16 Smardale Gill from Witches Stride


16-andrew-walterAndrew Walter – Reserves Officer, Cumbria Wildlife Trust

Smardale Gill National Nature Reserve is owned and managed by Cumbria Wildlife Trust. Because of the old railway line there is a really level surface which you can push a wheelchair or buggy down. So there is access into the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wildlife and history, for just about anyone to get to.

Smardale is a fantastic place, but what this view does is set it in the landscape, which is remote. You’ve got the Howgills as a backdrop, then grazed farmed fields, then the nature reserve on the steepest slopes and Scandal Beck at the bottom. Scandal Beck’s a fantastic river: it’s home to white-clawed crayfish, a globally endangered species, and other river fauna like otter, kingfishers and dippers, salmon and trout, as well as flora like water crowfoot and butterbur.

This view has had a significant industrial past. The viaduct was designed and built by Sir Thomas Bauch to take coke from Durham to Barrow-in-Furness – where it was used in iron smelting – and then to take iron ore back. It’s a really elegant viaduct; I don’t think it ruins the landscape at all, I think it’s an asset. You can also see lime kilns attached to the limestone quarry: they were used to turn the limestone into quicklime, which was then used in the steel industry.

The best part of it is not shown by the picture, and that is the wildlife. With the Wildlife Trust’s management we’re maintaining the wildlife, which is phenomenal – it’s hard to walk on some areas of this reserve, just because there are so many orchids. The wild flowers are so abundant that they often outdo the grass.

I’ve been at the Trust since July 1994. I look after about eight reserves in total, including Smardale. My job’s land management: it includes all aspects, from going out and rebuilding a bit of wall, or chopping down some scrub, or coppicing in the woods (with volunteers quite often), or writing management plans and agreeing them with Natural England, or seeking funding to do work.

I’ve got two incredibly keen volunteers – Nigel and Lois Harbron – who are there two days a week pretty much – they manage the site, not me! I just give them ideas of what to do and they do it.

Being here for this long is rewarding in terms of land management, because it’s all very long term. You get a more interesting overview having stuck with it.

Habitats are my main concern, because if you get the habitat right then everything else should follow. Here you’ve got ancient woodland, limestone grassland, hay-meadowy type grassland, and bracken and scrub. These broad habitat types support many plants that may have been lost from the surrounding land. The diversity of the habitats and their structure then supports a host of animals from mammals to invertebrates. One of the interesting species you get at Smardale is the scotch argus butterfly, which is a very dark, almost black, butterfly with red wing markings and eye spots. There are only two populations in England: it’s right at the southern end of its natural range, but it does very well on the reserve, so much so, they come up in clouds around your feet in early September.

The top wall lying where the bracken finishes was quite dilapidated when I took the reserve on; that was virtually rebuilt by a local waller called Cecil Capstick. Most of the other boundaries have also been fixed up. The area just beyond the viaduct we periodically clear of scrub, and that’s one of the best places for bloody cranesbill and rock rose, that’s where you see scotch argus, northern brown argus and it’s also a good area for dark green fritillary. The most obvious improvement is that we’ve upgraded the footpath to be more accessible; that has to be a major achievement for the reserve.

Mostly though, I hope that the view hasn’t really changed, because it was a special place when I first got to it. It didn’t need restoring, just managing, maintaining, and maybe a little tweaking.

17 View from above Dent


17-margaret-taylorMargaret Taylor – Farmer, High Laning Farm (and founder of Dent Heritage Centre with husband Jim)

This is the area that’s closest to my heart. It’s glorious, it’s magnificent, and it’s natural. It makes me think about all the work that’s been done here for generations, and how people used to live.

I grew up in Dent. My dad was a cow man, and my grandparents were farming up at Rivlin Cowgill. I came to High Laning as daughter-in-law. In the early days we had a little farm and a butcher’s shop. Unfortunately, my first husband died – I don’t think I’ll have anything as sad happen to me again. We couldn’t carry on with the butcher’s shop, but that was maybe a blessing in disguise, because it was the start of interference from supermarkets and price cutting. We used to bottle our milk here, and it came eventually with the milk. You’d go with the milk some mornings and you knew very well that people had been buying from the supermarket. That was quite a heart-string puller, as a local person who was used to making a living.

Then I took a U-turn and decided it might be a good idea to try and go with tourists and set up a camping and caravan park. It was very difficult. It costs an absolute fortune to change from what you have been doing to something else, and then to have the heartache of people not being very happy about the changes. This was in 1970. Eventually we made it.

Our youngest son is still farming our farm – a very small area at High Laning Farm, High Ground, and what was my grandma’s farm at Rivlin. He’s happy – he loves his sheep. You’re bred to it, aren’t you? You either have it or you haven’t it. I have it myself. I have the instinct of everything that goes on on the land, and so has this son of mine who’s carrying on. His instincts are good. I’m all the time having a look. It’s in my blood. I can’t leave it alone. Being a widow, I did a lot of farming myself. Maybe because farming helped me carry on, it’s closer to my heart. I would hate to think I couldn’t walk out there and have a look at a few sheep and lambs, and feed the sheepdogs. When you’re farming here you’re very family-orientated. And farmers all help each other – they are really, really close.

