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Habitats survey completed in Westmorland Dales

Ecologist Steve Heaton assesses the condition of a priority habitat, limestone pavement, near Orton

Local ecologists have carried out a survey and condition assessment of ‘priority habitats’ across ten parishes in the Westmorland Dales area of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

A total of 40 square kilometres was surveyed, with 60 landowners granting access to the ecologists.   Just over a quarter (10.2km2) of the land surveyed was identifiable as priority habitat.  Sixteen priority habitats, including blanket bog, limestone pavement, native semi-natural woodland and upland hay meadow, were found.

A report on the survey, which was carried out during 2019, has been published here.

A case study illustrating how the survey was carried out, in regard to an area of limestone pavement near Orton, can be seen in this blog post, ‘Mind what’s in the gap’.

Only areas outside of Sites of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI), which are monitored by Natural England, were included in the survey.

Maidenhair speenwort grows in the grykes of limestone pavement near Orton

Member Champion for the Natural Environment at the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, Ian McPherson, said:  “The survey has given us a substantial amount of information on the state of priority habitats in the Westmorland Dales outside SSSIs. As it was the first survey of its kind to take place in the area, we do not know if the condition of the habitats is getting better or worse.  That said, the results show that only a small proportion of priority habitat in the Westmorland Dales area of the National Park is in good condition.  Of particular concern is the apparent drying out of blanket bog, which appears to be reverting to acid grassland.

“I would like to sincerely thank all the landowners who gave access to their land.  Getting this data is the first step on the path to nature recovery.  The information will be used not only to plan biodiversity conservation work, through programmes such as the Westmorland Dales Landscape Partnership, but also to help farmers to access funding through national agri-environment schemes. There is so much urgent work that can and must be done to stem the loss of priority habitat, and restore what remains.”

The 2019 Priority Habitats survey was designed and administered by the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority.  The Authority commissioned the Otley-based firm, Haycock & Jay, to carry out the field work.

Members of the public can access the ‘YDNPA Habitat Map’ here.

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