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1:00 AM 23rd July 2020

National Lottery Funding Puts Upland Farmers At The Heart Of Ground-breaking Nature Recovery Programme

Dr Ruth Starr-Keddle carrying out a meadow survey in Upper Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales National Park (c) North Pennines AONB Partnership
Dr Ruth Starr-Keddle carrying out a meadow survey in Upper Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales National Park (c) North Pennines AONB Partnership
Two of the most outstanding landscapes in the English uplands are set to be connected, restored and enhanced in one of the most significant nature programmes to be funded in the UK.

The National Lottery Heritage Fund is to fund the £8.5million ‘Tees-Swale: naturally connected’ programme with a grant of £5.7 million for the 5-year scheme, to be led by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership in collaboration with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Tees-Swale will be the country’s leading example of farmer-focused nature recovery and will centre on two nationally treasured upland landscapes: Upper Teesdale in the North Pennines (AONB); and Upper Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. The ambitious programme covers an area of 829 km2, creating a significant nature recovery area in the northern uplands and through mitigating climate change, improving wellbeing and boosting biodiversity will aid the post-Covid19 green recovery of the UK – a proposition that has seen strong support from the British public.

Species-rich meadow in Teesdale (c) North Pennines AONB Partnership
Species-rich meadow in Teesdale (c) North Pennines AONB Partnership
Over its five-year lifespan, Tees-Swale will put farmers and landowners at the heart of nature recovery. The project team has been working closely with farmers in preparation, with over 60 farmers and landowners already committed to carrying out work to benefit people and wildlife in the first two years of the scheme. The partners aim to work with all 300 farmers in the area over the life of the programme.

Chair of the Tees-Swale board is Professor Sir John Lawton: “I fell in love with the Yorkshire Dales and Upper Teesdale in the 1970s, not long after I moved to live in York. It is a wonderful area, so it was a huge privilege to be asked to chair the Board of ‘Tees-Swale: naturally connected’ and to help steer the project during our successful bid to The National Lottery Heritage Fund. The area is a stunning cultural landscape, moulded by human activities for millennia; it is also one of the most biodiverse parts of the English uplands, partly as a result of some of the nature-friendly farming practices that take place there. The programme allows us to build on those practices and put farming at the heart of nature recovery. From a personal perspective the programme allows me to be part of putting into practice the central principles of the Making Space for Nature report which I led ten years ago: nature recovery needs ‘more, bigger, better managed and joined up’ habitats.”

Upper Teesdale from Holwick (c) North Pennines AONB Partnership
Upper Teesdale from Holwick (c) North Pennines AONB Partnership
David Renwick, Director, England, North at The National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “The natural assets of the North are world-beating, and the species-rich upland hay meadows and blanket bog that are at the heart of the ‘Tees-Swale: naturally connected’ programme are a superb example of this. However, the need to aid nature’s recovery, particularly in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, has never been more urgent. Ambitious and forward-thinking projects such as this, align firmly with our key priorities in ensuring that National Lottery funding supports bigger, better-connected and more resilient habitats for nature, but also bring people together. We want to ensure that the nature recovery at the heart of projects like this, is connected in with social and economic agendas too, that make sure communities have the best chance of linking in with the nature on their doorsteps. This programme is also really timely at a moment where the partners behind Tees-Swale and many other conservation organisations are coming together through the Nature North consortium to support green recovery at a strategic scale.”

Although in some ways rich in wildlife, even in Teesdale and Swaledale nature is in retreat and the future of these landscapes is uncertain. Tees-Swale seeks to reverse this trend, combining the ‘Lawton principles’ with economically viable farming, for the benefits of people and wildlife. The programme will support farming methods which value and work in harmony with nature, restore at-risk natural heritage, connect priority habitats, and help to reverse the decline in biodiversity, through hay meadow restoration, peatland restoration, river enhancement, wetland creation and woodland creation.

View in Swaledale (c) Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority
View in Swaledale (c) Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority
The collaborative approach sees the AONB Partnership and National Park Authority working together across two designated landscapes and involving farmers, landowners, conservation organisations, communities, volunteers and partner organisations. The public benefits delivered will include climate change mitigation, flood-risk management, and tackling biodiversity loss.

An important feature of Tees-Swale will be peer-to-peer learning between farmers and conservation organisations and helping farmers to appreciate the public goods that they manage and provide. The programme aims to help make farmers as ready as they can be to respond to new agri-environment measures, and initiate new, innovative ways of working that can be emulated across the UK to shape future policy.

These are nationally important landscapes and the programme will engage more people in all they have to offer. The Tees-Swale programme will encourage and facilitate visits and activities by schools and by youth and community groups from nearby urban areas, to help them better understand the wildlife, the landscapes, and the lives of the people who live and work here, and above all to enjoy and explore these dales. With agriculture being of great importance to the local economy, the programme’s investment in natural assets will also promote economic benefits for the communities in the area.

Tony Juniper, chair of Natural England, said: “The Nature Recovery Network that we are helping to establish across England will deliver benefits for both wildlife and people and this programme is exactly the kind of initiative that will contribute towards it. Work like this helps combat both the climate and Nature crises that are now upon us, while also bringing wellbeing benefits for people.

“At the same time as creating a collection of high-quality and well-connected areas that allow wildlife to thrive and cope with climate change, this project will enhance natural beauty and bring benefits in relation to flood alleviation. Through collaboration with many different groups at a local level we can build the partnerships needed to recover our natural environment, and this is a fantastic example of how to do it.”

Chair of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Neil Heseltine said: I’m really excited about the potential for this project. There’s never been a more important time to help our farmers to make the transition to producing food in a way that turbo-charges nature recovery as a core part of their business. It’s also never been more evident how much we need to create opportunities to connect people with nature in our National Landscapes.

“We are very grateful for the support we have received from the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and from Lottery players, that has made it possible. This investment will be a great boost for communities in Swaledale that were so badly affected by the flooding last year.”

Chris Woodley-Stewart, Director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said: “In developing Tees-Swale we have spent a lot of time really listening to farmers and looking together at the nature-friendly action they can take on their farms. We’re really heartened by the response that we have had from the farming community, and we’re looking forward to working together on this programme. We’re excited by the unprecedented scale of the programme and the range of partners that are coming together to create a nature recovery network across these two dales.

“In everything we do our priorities are nature recovery and engaging people with nature. Tees-Swale provides a great opportunity to do that.”