A park for People and Nature

Yorkshire Dales National Park, United Kingdom

Mallham Cove, Yorskshire Dales National Park

Established in 1954, the Yorkshire Dales National Park has outstanding scenery, a range of wildlife habitats and a rich cultural heritage. It’s a special place – a fantastic outdoor arena for recreation and peaceful relaxation, and a haven for wildlife.

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Size and Location:
Covering an area of 1,762 square kilometres (680 square miles), the National Park is located in the north of England, and straddles the central Pennines in the counties of North Yorkshire and Cumbria. It is 50 miles (80.5 kilometres) north east of Manchester; Leeds and Bradford lie to the south, while Kendal is to the west and Darlington to the east.

 IUCN category

CATEGORY V V - Protected Landscape/Seascape: Definition A protected area where the interaction of people and nature over time has produced an area of distinct character with significant ecological, biological, cultural and scenic value: and where safeguarding the integrity of this interaction is vital to protecting and sustaining the area and its associated nature conservation and other values.


The Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority manages the National Park. The authority has two main purposes:

  • to conserve and enhance the natural beauty, wildlife and cultural heritage of the area; and
  • to promote opportunities for the understanding and enjoyment of the special qualities of the National Park by the public. I

f these two purposes are in conflict, priority is given to the first of them. In carrying them out, we also have a duty to seek to foster the economic and social well-being of local communities. The membership of the authority is set out in legislation. It consists of 22 members: 12 appointed from the local County and District Councils and 10 appointed by the Secretary of State (six in recognition of the national status of the area and four to represent the parishes in the National Park). Secretary of State members represent the national interest and may be appointed for up to four years - this can be extended to a maximum of 10 years .

The authority also employs approximately 140 staff. They are managed by the Chief Executive, who is responsible for the day-to-day running of the authority. It is the National Park Authority's job to: • help anyone who visits, works or lives in the area to protect and maintain the National Park, and help people to understand and enjoy the landscape, wildlife and local history of the Yorkshire Dales.

Quick Facts

Natural beauty : The area straddles the Pennines, the backbone of England. Geology and natural processes have been the fundamental forces behind the creation of this landscape and of the variety found within it. They are quite literally the bedrock of the Yorkshire Dales and have expression in numerous dramatic and impressive features. This is an expansive area of hill country that rises in the Millstone Grit-capped Three Peaks to over 2,300ft (700 metres). Rivers have cut deep valleys (dales) of which there are over 20 named examples, each distinctive in character and atmosphere. The south of the Park displays one of the best examples in Britain of classic limestone (Karst) scenery, of Carboniferous date, with its crags, pavements, and extensive cave systems. To the west are The Howgills, a series of grassy rounded hills with deep ravines that result from different geology and form a marked contrast in appearance with the rest of the Park. Wildlife Geology, natural processes and human influence have created the particular conditions that now support a rich and diverse wildlife heritage.

In terms of biodiversity, this is one of the most valuable parts of the United Kingdom; it has the largest area of nationally and internationally important habitats of any English National Park. Its most significant habitats and wildlife include:

  • Flower-rich hay meadows and pastures, which are the product of traditional, low intensity management of grazing land over many decades. These are now very scarce nationally, this being one of the few areas where they survive in any number.
  • Rare limestone habitat which arises from the geology of the southern Dales. This limestone country is of international biodiversity importance, including rare wet meadows and pastures, limestone pavements and limestone woodland and scrub.
  • Upland heath, mainly heather moorland, mostly managed as grouse moor, and areas of blanket and raised bog. These occur principally on the extensive watersheds in the north of the Park, and contain a wide variety of plant species.

In terms of species there are nationally important populations of breeding waders, Black Grouse, Yellow Wagtail and Skylark; rare and scarce lime-loving plants such as Bird’s Eye Primrose, Rigid Buckler Fern and Globeflower and Baneberry; and rare and scarce invertebrates such as the Northern Brown Argus butterfly and the Atlantic White-Clawed Crayfish.

Cultural heritage

Despite its relatively harsh climate and challenging physical conditions, the Dales has supported human communities and industry over several millennia. Owing to the slow rate of change, evidence of generations of occupation and activity survives in the landscape as a palimpsest, presenting an intriguing record of the area’s social and economic history. The extent and range of this survival is exceptional. Livestock farming over several centuries produced a traditional pastoral landscape, much of which survives.

This historic landscape is of great beauty and acknowledged as of international importance, and comprises:

  • an intricate network of drystone walls that create a patchwork of enclosures across valleys and valley sides;
  • traditional stone-built field barns, the density of which in some parts of the Dales, notably Swaledale, Wharfedale and Wensleydale, is unique;
  • traditional herb-rich hay meadows, the spectacle of which draws many visitors to the Dales in early summer.

The range, importance and condition of the park’s archaeology is exceptional, recording continuity of human activity from the Palaeolithic to 19th and 20th century industrial remains. The Dales area is characterised by numerous small, attractive and compact villages and hamlets, most of which have been there for over a thousand years. They are still largely unspoilt and retain a very traditional and intimate atmosphere as well as a sense of continuity and stability. Many are still bordered by small, ancient, often unimproved fields accessed by narrow lanes and tracks between meandering stone walls, giving the villages an historic, timeless setting. The Settle-Carlisle Railway Line displays impressive engineering and conserved railway architecture. It offers a very special way of enjoying the dramatic landscape along its route. Threats and problems The Yorkshire Dales have a distinctive character and culture that reflect its natural make-up, and continuity from the past.

