Generous gift opens up Smardale

This is Elizabeth Lamb.  She has done something marvellous for one of the newest and most idyllic parts of the Yorkshire Dales National Park. 

With her husband, Michael, she has donated money to Cumbria Wildlife Trust, enabling the trust to buy a strip of land between two of its nature reserves, Waitby Greenriggs and Smardale Gill. 

The result is a linked-up, five-mile-long reserve, now known as Smardale Nature Reserve, near Kirkby Stephen. It is a must-visit part of the Westmorland Dales

Smardale Nature Reserve (Andy Kay/YDNPA)

Mrs Lamb, a former actress from Orton, cut the ribbon at an opening event a couple of weeks ago, on 30 May. She told the story behind the gift: 

“It was our diamond wedding anniversary and rather than have a party we wanted to do something that would benefit wildlife and the countryside. We love this place and we know there is a fantastically dedicated group of people looking after it.”

As well as providing a link between the two reserves, the new land has provided space for a car park, information booths (the green sheds near the top of the picture below) and a boardwalk up a steep bank. One of the funders of the visitor facilities was the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority’s Sustainable Development Fund.

Tensions in Smardale have run high for years, with locals left annoyed by people parking on verges of narrow roads and blocking the way. The new car park means the Smardale reserve can now be publicly promoted.

Peter Woodhead is the volunteer chairman of Cumbria Wildlife Trust’s Conservation Committee. Here he is holding an umbrella by the new boardwalk.

He summed up the delights of Smardale Nature Reserve:

“It’s an unusual linear reserve and along its length there are many different habitats. It’s based on an industrial site – the old railway and lime kilns. When the industry moved out, wildlife moved in. It’s one of only two sites in England for the Scotch Argus butterfly. There are rare orchids and red squirrels. Joining up the two existing reserves will create a wildlife corridor and one of the key things the ecologists say is that we must allow wildlife to move from one area to another.”

The flowers out on the opening day included hawthorn blossom…

…and water avens…

But for some, the star attraction of the reserve will not be wildlife or plantlife, but industrial heritage. Smardale Gill viaduct, built over Scandal Beck as part of the South Durham and Lancashire Union Railway, is a spectacular part of the reserve.

Perhaps it’s not an either/or situation. A walk through one of the reserve’s railway cuttings, overhung by birch and alive with insects and birds, brings both industrial heritage and wildlife together for an enchanting experience.

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