A defining moment for the Yorkshire Dales National Park came on 11 April 1989, nearly three months after then Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher received a letter from Dales businesses (see banner image and below).
On that day the Secretary of State for Transport, Paul Channon, quietly conducted a U-turn. He announced in a ‘written answer’ that he had decided ‘to refuse closure consent’ for the Settle-Carlisle railway. Cheers rang out across the Dales.
Mr Channon said one of the reasons for his decision was ‘new evidence on… the line’s importance to the local economy’. Thirty years later, I have that evidence in my hands. It is a scrapbook containing the voices of Dales business men and women, which had been delivered by hand to 10 Downing Street.
The scrapbook – eventually recovered from Downing Street – is a loan from Ruth Annison of Hawes Ropemakers. In 1989 she was the Chairman of the ‘Settle-Carlisle Railway Business Liaison Group’ and was one of a group of nine people to go to Number 10 in the January of that year.
“The Prime Minister was out, but we were invited in to hand over our evidence,” she said. “A small problem was that we also had a basket of goodies, containing Dales produce such as cheese, fudges, soaps and preserves. The police asked how they could be sure there wasn’t a bomb hidden inside the cheese. I said we could get a knife to cut it open but the idea of a knife was even worse than the idea of a bomb.”
“What we were able to do as a business group was to highlight the loss of business and employment, if the Settle-Carlisle line were to close,” said Mrs Annison. She and a large group of volunteers gathered together supportive statements from dozens of businesses which benefitted from the line.
Some of the businesses, including hoteliers and retailers, went into great detail about how they would be affected by line closure. Others kept it short and sweet.
“The 30 year anniversary is really important. It’s been a generation since the reprieve. The decision on the Settle-Carlisle line was regarded as the first reversal of British Rail closure policies. The campaign to keep it open was international by the end,” said Mrs Annison.
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Chief Executive David Butterworth added: “The reprieve for the Settle-Carlisle line was a huge moment for the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The line brings considerable economic, transport and environmental benefits to the National Park.
“Five stations lie within the National Park – Kirkby Stephen, Garsdale, Dent, Ribblehead, and Horton-in-Ribblesdale – while Settle station lies just outside the boundary. It means that residents can have days out to market towns, while tourists can visit, without the need for a car. It’s a heritage attraction, too, as well as a working railway; the line’s marvellous infrastructure has become an integral part of a landscape loved the world over.”
“It’s the Amazon on our doorstep,” says Jenny Sharman as we walk onto an area of peat moorland near Hawes in the Yorkshire Dales. “And it’s as if we’ve chopped it down.”
Jenny is a restoration officer for Yorkshire Peat Partnership. She has spent a year surveying Fleet Moss, paving the way for major restoration works which started in March.
“Fleet Moss can be seen from space,” says Jenny, pulling from her bag a laminated aerial image to prove it. “All that carbon we have lost is contributing to climate change in a big way. Peatlands are our rainforests.”
At the Skipton offices of Yorkshire Peat Partnership they’ve nicknamed Fleet Moss the Somme, such is the devastation at the site.
‘It’s dead land effectively. Degraded bog is no good to anyone, for farming, for shoots, for people, for anything,” says Jenny.
Water from one side of the bog runs off into Barden Beck and then into Semerwater (see map below), one of only two natural lakes remaining in the Yorkshire Dales.
Such has been the amount of peat washed down, Semerwater has partially silted up and its waters have become opaque and more acidic.
The Wensleydale naturalist, Deborah Millward, who has advised Yorkshire Peat Partnership, said: “We have to remember that all water bodies are ephemeral. Yet Semerwater is silting up at a far quicker rate than it ordinarily might because of all the peat being washed down from Fleet Moss. The problem at the moment is only getting worse.”
During high rainfall, torrents also flow off Fleet Moss on to the other side of the watershed – into Oughtershaw –and ultimately into the River Wharfe, adding to flood risk downstream.
