale Fan Hub for the Championships. They’re showing all the races on a big screen, arranging food, drink and entertainment, and have organised bike rides out to see the racing at various locations in the National Park. Dales Bike Centre have also done a fantastic job spreading the message that the Yorkshire Dales are open for business following the freak flash flood at the end of July.

The Beefeaters at Grinton Moor Summit – Sunday September 29 from 9am to 11.55am

Since 2014 The 6 ‘Beefeaters’, a group of distinctly average cyclists, have been ever present at the Tour de France. A group of friends brought together by their love of road cycling and a passion for sharing good times.

Together they’ve been putting on ‘probably the best party at the Tour de France’ all over the French Alps for 6 years. This year they’re bringing the party to Yorkshire and the UCI Road World Championships. They are the world’s best cycling fans, and you can experience them ramping up the atmosphere on the Grinton Moor Summit during the Men’s Elite Road Race.  

For more information on the race itself please visit:

For information on road closures please visit:

Remarkable 17th century Swaledale farmstead gets Grade II* listing

Low Whita - a 17th Century Swaledale Farmstead Listed at Grade II*

In the years I have worked as a Building Conservation Officer for the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, I have had the privilege to be involved with some fascinating and remarkable sites. One such site, which encapsulates centuries of history and tradition in Swaledale like no other, is a farmstead known as Low Whita, near to the village of Low Row in Upper Swaledale.

Low Whita is a fascinating collection of buildings. Here we have two adjoining former thatched houses with stair turrets. A line of projecting slates on the rear wall marks the original eaves level, which ran across the whole range.
Continue reading “Remarkable 17th century Swaledale farmstead gets Grade II* listing”

Following the work of our building conservation officers

As the National Park Authority’s Member Champion for Cultural Heritage, part of my role is to follow that area of work – so that I can understand the issues and challenges it presents and influence the National Park’s policies and approach accordingly.  Archaeology, building conservation and historic landscape features all fall within the cultural heritage remit. 

Continue reading “Following the work of our building conservation officers”

Is Horton the 4th most popular place to start a hike in Britain? I’m not so sure.

Pen-y-ghent emerging from the mist

It’s the traditional start of the Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge route and yes it gets very busy in the peak season, but is Horton-in-Ribblesdale really the fourth most popular place to start a walk in Britain?

As reported by the BBC this week, data from users of the Ordnance Survey app suggests just that. Using data from over 800, 000 routes Horton joined Edale (Peak District), Fairholmes (Peak District), Pen-y-Pass (Snowdonia), and Ambleside (Lake District) to make the top 5 most popular starting points. At face value that looks quite conclusive, but there are a couple of caveats.

Firstly, the data comes from users of the app. Whilst not exclusively, they are more likely to be from a certain demographic. To put it bluntly – the younger generation. So we are already missing a large section of the walking fraternity from the results, who are arguably more likely to be out walking.

Secondly,  it’s probable that this data doesn’t necessarily include start points for shorter walks. Would you get out your app to take a leisurely stroll up Malham Cove, for example? Perhaps you are the type that counts every inch as you work towards your daily 10,000 step goal, but I suspect most don’t. It’s far more likely that it’s those setting out on a longer, more challenging route that are going to hit the start button on their tracking app.

Perhaps a more suitable statement would be:

‘Horton is the 4th most popular start point for a certain demographic of user, taking on a typically longer route, and based on a limited data set from the Ordnance Survey app’

But then that’s not so punchy.

Panoramic shot oof the sun coming up over the Three Peaks
Sun hitting all of the peaks

With all that said, this is still a large enough dataset to be indicative of something that we are already aware of. The Yorkshire Three Peaks Challenge is as popular (if not more so) than ever, with over an estimated 100,000 people walking the route each year. And this means large numbers of people descend on Horton most weekends, peaking in the summer months. Many of these taking part in large organised events.

Understandably this is leading to friction with some local residents. Noise early in the morning and late in the evening from  people starting out or coming back from the walk, cars parked on road verges, public urination, and even verbal abuse have all been reported in recent years.

NB: It’s worth pointing out at this point that the Three Peaks is also seen as providing a boost to the local economy, so it’s not all bad. 

Despite the issues with the results it only goes to backup what we already know from anecdotal and actual evidence. Horton is a very popular starting point and we are working with the community to manage the issues.

Recently we launched a Code of Conduct that was drawn up with people from the community. We have also created a guide for event organisers . We now need to get this to the people before they arrive.

Our next step is launching a new FREE notification scheme, open to all people wanting to come and take on the Three Peaks Challenge. Whether an individual or an organisation planning a larger walk we want to hear from them all. Anyone who registers will receive the useful information mentioned above and also discounts on our Three Peaks app (iOS and Android) and on Three Peaks merchandise.


Five go to Cyprus!

Tour of Nicosia

On 5th December, five staff and volunteer members from the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority set off to Lefkara in Cyprus to take part in a PRIDE2 (Partnership for Rural Improvement & Development in Europe) week-long training course, organised by GRAMPUS and funded by the EU through its Erasmus+ programme. This was was a cultural exchange and a chance to share knowledge, as well as a great opportunity to learn about a new culture, food and traditions, and to see a completely different way of life.

Continue reading “Five go to Cyprus!”

Come Walking in our Winter Wonderland

Top tips for getting the whole family out into the National Park this Christmas season

The Yorkshire Dales National Park is beautiful all year round, but when nature adds that extra frost-kissed sparkle there really is no better place to get outdoors and close to nature, and enjoy time together as a family.

