If anyone says ‘show me the Dales’ – this is the place to go. It’s a view from Conistone Pie, which is quite a landmark as you go up the dale. The best way to get there is to walk up the valley from Conistone. Because you’re walking up the valley, the view’s not apparent to you until you get to the top. If you get the right day, it is an enormous view. Here, you’re looking into the heart of the Dales, north towards Kettlewell.
I chose it because it’s got Wharfedale on one side, and Littondale on the other side. They’re both different types of dales, but both very special in terms of woodlands. They also reflect some of the work the Trees and Woodlands Team is trying to do to create woodlands and to protect our important existing woodlands.
On the Wharfedale side, you can see how these woodlands run with the contour. You’ve got a river in the bottom, you’ve got enclosed land, followed by woodland, followed by upper allotments, followed by moorlands. That is repeated in a very distinctive fashion all up Wharfedale.
Littondale is quite an open dale. It’s not that well covered by trees on the south side, but we’ve done an awful lot of planting on the other side to connect up a lot of the ancient, semi-natural woodlands that are there; they’re the jewels in the woodland crown.
Compared to the national average, the tree coverage here is very low. If you take the conifer plantations out, it’s only about 2%. Conifer isn’t natural here. Really we’re famous for hanging ash woodlands. The way the limestone comes to the surface creates a very alkaline soil, which ash love.
This whole area, apart from maybe some of the very tops, would have been covered in woodland – we’re talking a long, long time ago. People came here wanting to do farming, then we had the iron smelting, the lime production. That all required wood of some description, whether that’s charcoal, or white coal, or just ordinary wood to burn and build with – so they took wood away. The important ancient semi-natural woods that we have now are the woods that humans have left.
The average size of a woodland in the National Park is two hectares, which is tiny really. A two hectare woodland is quite vulnerable. If you were to create another woodland next to it, another one next to that, and connect that to another existing woodland, then that creates a whole woodland, which could be ten hectares in size, which gives it a much more robust feeling. It can deal with pressures on its habitat, on the environment. The pressures have been grazing in the past, but climate change now is turning into quite an issue.
I think it’s agreed that climate change is happening, the question is what do we do about it? What do we, as advisers to people who own these woodlands, suggest happens? All you can do is say it’s almost certain there’s going to be a change, and we need to provide woodlands which are more robust. It’s really about trying to create a framework for whatever happens, to help woodlands be more adaptable.
A thousand hectares of new native woodland has been planted over the last ten years or so – you’ve got to be proud of that sort of thing. The National Park Authority really didn’t do it by themselves though – they had an awful lot of partners helping to fund it and do it.
I think with a lot of people there’s a fundamentally good feeling about walking into a woodland, whether you’re a city person, or wherever you come from. Maybe it makes you feel happier, or more able to cope with life, or more peaceful, but I do get a positive feeling when I walk into a woodland. Other people might get it when they stand on top of a moorland on a summer’s day.