Major nature restoration scheme for Yorkshire as Defra outlines new conservation measures

Image: University of Leeds

The Yorkshire Dales project, dubbed Wild Ingleborough, is set to restore more than 1,150 hectares of land including woodland, moorland, heathlands and bog. This will not only help boost plant and animal numbers, but will increase the landscape’s ability to sequester carbon and to remain resilient to changing weather patterns.

The chosen site is close to Ingleborough peak, in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. WWF claims that it is “not as wild as it should be”, having suffered degradation in recent decades.

Phase one of the project will restore some 300 hectares of land, including 40 hectares of new native woodland with trees including rowan, hazel and hawthorn. Drystone walls will also be rebuilt during this phase of the project.

WWF has stated that the project could act as a “blueprint for restoration”. In other words, it could inform the decision-making processes around other major nature restoration schemes in the uplands and, potentially, national policy strategies on the issue.

“Climate change and nature loss are two sides of the same coin; it’s vital that any efforts to safeguard our future and stabilise our climate have nature at their heart,” WWF UK’s chief executive Tanya Steele said.

“The UK, as hosts of COP26, can lead efforts to boost nature’s recovery, including transforming the way we use our land, with Wild Ingleborough a blueprint for restoration. Through this project, we want to show that a wilder world is a more stable one, with nature more resilient and able to adapt to change.”

Aside from WWF, the partners in the project are Natural England, the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, the Woodland Trust, the United Bank of Carbon and the University of Leeds. These organisations have pledged to “work with landowners, farmers and local communities to share knowledge and support a thriving local economy”.

A boost for biodiversity?

According to research conducted by the Natural History Museum, just 50.3% of the UK’s biodiversity remains intact. Key drivers of loss have included urbanisation and the expansion of land used for farming and forestry, without sustainable practices.

Nature charities have also increasingly been pointing to the fact that current regulations around protected areas do not always prevent all harmful practices from taking place, including major housebuilding developments, trawler fishing and even fossil fuel extraction. 2020 research from the Wildlife Trusts found that 68% of the Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) in Wales and 60% in England are significantly degraded. The proportions for Northern Ireland and Scotland stand at 39% and 35% respectively.

In a move to help tackle this issue, the Department for Food, the Environment and Rural Affairs (Defra) has this week proposed to grant Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) status to two new sites – the Yorkshire Wolds and the Cheshire Sandstone Ridge. It is also planning to extend the existing AONBs in the Chilterns and the Surrey Hills.

If all four proposals are accepted by Natural England, Defra claims, 1,600 square kilometers of land will benefit from new protections. This will help the UK deliver a commitment to protect 30% of all land by 2030. At the forthcoming 15th Biodiversity COP, the UN is expected to put forward a new agreement designed to help all nations make that same commitment.

Defra has also announced that it is developing a new ‘Farming in Protected Landscapes’ programme for farmers and other land managers working in AONBs or National Parks in England. It will aim to support these workers to improve public access to the land, restore nature and implement more sustainable practices, as speculated in the UK’s post-Brexit Agriculture Bill. Under the Bill, subsidies for farmers will be shifted so that they will be paid for the ‘public goods’ they deliver rather than the amount of land they manage, with the definition of ‘public goods’ including clean air and water, healthy soil and other natural capital as well as crops and livestock.

The announcement from Defra comes shortly after the UK Government outlined new measures to ensure that all large infrastructure projects are “nature positive”.

Sarah George

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