Setting up the Heritage Centre has been a massive project. It tells the Dent story, if you like. I started off just collecting Dent postcards. My husband’s brother was a collector too and we took quite a lot of his collection over. We were all over this area – if we heard there was something from Dent or the ten mile radius, we were there. Then my aunt died, and her legacy was enough to secure the building that’s now the Heritage Centre. It was a 30 year project. We had such a great team working on it and we managed to get it open in 2006. I didn’t know if I wanted to do it because Dent is very close to my heart, or if it’s about sustainability – to make sure Dent keeps alive – I’m not sure.

We developed Flintergill Outrake Nature Trail too. That’s quite something. As you walk up there it’s something really out of this world because it’s very unspoilt. There’s a lot of fauna in there  – the birds sing and it’s very, very peaceful, very natural. Further up you get to the house where people used to live, at High Ground. I think about what a drudge it would have been up there – but they’d have been happy. Natural England helped us renovate the barn, so there’s another little museum with all the implements they used to use on the farm. There’s a lime kiln as well, and the quarry. Then if you walk a little further up you come to the Topograph, which shows the distance to all the hills: starting at Barbondale, down to the Howgills, Helmside Knot, Rise Hill, Knoutberry, then you come back round this side: Whernside, Deepdale, Great Comb.

You can do the trail and look at it the way it is today, or you could turn the clock back and think about how it was: think about the weavers’ cottages at the bottom, where they used to weft the linen on the dancing flags, and how they used to tell the children the tales about the fairies.

18 Juniper Gill, Moughton


18-fran-grahamFran Graham – Wildlife Conservation Officer, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

This is a view of Juniper Gill in Moughton, which is part of the Ingleborough National Nature Reserve. Coming over from Horton-in-Ribblesdale you see just a scattering of old trees here on the plateau. Once you go down into that gill there are hundreds and hundreds of trees – it’s quite otherworldly.

I’m a Wildlife Conservation Officer, and every year part of my work is to go out between mid-September and mid-October and collect juniper seeds from this site and the two others in the Park. Juniper is seen to be at risk in the UK, and because we have quite a lot of juniper in the Park it’s one of our priorities to help to conserve it. It’s also a conifer and there are only three native conifers in the UK – juniper, box and yew. Usually we wouldn’t intervene in this kind of way, but with factors such as an ageing population, rabbits, deer, pests and disease, we think it’s important to collect seeds and get them propogated properly. As climate change happens that’s probably going to be another factor having an adverse effect on it. If we can try and bolster the populations, they’ve got more of a chance of adapting to that situation.

Juniper is very slow growing, so you often get these very wizened-looking trees. It takes them two years to produce seed. So at any one time, when you go seed collecting, you’ve got the very immature green berries that are not ready yet; the dark purple ones which are the ones you want; and then you’ve got the wrinkled up brown ones which are last year’s, and they’re all mixed together. They’ve also got very spiky leaves, so you get in a bath at the end of the day and you feel like a colander. We send the seeds to a specialist nursery who propogate them and when they’re large enough the plants are available for planting within the National Park or other restoration schemes.

Juniper has separate male and female trees. The male flowers produce the pollen. The female flowers are actually tiny cones that open up and receive the pollen. Obviously the seeds are only present on the female trees. If you haven’t got enough male trees present, and enough pollen produced, and enough wind-pollination happening, you’re not going to get the berries. We call them berries but they are actually cones.

They are quite incredible-looking trees. Apparently people used to cut them down and use the wood to fuel illicit stills for whisky or whatever. The wood doesn’t produce much smoke so they could do it on the quiet. It probably smells really nice as well. And of course juniper berries are one of the flavourings of gin.

Another thing to mention is that there are some birds which are specialist eaters of juniper berries, such as the ring ouzel. There are quite a lot of invertebrates that are supported by juniper as well – lots of spiders and little creepy crawlies.

There are two other places like this in the Park, both in Swaledale: one on Grinton Moor and one at Thwaitestones. There are some good public rights of way that go through or very close to these juniper populations. To get to this one on Moughton you can go up from Austwick, up Crummackdale, over the top of Moughton and down to Horton-in-Ribblesdale. That would go through the juniper population if the public want to see it. The one near Grinton has a very minor road going through it; you can see it from the roadside. The one at Thwaitestones, which is owned by the Woodland Trust – that’s not quite so accessible, but you can see it really well just from the village of Thwaite. There are quite a lot of smaller populations up in the Swaledale area particularly; they tend to be about 50-100 trees at a time.

Juniper is just one of a number of rare species that I’m involved in working on. There are a lot of other wild flowers, mosses, lichens and fungi species, and each one’s got its own interest. It’s the best job in the world. It’s getting out and about to beautiful places, and it’s trying to protect it for a future generation.