We’ve picked some of our favourite walks and outdoor activities which are suitable for the whole family over the Christmas period – wrap up warm and enjoy!

Church bells ring… are you listening?

Looking over a suspension bridge over a river
The suspension bridge at Hebden

The whole family can have a go at our ‘Miles without Stiles’ routes – 17 specially developed trails to enable mixed ability parties to explore the National Park.

One of our favourites is a walk from the village of Burnsall along the River Wharfe. Listen out for the bells of St Wilfred’s Parish Church as you stroll this popular section of the Dales Way between Burnsall and Hebden Suspension Bridge.

More information can be found at

Down the lane… our waterfalls are glistening

Another of our ‘Miles without Stiles’ routes takes you to the bottom of Gordale Scar, one of the jewels in the crown of the National Park. This awesome hidden gorge has wowed visitors for hundreds of years and inspired famous artists and writers.

Carey Davies of BMC and TGO at Gordale Scar (Photo: Chris Davies)
Carey Davies of BMC and TGO at Gordale Scar (Photo: Chris Davies)

Part of the Middle Craven Fault, Gordale Scar was created as torrents of glacial meltwater flowed over it, cutting down through faults in the rock. Successive Ice Ages carved it deeper and deeper over thousands of years to create the deep gorge we see today. The water that flows over the waterfall at the heart of the ravine is rich in dissolved limestone, and earlier this year it transformed into a ‘Frozen’-esque 20ft sheet of ice!

Wensleydale, known as the ‘the valley of the waterfalls’, is home to both the world-famous eponymous cheese (which goes well with a slice of Christmas cake) and Cotter Force. This lovely secluded waterfall, west of Hawes, is in a wooded setting, and part of a series of around six falls with the largest single drop being about 1.5m.

The accessible routes to Gordale Scar and Cotter Force can also be found at For a longer route at Malham, the gorge is part of our popular ‘Malham Landscape Trail’ and trail leaflets can be bought at Malham National Park Centre.

To find out more about the geology of the National Park, take a look at this great new website

A beautiful sight… we’re stargazing tonight

A stunning night sky over Ribblehead Viaduct
A stunning night sky over Ribblehead Viaduct

The superb dark skies of the Yorkshire Dales National Park are one of the things that make it such a special place. Our winter skies are a stargazer’s paradise and it is most certainly an activity the whole family can enjoy together. On a clear night you could see as many as 2,000 stars, the Milky Way, planets, the northern lights and shooting stars – and not forgetting our Moon.

Wrap up very warm, bring a flask, a pair of binoculars (if you have them) and something to sit on, and head out to the National Park. All you have to do is look up and enjoy nature’s Christmas sparkle.

There are four Dark Sky Discovery Sites around the National Park, which are a great place to start your stargazing adventure. These locations are open to the public, provide parking and other facilities, and are accessible to people of all abilities: Malham National Park Centre (BD23 4DA), Buckden National Park Car Park (BD23 5JA), Hawes

National Park Centre (DL8 3NT) and Tan Hill Inn (DL11 6ED).

Download our stargazers’ leaflet for more information

Walking in a Winter… Woodland

Woodland covers only about 5% of the National Park, but what we have is very special for maintaining our diverse mix of plants, animals and habitats.

Two children holding branches and smiling
Enjoying the forest in Freeholders Wood (Photo: Stephen Garnett Photography) 

Grass Woods (near Grassington), Bolton Abbey, and Freeholders’ Wood (near Aysgarth Falls) are all great locations for a family woodland walk – pull on your wellies and go explore along the paths.

As the trees have lost their leaves now, winter is all about the twig. Just like leaves each tree has a different twig – see how many you can spot.

There are so many things to do in the wood – Grandad certainly won’t be bored! Take a matchbox and collect 10 tiny treasures (not insects, though), do some contrasting bark rubbings, make twig art, or just sit quietly for a while and see what you can hear.

We challenge you to find the biggest tree in the wood by measuring how many family members you need to join together to give it a big warm hug. If you want to learn more about winter trees, we really love The Woodland Trust’s Winter Tree ID kit .

Gone away, has the blue bird; here to stay, is…

Well, lots of our feathered friends, actually. Bird spotting is a great winter activity and, with the leaves on the trees gone, you’ve got even more chance of finding them. Can you spot any of our winter thrushes on your walk (fieldfare, redwing, blackbird and song thrush)? They might be seen feeding on berries along hedgerows or woodland edges and/or in the fields.

Who do you think made these footprints?

The accessible footpath through the nature reserve at Killington New Bridge runs alongside a traditionally managed native hedgerow, grassland and shrub, all offering a perfect habitat and food for wildlife. Keep your eyes and ears out and, as well as winter thrushes, you could see mammals such as squirrels and stoats (or their tracks in the snow). You’ll have to look carefully, though, as the hair on a stoat can turn pure white in winter to camouflage it against the snow. The tip of the tail always remains black, which is the way to tell a stoat from a weasel.

He sings a love song, as we go along…

A closeup photo of a Robin
A very friendly robin posing for the camera

Most of our song birds quieten down for winter – they are too busy finding food and keeping warm – but listen out for the robin who is one of the few birds in the National Park who sings all year long. Robins always make us smile, so, if you spot one this winter, please share your picture with us.

Have fun… Walking in our Winter Wonderland!