It’s all gone wrong rather quickly. Until the late 1950s, the bog at Fleet Moss would have consisted of a layer (or ‘blanket’) of peat some four metres deep. About a metre of peat is thought to form every 1000 years. This was a significantly huge store of carbon, as well as a natural facility which held water on the moor.
Today by contrast, mounds of peat known as hags stand proud of countless channels and gullies. Some of the gullies have a stone bottom (‘it’s gone down to mineral’, as Jenny puts it), with the peat entirely washed away. In others, only a few centimetres of peat remain.
As with other degraded blanket bogs, the causes of erosion are thought to be over grazing, draining and atmospheric pollution. Wildfires, or managed burning, are also a typical cause.
Little wonder that Fleet Moss was identified early on as a priority site for the Yorkshire Peat Partnership, which this year celebrates its tenth anniversary. “This site is what started the YPP,” says Jenny.
More than 400 hectares of Fleet Moss have been restored so far. Now funding from Pennine PeatLIFE, Defra and owners supported by agri-environment scheme payments, totalling £510,000, is in place to pay for the restoration of a further 100 hectares over the next three years.
So, how do you restore peatland? To answer that question, Jenny took me to Stake Moss, another blanket bog a few miles away. It straddles the high point of the green lane running from Stalling Busk over to Cray and Buckden (see map). It has been subject to intense restoration efforts this winter, 2018/19.
The first stage of restoration at Stake Moss, as elsewhere, was the survey work. It would be almost impossible to restore peatland without modern technology. Data collected by UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) is used to create maps which show which way each channel and gully runs.
Vegetation surveys, lab tests and old-fashioned depth rods are used to get a full picture of the bog’s condition. The next stage is to dam the channels and gullies. This requires digger work and skilled contractors. Local firm, Marsdens, carried out the work on Stake Moss.
Coir logs are staked across channels where the depth of peat remains between 1.2-3.6m. Coir is the outer husk of coconuts; all the logs must be imported, often from India or East Africa.
Sediment soon builds up behind the logs and, after a year, Yorkshire Peat Partnership staff and volunteers come along to put in plug plants of blanket bog species such as crowberry.
“As soon as we block the channels the hydrology changes immediately. The aim is to keep the water on the moor, for the biodiversity as well as everything else. If we slow the flow, we create the ecology we want,” says Jenny.
Where the erosion has been so bad that the bog has ‘gone down to mineral’, stone dams are created. Stone is lifted to site by helicopter and dropped in position. The stone dams, like the coir logs, stop peat being washed away and lead to the build up of sediment.
It struck me as I watched Jenny prodding the peat that she was stood before four thousand years of history.
Other peatland restoration techniques include installing wooden ‘leaky dams’; creating peat bunds; re-profiling the hags; and covering bare peat with a brash of chopped heather, sphagnum mosses and dwarf shrubs mixed with grass and dwarf shrub seeds.
“It is a new science,” says Jenny. “We’re still working out what techniques work where.”
It’s about time the all-important S-word cropped up; there can be no blanket bog without sphagnum.
Sphagnum mosses are rootless plants which, Jenny says, hold ‘about 24 times their weight in water’.
When the underparts of the sphagnum decay, peat is formed. Peat, if you were wondering, differs from soil in that it is acidic and anerobic i.e there is no oxygen in it.
Jenny is clearly impressed by all the work that has taken place on Stake Moss. “It’s like magic to me. Five months ago you’d have seen hags everywhere. What I’m hoping to happen here is that it’ll become amazing spots for birds and insects. But long term funding will be needed to keep building up layer by layer. We’ll need to come back every five years,” she says.
Healthy blanket bog supports a rich diversity of plant and animal life such as breeding waders and raptors. At one moment during our tour, we dropped to our knees to study the droppings of a short eared owl.
What did I learn from the experience? That blanket bogs are beautiful, if usually wet and misty places, of fundamental importance to the hydrology and ecology of the National Park.
It will take thousands of years to restore what has been lost in just a few decades, but the work to repair the damage, at least, appears to be gathering pace.
‘By 2030, restore all degraded blanket bog/deep peat habitat to ecologically and hydrologically functioning bog that is actively sequestering and storing carbon, and is being managed sustainably.’
