Victoria Franklin – Conservation Trainee
At the end of October last year it was the turn of this National Park Authority to host the National Park Authorities’ Farm Liaison Officers (FLO) Group Meeting. It was the thirtieth such meeting and we welcomed 23 farm officers from 11 National Parks with attendees from the Brecon Beacons, Exmoor, Lake District, New Forest, Northumberland, Peak District, Pembrokeshire Coast, Snowdonia, South Downs and the Yorkshire Dales.
The main purpose of these three day meetings is to enable discussions between colleagues about the common opportunities and challenges of working with landowners and land managers to conserve the special qualities of farmed landscapes. This is an annual event shared out between the 15 UK National Parks. The last time the North York Moors played host was back in 2002. There have been a lot of changes since then so we had a lot to showcase.
The meeting was based at Wydale Hall near Scarborough on the southern edge of the National Park – a very peaceful and beautiful setting. Everyone arrived by midday and we started with a brief introduction and catch up from each National Park with representatives talking through their new projects and current issues from their point of view. We had a cup of tea and a presentation on the new Woodsmith Mine near Whitby followed by a drive past to see the setting within the landscape. The mine sparked much discussion around light pollution, the local economy, offsetting carbon emissions and the scale of the planned operation. We ended up in Whitby that evening for much appreciated fish and chips.
Day two was all about the Ryevitalise Landscape Partnership. We started off in Nunnington, a village towards the southern end of the Rye catchment within the Howardian Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). We had roped in various members of the Ryevitalise and the Howardian Hills AONB teams to help. Paul from Ryevitalise was able to present an overview of the Landsdcape Partnership, highlighting why the National Lottery’s Heritage Fund decided to fund this 3.2 million project for the area – i.e. to enhance water quality, to improve water level management and to reconnect the people who live within the catchment with their river.
We went on for a short walk along the riverbank in Duncombe Park, Helmsley. Duncombe Park is a National Nature Reserve (NNR) because of its important ecology. We talked about the potential for alleviating some of the impacts that weirs can have on both water level management and the ability for fish to spawn throughout the length of a river.
After indulging in pie and peas at Hawnby Village Hall for lunch we drove further upstream through Bilsdale to visit a farm where the farmer now has a land management agreement through the Ryevitalise programme. We looked at his riverside fields where trees will be planted through the agreement to create a riparian buffer, along with the installation of new fencing to stop stock accessing the river directly which can cause sediment to enter the water and negatively impact on the river ecology.
We ended up at Chop Gate Village Hall near the top of Bilsdale where we got to hear about riverfly monitoring from two very enthusiastic and interesting volunteers who are already actively engaged in monitoring the water quality in the Rye catchment.
Back at Wydale Hall dinner was followed by a range of after dinner presentations from invited speakers on Turtle Doves, Championing the Farmed Environment and the Esk Valley Facilitation Fund group, as well as an appreciation of Geraint Jones from Pembrokeshire Coast National Park who has been coming to these meetings from the beginning and for whom this one would be his last as he is due to retire shortly.
Straight after breakfast the morning session began with a talk from Forestry England on their enclosed beaver trial ongoing in Cropton Forest. There was fascinating video footage of how the beavers’ natural behavior of building dams can help with slowing the flow of water which has great potential as a natural and sustainable flood alleviation method.
We rounded off the session with in depth discussions of current issues including the development of the new national environmental land management scheme and rural development initiatives post Brexit and how National Park Authorities might be involved. Other subjects considered were; how National Parks could help companies offset their carbon, providing advice to farmers on how to reduce carbon emissions, opportunities for more landscape scale projects within National Parks, the always contentious issue of fencing on common land and how best to share farming stories with the general public. The meeting wrapped up at lunch time and everyone set off back to their respective National Parks hopefully with good memories of the North York Moors and its work.
It is always useful to meet up with like-minded people and discuss pertinent subjects with colleagues from other National Park Authorities. We do tend to consider ourselves to be a family of National Parks and it is great to be able to come together occasionally, to discuss ideas, to learn from each other and to return to our individual Parks refreshed and inspired by what we have seen and experienced.