A scheme to work with hundreds of farmers to restore nature across a huge swathe of British uplands is to receive £5.7 million National Lottery funding.
The project aims to bring in nature-friendly farming on a “grand scale” across more than 320 square miles of Upper Teesdale in the North Pennines and Upper Swaledale in the Yorkshire Dales, to restore, enhance and connect up the landscapes.
The £8.5 million “Tees-Swale: naturally connected” programme, led by the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) Partnership, in collaboration with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, is receiving a grant of £5.7 million from the National Lottery Heritage Fund.
Around 60 farmers and landowners are already signed up to carry out work to benefit wildlife and people over the next two years, and the aim is to involve around 300 over the course of the five-year scheme.
Habitats including new woodland and scrub will be created through planting and natural regeneration, and small wetlands on farms, while species-rich upland hay meadows and peatland will be restored.
The project includes training and working with farmers on peer-to-peer learning and collaboration with conservationists.
It aims to help farmers understand and deliver “public goods” such as clean water and boosted wildlife that farming subsidies will pay for under the Government’s post-Brexit agriculture policy.
Other elements of the scheme include establishing 17 new trails to improve access, and enabling youth groups from urban areas to experience the uplands and take part in activities such as geocaching, art, tree planting and butter-making.
It is hoped the project will boost nature such as important wildflower-rich meadows, blanket bog and rare curlews, and will also help efforts to tackle climate change through increasing woodlands and restoring peat.
By restoring nature, tackling climate change and increasing well-being, it will also aid the post Covid-19 green recovery in the UK, which has widespread support, the scheme’s backers said.
While they have areas rich in wildlife, the North Pennines and Swaledale are still seeing nature declines like other parts of the country.
Chris Woodley-Stewart, director of the North Pennines AONB Partnership, said the landscape is lived in and managed, making working with farmers and landowners key to conserving and boosting wildlife and habitats.
“We think that in an area like ours, farming has to be at the heart of nature recovery.
“It’s essential we manage nature on a grand scale. It’s OK doing work on individual farms, but it’s much more powerful if we can work with 300 farmers across a connected landscape – we can make huge connections across holdings so that the benefits we have on one farm extend to another and the next and the next.
“And then we start to create a nature recovery network across 850 square kilometres which is much more powerful than doing it with five or six farmers.
“It’s the scale of this that’s different from anything else.”
Rene Olivieri, chairman of the National Lottery Heritage Fund, said: “Never before has the need to aid nature’s recovery, particularly in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, been more urgent.
“Ambitious and forward-thinking programmes like ‘Tees-Swale: naturally connected’ align firmly with our key priorities in ensuring that our National Lottery funding supports bigger, better-connected and more resilient habitats for nature, as well as conservation at a landscape scale that will increase people’s understanding of the cultural value of the nature around them.”
Tony Juniper, chairman 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.”
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