The area now faces a number of pressures for change:

  • Farming – Upland farming has given the Dales much of its distinctive landscape and helped produce its range of important habitats. Many of these depend for their survival on the continuation of sympathetic regimes of hill farming with livestock. Despite the decline in the numbers of farms and farm workers, agriculture remains important to the local economy and at the heart of communities and their culture. Far-reaching changes due to global market forces and fundamental shifts in agricultural policy mean farming in the Dales has an uncertain future. In turn, the Dales’ landscape character could alter and the future of many of its people connected with farming could also be in doubt.
  • Economic Changes – Economic change across Britain, including developments in tourism and leisure, the continuing demand for natural resources like aggregates, and, the linkages between rural and urban economies all have significant implications for the National Park’s landscape and its own economy. These changes manifest themselves in the Dales in pressures for new development. For example, large complexes of modern farm buildings, equine developments, commercial recreational developments, minerals extraction and telecommunications infrastructure.
  • Recreational Demands – The Yorkshire Dales offer tremendous opportunities for outdoor recreation. Changes to the number, diversity and frequency of people enjoying the National Park, together with a society that is looking for a healthier lifestyle and inspiration and exhilaration from an ever-wider range of recreational activities, have implications for the National Park’s environment and economy. Off-road use of 4x4 vehicles and motorbikes is a source of particular concern for their impact on vegetation, walking surfaces and tranquillity. There is also the challenge of ensuring that all sectors and members of society, not least those who traditionally have not visited or have been unable to visit, should be able to enjoy the National Park’s special qualities.
  • Mobility – Increases in personal mobility have encouraged people to travel further for work, services and leisure. The Dales is now more accessible to more people. Yet, at the same time, cheap air travel and more disposable income mean the area faces ever more competition as a holiday and recreation destination. These changes have implications for the viability of local businesses, shops and services, as well as for the local environment. The predominance of the motor car also serves to accentuate the social exclusion and sense of isolation of those without access to private transport.
  • Housing – Demand for housing — exacerbated by the number of second homes and holiday homes and the strict limits placed on any new building — has pushed prices well above national and regional averages. When combined with the relatively low average wage levels in the Dales, this means the average house price is around eight times the average household income, and thus beyond the reach of many people in the area with a genuine housing need. The lack of affordable property, either to buy or to rent, has consequences too for the viability and vitality of communities, and makes it difficult for local businesses and services to find the local workforce they need.
  • Technology – New technology is changing lifestyles, work patterns and businesses across the world. E-commerce and the internet can alter the balance of community services and businesses but can also help overcome remoteness and offer opportunities for communities to thrive. Technology is changing the way that new buildings are designed and built, as well as opening up opportunities to re-use previously redundant buildings. The way in which energy is provided to both businesses and communities is also changing dramatically in the search for renewable technology. Taking advantage of these developments also presents additional challenges in a sensitive landscape like the National Park.
  • Military use – Withdrawal of the country’s armed forces from bases abroad will increase demands for UK-based developments to accommodate returning personnel and training facilities. MoD holdings and military activity in and around the National Park may therefore increase. Though outside the park, plans to increase substantially the size of Catterick Garrison are nonetheless likely to affect it.
  • Climate Change – There is clear evidence that changes in climate are now happening. While we cannot be certain about the full extent of their impact on the Dales, there is little doubt that the effects will be felt in all aspects of the National Park’s environment, economy and communities. The challenge for the Dales will be two-fold. First, to find ways in which the special qualities of the National Park can adapt to the impact of climate change. Second, to find ways in which the National Park can best contribute to, and reap new economic benefits from, efforts to tackle the causes of climate change. The latter will be particularly important given that some of the economic impacts of climate change — notably rising fossil fuel energy prices — have particular cost implications in remote rural areas like the Dales.
  • Boundary of the National Park – The national conservation agency, Natural England, has developed well-advanced proposals to extend the Yorkshire Dales National Park west of its current boundary. Should the designation proceed, it will clearly have implications for those new areas in the adjoining counties of Cumbria and Lancashire into which the National Park will extend. It may also have implications for the people, businesses and organisations already in the National Park if the existing resources and grant schemes targeted on the National Park are spread more thinly. Some current predictions about future pressures would have major repercussions for the Yorkshire Dales were they to come true. For example:
  • The population of England and Wales is predicted to grow by about 5% over the next 20 years, increasing demand for new housing, building land and services. This demand will be felt all the more, since the number of new single person households are projected increase even more rapidly than the population as a whole.
  • Road traffic, particularly on rural roads, is predicted to grow by anything from 30 to 60% over the next 20 years, adding to problems such as congestion, air pollution, respiratory diseases and greenhouse gas emissions and resulting in further environmental deterioration. The rate at which traffic increases will though depend in part on long term trends in oil prices.
  • As the climate changes and average temperatures continue to rise, rainfall patterns may change. Winter storms are likely to be more severe and serious flooding more frequent, while warmer, drier summers are also predicted, with lower river flows.
  • Despite recent increases in rates of recycling, waste from households and businesses continues to rise in volume. As waste disposal in landfill sites is unsustainable, the challenge is to minimise waste creation and to maximise re-use, recycling and composting.
  • The way we use our countryside will continue to change with rural land use becoming more varied as leisure demands increase and farm businesses diversify. Many aspects of land management will also change as European and national agricultural policy reforms take effect. One possible effect is that a higher proportion of land in the park will be under tree cover.

While the above list of issues represents an “expert” view, local understanding may be different. In 2009, 58% of residents felt that there were some threats or pressures to the area. The greatest of these was seen to be ‘lack of affordable housing development’ (46%) followed by ‘decline in agriculture income’ (36%), ‘off road 4x4 and motorcycles’ (34%) and ‘traffic’ (32%). The least mentioned threat or pressure to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Area is ‘windfarms’ (17%) and climate change (17%). 

Work area: 
Protected Areas
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