Managing the environment

Usha Gap Bridge

Today we still exert considerable and rapid environmental pressures on our environment, endangering areas of natural beauty. These pressures are the result of our way of life.

Conflicts in land use come down to one problem: how we maintain an unspoilt environment (especially in areas of outstanding natural beauty), but still live there and carry out essential activities, such as using the landscape for agriculture, carrying out industrial processes, and visiting as tourists.

This dilemma is relevant to all areas, including the National Parks, but here we will consider examples principally from the Yorkshire Dales National Park, where they can be considered under four main subheadings:

Agriculture

Swaledale sheep

Most present-day villages in the Yorkshire Dales originated as farming communities. We know this because many villages still maintain the original place names:

  • Skipton: sheep farm
  • Grassington: grazing farm
  • Ingleton: Ingeld's farm
  • Austwick: eastern dairy farm

Many villages were established during Anglo-Saxon, Viking and Norman times and planned villages such as East Witton were also founded. During this early period, as well as in the later times, most of the population was involved in agriculture in one way or another. They may have worked in the fields, or as blacksmiths making and repairing ploughs, or as shepherds or drovers, but a high proportion of the population was devoted to farming.

The characteristic landscape of the Yorkshire Dales of today reflects centuries of farming, including the dry stone walls and field barns constructed from locally quarried stone, and drovers' roads. Sheep brought great wealth from their wool and as early as about 1300 CE, Fountain's Abbey alone farmed a flock of 15 000 animals. Even some of the quarrying in the Dales was begun for agricultural purposes, the limestone being made into lime for improving the soil.

Most of the land in the Dales continues to be used for agriculture today — sheep farming in the high fells and hay crops and cattle grazing in the meadows of the valleys. Wild flowers (e.g. wood cranesbill) proliferate in some areas of meadowland that are not treated with fertiliser and when hay making takes place after these plants have flowered and seeded. In areas where fertilisers are used, wild flowers have disappeared.

Woodland and forest form only a very small area (only about 3.5 per cent) of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

Village expansion

Tourists want to buy holiday homes (which are unoccupied for much of the year and so do not contribute to the local economy). Land and house prices are pushed up so that local people cannot afford to live in the villages and in turn, traditions of the local community, local crafts such as dry stone walling, and a young labour force become threatened.

With the increase in demand for housing and the price of land, landowners are encouraged to build more and more houses for sale. Not only does the scale of expansion of villages and the construction of modern estates detract from the landscape, but there is a danger that cheaper but inappropriate materials are used, such as brick rather than local stone. Rapid building can destroy the characteristics and beauty of the region.

The very beauty of the landscape is one of the major causes of environmental pressure and planning controls have to be put in place.

Tourism and industry

Tourism and industry are larger topics and are shown on individual pages.