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The Wensleydale Project

Yore Past, Ure Future

By Deborah Millward

For the past 12 months I have been working with farming groups, the Yorkshire Dales Rivers Trust and the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, (plus quite a few others) to draw up a plan for "transforming the environment of Wensleydale and its tributary dales for the benefit of people and nature". An awful lot of number crunching, computer modelling, conferring, university researching, mapping and general grey matter usage has gone into producing a strategy that is both ambitious and achievable. It covers a big area, over 500 Km2, and includes the whole River Ure catchment above Kilgram Bridge. This cut-off point was chosen because this is where water is abstracted into Thornton Steward reservoir, which provides the drinking water for many people in the Dale. The great majority lies within the NP. There are five themes of which Space for Nature is the most relevant to the Society's interests. The aim here is to make sensitive wildlife habitats better, bigger and more connected so that they are more resilient and adaptable to the effects of climate change - and to reconnect people with nature. I think we members are already pretty connected with nature but many others are not.

A second aim is to determine the distribution and status of non-native invasive species, and I think we can probably help here. With the benefit of an amazing computer model which produced a "heat map" the steering group targeted seven areas of work where there is most benefit to wildlife. For example by targeting native woodland creation and restoration where it will reduce diffuse pollution and flooding, increase shade and thus improve fish stocks; whilst also increasing the functional connectivity of the woodland network.

Another woodland theme is aimed at expanding the area of habitat suitable for dormice. This will include a second re-introduction site and linking it to the first site with a series of connecting hedges and copses covering over 800 hectares.

With the restoration of degraded blanket bog to achieve a more natural drainage that slows the flow of water, enhances biodiversity and reduces carbon emissions:these first three projects are ready to take on known willing fund providers.

Habitat Suitability Models will be used to identify areas suitable for increasing breeding habitat for upland wading birds within the moorland fringe. Close to my own heart there are plans to target restoration of hay meadows to increase the resilience and functional connectivity of the Wensleydale species-rich grassland network. Similarly there are plans to provide stepping stone sites for ponds in the floodplain which will provide refuges in times of drought and slow down run off in times of spate. As I write (December 12th) Lake Wensleydale has again submerged all potential sites!

Finally it is hoped to provide a range of opportunities for people to reconnect with nature, increasing their understanding of its value, encouraging support for its continued management: which could involve us if we wish. That is just one theme: I did say it was ambitious. Two others are closely connected “Water”, and “Soils and Sustainable Farming. “Historic Landscapes” and “Recreation and Tourism” make up the five themes and they too will link in with others emphasising the uniqueness of the Wensleydale we know and care about.

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