There are 51,160 hectares of blanket bog in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. Almost all of this peatland was degraded when Yorkshire Peat Partnership began its work in 2009. In the past 10 years, YPP has restored 18,426 ha, leaving 35,734 ha still to restore. At current rates of restoration, YPP would be on course to complete the work by 2038, which suggests the Management Plan objective of completing the restoration by 2030 is ambitious.
Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority Member Champion for the Natural Environment, Ian McPherson, said: “Almost all the blanket bog in the Yorkshire Dales National Park is internationally-designated for wildlife. Peatland restoration is perhaps the most obvious and the most important environmental work we can do in the Dales because in terms of biodiversity and sequestering carbon, the gains are enormous.
“It has been calculated that investment in restoring peatlands right across the northern Pennines would generate net benefits of £760 million pounds over 40 years – just from the value of the carbon stored and the improvements in wildlife.”
The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, together with the Environment Agency, Yorkshire Water, Natural England and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, is among the core funding members of Yorkshire Peat Partnership. The Trust coordinates the practical works on the ground.
There are two interesting, but very different, wells in the parish of Asby. These are March’s Site(s) of the Month. One is located in the centre of Great Asby, and the other is more remote on the edge of a farmstead. Continue reading “Asby is full of Spring(s)”
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.
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.
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.
Dent Head Viaduct is February’s Site of the Month. This is one of 20 viaducts on the Settle to Carlisle railway line. It forms a very striking feature at the head of Dentdale. Continue reading “Big Bridge, Little Bridge”
When we moved to our current flat in Grassington a couple of years ago, I brought along one of the bird nesting boxes from our former home. It’s a contraption made of ‘woodcrete’ – a mix of wood chippings and concrete – very heavy, but also very durable.
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.
Mary Queen of Scots is the focus of a new film. But did you know about her connection to the Yorkshire Dales? She was briefly imprisoned at Bolton Castle. Read January’s Site of the Month on the 14th century Castle to find out more about the connection. Continue reading “Bolton Castle – a home, a prison, a ruin”
On an extremely wet and wild day in Wensleydale I was invited to join a group of farmers to talk about rush management. As every keen and eager apprentice should, I snapped up the opportunity to don every conceivable form of waterproof clothing and learn all I could. Continue reading “Let’s talk rushes!”
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?
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.
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.
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 www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/miles-without-stiles. 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 dalesrocks.org.uk
A beautiful sight… we’re stargazing tonight
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).
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.
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.
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…
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.
December’s Site of the Month is Black Dub Monument. The monument is situated at the source of River Lyvennet on Crosby Ravensworth Fell – Dub itself means watering hole. The obelisk records that Charles II and his army rested at that spot (that is now commemorated) on their march from Scotland on 8th August 1651.
November’s Site of the Month is Devil’s Bridge. It is situated right on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It is considered one of the finest bridges in England of its date, and is regarded by Jervoise as by far the finest bridge in the North of England. However it is disappointing that so little is know about its history. Continue reading “Devil’s Bridge on the River Lune”
You may have wondered when you were travelling through the Yorkshire Dales what all those earthworks in the fields might be. Field systems are ubiquitous features of the British countryside and are iconic in the Dales, being found in many areas. For October’s Site of the Month we will be exploring an area of medieval field systems in Lower Wharfedale.
The Cheese Festival @ Wensleydale Creamery opened the week-long festivities, with 35 local food and drink producers ‘wedged’ into the bustling marquee. There were cheese tastings, pairings and talks, cookery demonstrations, street food stalls, and excellent live entertainment from some very talented bands.
The Beer and Beef Festival, at Springhill Farm, Jervaulx, ended the celebrations with a bang – twelve hours of (unsurprisingly) beer, beef, fun and music!
Throughout the week some truly brilliant businesses got on board the cheese train, creating cheese-themed menus, farm walks, and demos, and helping people discover the fabulous dairying heritage of the Yorkshire Dales.
We’re going to let the pictures do most of the talking, but before we do we’d like to say a massive THANK YOU to all the fantastic producers, suppliers and businesses that took part – it wouldn’t be what it is without you.