19 Austwick from edge of Oxenber Wood


19-gail-smithGail Smith – Community Worker, People and the DALES – Diversity, Access, Learning, Environment, Sustainability, Yorkshire Dales Millennium Trust

I work on an outreach programme called People and the DALES. We work with disadvantaged groups from the urban areas bordering the south of the Dales, bringing them up to the countryside. For many people it’s the first time they’ve been out of the city and up to the Dales, so it’s quite a special experience for them.

Oxenber Wood is just one spot we take people to. It’s a fantastic area, particularly in spring because of the bluebells, orchids and other wild flowers. It’s also relatively easy to get up high without too much effort for groups that aren’t used to walking. They get that magical experience of being on high and looking down.

Most of our work is with groups from Bradford, Leeds and Keighley, but we work in north east Lancashire as well. We’ve built up good links with community groups, mental health groups, urban youth groups, people with disabilities, and many more. And then a big part of the work is with people from black and minority ethnic groups. It’s about reaching those groups that haven’t had the opportunity to be out before. We tailor-make the visits to each group, because they’re so different in what they want and need.

We did a lot of evaluation this summer and found that the impact of the People and the DALES project on people’s wellbeing and mental health has been really powerful. The other day a group leader described seeing the impact of the serenity in the countryside on people during these visits. He works with people with mental health problems and told me that during a visit one of his service users said: ‘this is the first time I’ve ever felt like I don’t need my medication’. You might think it’s a fairly simple, standard thing, coming out for the day. But it isn’t just a day out, it’s about giving people that quiet space and quiet time to just be in the natural world and enjoy it. I think that’s really powerful and really important, particularly for people from urban areas who often lead very busy, full-on lives a lot of the time.

We work a lot with refugees and asylum seekers. They have a tough life and are dealing with some very difficult situations. One of the really important things that’s come from working with these groups is that it’s given people a real sense of belonging. For a lot of them, seeing the English countryside for the first time, they’re able to relate it to wherever they’ve come from. We have people standing there saying, ‘wow this is just like Bangledesh’, ‘it’s just like Pakistan’, ‘this is just like home’. People are able to open up and talk because it connects with things from their past. To be able to give people a chance to come and do something nice, something positive, to feel that ‘yes, this is ours’, ‘we can come and enjoy this’, is really important.

We’re also seeing that people we’ve worked with are coming back, on their own, and with their families. Over the course of the project we have trained 57 community group leaders to give them the skills and confidence to be able to bring groups that they work with out for themselves. That’s really working, which is fantastic.

The other way we try and link people more into the natural world is by doing conservation work with groups. We’ll perhaps do a series of visits to begin with, so that they get familiarised and feel comfortable in the outdoors, then we’ll encourage them to move on to other things. So we do drystone walling, woodland management, we take them out to hill farms and get them working with local farmers, park rangers and other local providers. So people are getting some practical skills and practical experience and that takes it a step further for them.

I just love giving people the opportunity to experience the natural world, and really be part of that. It’s about enabling people to experience and share that sense of awe and wonder. Seeing the looks on people’s faces when they do experience it is just magical; it’s a pleasure.

20 Booze Moor


20-ceri-katzCari Katz – Peatland Restoration Officer, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust

This is Booze Moor in Arkengarthdale. We’re doing peat restoration work all around that area. I really enjoy working in this part of the Dales – at the most northern tip. It feels very different from the southern areas: a bit more remote, a bit more rough and ready.

Arkengarthdale has also been quite interesting because of all the different management that’s taking place on the site. There’s the grouse moor, and the farming, and it includes the historical management with the lead mines which are dotted around all over the place. It’s been quite difficult to make sure we’re not having any damaging impact on the historical environment, as well as trying to improve the landscape for its management today; Arkengarthdale encompasses all of that.

In spring it’s fantastic, all the birds start to come out, so you’ve got lapwings and curlews, geese and oystercatchers. It’s like everything comes back to life. There are times going through the winter when the only thing you can hear up there is the wind blowing, or the rain dripping off your clothing!

I suppose to take a photograph you’re just taking that one  pinpoint in time, but when you’re actually out there you’re taking in not only that area but the whole area around you, and also the sounds, and what you can feel as well – if it’s a nice sunny day, or if there’s a cool breeze – it’s difficult to get that all in.

I’ve got an agricultural background. My parents own a farm in mid-Wales. They’ve got a relatively large area of peat and upland heath there, and there have been areas where they’ve tried to stop peat erosion. I’ve always been interested in that environment. I quite enjoy wandering around in it, even when it’s windy and rainy – it’s great.

It can take a while to see the impact of the restoration work we do. We’ve done work on some sites down in the southern area of the Dales, which were the first sites we worked on. It’s been good to be able to see the difference it’s made. You’ve got sphagnum colonising the pools behind the peat dams; and whole areas where it was just bare peat and nothing else growing, where now we’re getting vegetation and heather coming back and cotton grass colonising the edges; that’s been really satisfying.