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Meadows and woodland receive Dales funding boost

[Monday 27 March 2006]

The creation of new native woodland and the restoration of hay meadows in the Yorkshire Dales is the aim of two new projects being launched in the coming weeks.

As Daelnet reported last week, the projects - run by the Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust (YDMT) in conjunction with the National Park Authority - are among the beneficiaries of a multi-million pound funding boost from Defra.

'Iconic' Dales meadows benefit from funding boost
'Iconic' Dales meadows benefit
from funding boost
Photo: Yorkshire Dales National
Park Authority

In all, 33 projects across England will benefit from grants totalling £3.8 million over the next two years. The money is being provided by the Countdown 2010 Biodiversity Action Fund, run by English Nature on behalf of Defra, to help the UK Government achieve its commitment to halt biodiversity loss by 2010.

Detail of how the funding will be used in our region has been released and it shows some ambitious targets, which if met will increase the reputation of the Yorkshire Dales as a place of natural beauty where modern farming practices sit alongside important wildlife sites.

'Hay Time' is a three and a half year project which aims to enhance and restore at least 400 hectares of upland and lowland meadows within and close to the Yorkshire Dales National Park and the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB).

As well as being an "important and iconic component" of the heritage of this protected area - just conjure up a picture of the Dales in summer, and doubtless a meadow full of wild flowers bursting with colour will spring to mind - these man made habitats now provide a haven for a myriad varieties of both rare and abundant flora and fauna.

Whilst hay meadows undoubtedly support some rare plant life, such as globe flower and lady's mantle, their real importance, according to conservationists, lies in the sheer diversity of species that thrive within them.

The impact of grazing and cutting for hay and silage, along with other land-management techniques and the soil type, means that individual species are unable to dominate, resulting in the very richest meadows containing over 30 species per square metre, and sometimes up to 120 species per field; including wood cranesbill, great burnet, pignut, wood anemone, bugle, marsh hawk's-beard, lady's mantle and yellow rattle.

'Hay Time' will see the collection of wildflower and grass seeds from good quality meadows harvested and spread on other sites which will then be managed by traditional methods.

It may not appear so as you drive or walk around the Dales, but woodland is a scarce resource within the National Park. It currently makes up just 4 per cent of the total land use, and most of that is made up of cash crops such as Conifer plantations.

Project aims to increase traditional Ash woodland
Project aims to increase
traditional Ash woodland
Photo: Yorkshire Dales National
Park Authority

The Dales Woodland Strategy, which will see YDMT and the National Park working with partners including the Forestry Commission, has a committed itself to doubling the amount of woodland within the Park area by the year 2020.

The planting of Conifers in the late 1960's and early 1970's means that only around 1 per cent of the National Park can now be classed as native woodland and In the shorter term, the woodland restoration project is aiming to create an extra 150 hectares of native wooded area over the coming two years.

The project also aims to create 400 hectares of new Upland Mixed Ash woods - an increase on the current amount of around 50 per cent - and bring at least 95 per cent of existing Ash woodland into 'positive' management.

Other types of woodland, including broadleaved and mixed woods planted in the last century in areas like Wensleydale, make a significant contribution to the landscape; according to YDMT: "They are links to the past management of the area and like other features within the landscape are important parts of the Dales history."

Conservation may be at the core of these projects, but YDMT is also aiming to change the way we view meadows and woodland. Through a process of community and educational initiatives the group is hoping to ensure that some of our region's most important habitats are protected and fostered for future generations.

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