Visit www.yorkshiredales.org.uk/cheese-festival to see the full star line-up for 2018 and find out more about them, as well as keeping an eye out for what’s coming in 2019. When it comes to our amazing local produce we have so much to celebrate.
I don’t know if you have heard, but we are facing a serious issue in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. It’s not a new issue, but it’s escalating – and escalating fast.
We cannot attract or retain young people in the area.
As a young person who moved to live in the Yorkshire Dales and work in the National Park a year ago, the barriers for those wishing to do the same in rural and protected areas have been brought to my attention.
For September’s Site of the Month we are looking at something a little bit different. It is focused on the whole Settle to Carlisle Railway, which is still a working line today. It is also the longest Conservation Area in the UK! The construction of the railway has been described by some as one of the most extraordinary feats of Victorian railway engineering, and by others as one of the most foolhardy. Continue reading “All Aboard the Longest Conservation Area”
Earlier this month Dr David Johnson led a community excavation with a group of volunteers, many of whom are members of Ingleborough Archaeology Group. They were investigating a likely early medieval site at Clapham Bottoms. I was lucky enough to visit the site on one of the days and get involved. Continue reading “Getting to the bottom of it”
Dame Schools are interesting buildings that give insights into the early education of children. Not many former Dame School buildings have survived making this a really lovely example, and is now open to the public.
From where I’m sitting at a desk in Bainbridge, gazing out of the window (hard life), the Yorkshire Dales National Park is looking mighty fine. But is it as lovely as it looks? Just what is the state of nature in the Park? Do we even know?
It was these questions which prompted me to take a look at a piece of work our wildlife conservation team has been conducting since the start of the decade.
SWAAG, the Swaledale and Arkengarthdale Archaeology Group, recently completed their excavations at the Hagg for this year. SWAAG have been working at the site since 2009, which comprises a Romano-British farmstead. This year the dig took place for two weeks and made a number of interesting discoveries. The excavations are adding a wealth of new information about Romano-British life in the dales. At present our understanding of these sites in the dales generally is rather limited.
This spring, I was tasked with some soil sampling to support a farmer’s agri-environment scheme. As support officer for the Farm Conservation team, this is a straightforward but enjoyable task that allows me to practise the skills I need to progress in my job – talking to farmers, map reading, species and habitat identification, and taking photos in the sunshine!Continue reading “Mud pies for grown ups!”
Dairy Days Archaeological Field Survey training day
Tuesday 4th September 2018
A really exciting aspect of the HLF-funded Dairy Days project is the archaeological field surveys and excavation we have planned for the coming year.
For our first training day we will be learning to survey and record the enigmatic archaeological features known as stackstands. Read our blog post on ‘Stackstands and stackgarths‘ for background information on these important sites.
Our Community Heritage Officer Douglas Mitcham has sent us the following short summary of the aims of the day:
This Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority-led one day training event aims to teach local volunteers basic archaeological survey techniques. It forms part of the HLF-funded Dairy Days project, which is currently investigating the heritage of dairying in Wensleydale. The course aim is to equip people with the skills needed to help us survey a number of key dairying sites in the dale. Participants will be given an introduction to the Dairy Days project and the role that archaeological survey will play. The course then comprises five main sessions which will focus on understanding survey, planning and reconnaissance; understanding earthworks; conducting reconnaissance and level 1 survey; undertaking plane table survey; undertaking tape and offset survey. A final open session will give participants the chance to undertake further practice in whatever techniques they wish. The day will conclude with a re-cap on what the course has covered, including forthcoming opportunities to take part in archaeological surveys for the Dairy Days project.
If you would like to join us then contact Douglas Mitcham to book your free place. Lunch will be provided.
July’s Site of the Month is the church in Grinton dedicated to St Andrew (the missionary saint). It is often called “the Cathedral of the Dales”. St Andrew’s has had an important role as one of only four parish churches in Swaledale and Arkengarthdale. The Church is Grade I listed…it is not difficult to see why.