38 Upper Wharfedale from Moor End

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38-martinMartin Davies – Countryside Property Manager, National Trust

This is the view looking up the valley from Moor End. I chose it because it gives a great view of a ‘classic’ U-shaped glaciated valley: moorland on the fell tops, steep valley side woodlands and the River Wharfe flowing through what is very much a working living landscape, rich in wildlife.

I’m responsible for the overall management of all the land in National Trust ownership within the Dales, which includes Upper Wharfedale, Malham Tarn Estate, and Braithwaite Hall etc. Our ownership stretches over 20,000 acres, but it is spread over a large geographic area and is very diverse. You’ve got this bleak and open landscape on Malham Moor, and then you go to Wharfedale which forms a slightly softer and more intimate landscape in comparison. We have some really stunning hay meadows, extensive areas of limestone pavement, steep gill and valley side woodland, tarns and wetlands, blanket peat habitat and several small mansion properties – a wide range of interesting places.

We look at the management of our land and how it contributes to the wider landscape – we are often trying to unpick past management which was promoted after the Second World War to try and improve food production and become more self sufficient. This included the large-scale drainage of moorland peat; reduction in native woodland cover; the loss of many flower-rich meadows; hard engineering of rivers and increases in livestock numbers.

These changes in some instances have had a major impact on the hydrology of many upland river systems. The drainage ditches in the peat (the peat acts as a natural sponge and releases water slowly) have increased the speed and amount of water feeding into the steep gills that drain the moor tops, which is then causing erosion of the gills. This brings high volumes of water and gravel into the main river system, which increases the height of the river bed. There has been work in the past to build up the banks to stop the river breaking out and flooding. What’s actually happened in places is that they’ve built up the banks that much, the river’s higher now than the rest of the flood plain, so it actually wants to break out and do something quite dramatic. But of course the flat valley floor is the most important bit for the farmers: that’s where they produce the hay and the silage, which feeds the stock in the winter.

It’s quite a challenge; the river is trying to re-naturalise itself and the National Trust aims to work as much as possible to allow natural processes to take place. However, the farming community would like to keep the flood plain protected as it is. It’s about reaching that balance and working closely with our farm tenants to start the process of allowing the river to slowly naturalise, and giving time for the farmers to adapt their farming practices as the river changes. It’s quite complex.

We’ve been working in partnership with other bodies and our farm tenants over the years. This work has included blocking up of drainage ditches (grips) on peat habitats; restoration and new planting of both gill and valley side woodlands; a series of soft-engineered river bank repairs, and flower-rich hay meadow restoration. This is all to help improve the hydrological function and wildlife diversity of Upper Wharfedale.

I personally love walking, mountain biking and kayaking. I feel very privileged to both work and play in such a special place and feel it gives you much more of an insight into how much everyone involved puts in to managing the Dales.