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Country News - 2002

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Limestone country: back to the future
Tuesday 05 November 2002

THE unique limestone country of the Yorkshire Dales sees the launch of a new campaign today that will take it into the future - by going back into the past, writes John Sheard.

    Limestone at Ingleborough
Limestone pavement near Ingleborough
Community leaders and conservationists were meeting at Malham to launch the £1.27 million Limestone Country Project, which plans to bring back more traditional farming methods back to the Yorkshire Dales National Park in order to protect the landscape from over-grazing by sheep.

Until 40 years ago, say the organisers, most Dales farms had a healthy mix of sheep and hardy cattle. This protected the landscape because the livestock ate different grasses and produced a diversity in the habitat which not only gave variety in the landscape but was also good for wildlife like rare plants and ground nesting birds.

But encouraged to produce more by the now disbanded Ministry of Agriculture, farmers increasingly turned to sheep-only farming, which led to widespread over-grazing of fragile habitats like heather moorland.

Today's announcement will herald a pilot scheme under which farmers will go back to the old days and reintroduce to the uplands hardy cattle breeds like beef shorthorn, Galloway and Dexter onto some 11,000 hectares around the target areas of Malham, Ingleborough and Arncliffe.

The project, which will be managed by the national park authority, is being funded by a wide variety of sources: English Nature, the National Trust, the National Beef Association and other farming interests, plus more than £500,000 from the EU's LIFE Fund.

The experiment will be watched with keen interest for, if it succeeds, it will be matched in other limestone areas of the UK - including many of the national parks.

Grants may be available for farmers in the three areas who wish to take part. For more information, ring the Limestone Country Officer on 01756-752748.

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