LOOKING around the Dales, it's a strange fact that most of the work of conservationists remains hidden.Where little has changed, and that change is for the better, then there they have succeeded.

But how much worse would our Dales landscape be today had it not been for the vigilance of those concerned with the countryside?

One of the most important groups is the Craven branch of the Council for the Protection of Rural England, currently celebrating its 50th anniversay.

A meeting was called at Skipton's Red Lion in October 1947 by local people worried at the way the countryside was being exploited and 50 years on they are still voicing their opinions about the development of this beautiful part of England.

That first meeting in the smoke-filled rooms of the Red Lion was attended by some famous names in local history. There was Dr Arthur Raistrick, historian and naturalist, Harry Scott, founder of the Dalesman, Marmaduke Miller, artist and landlord at the Falcon in Arncliffe and Sir William Milner, who made Parceval Hall the attraction it is today.

Back then a major concern was the free development of the Dales - this was in the days before the National Park - and in particular Littondale was notorious for the wooden chalets which were springing up unregulated as weekend retreats for the well-to-do.

A wooden bungalow right at the foot of Malham Cove, unthinkable now, was purchased and removed.

Another concern was the amount of large advertising hoardings spreading out of the towns and into the countryside.

Fifty years on and the CPRE is still concerned about those hoardings, having sparked a campaign last year against 'Clutter in the Countryside' but the demise of Littondale's wooden shacks and the retreat of the hoardings is a sign that some battles have been won.

Today the Craven branch is some 100 strong and David Joy, from Hebden, is the current secretary.

The branch campaigns quietly, but effectively, for countryside matters, relying on persuasion to mobilise public opinion. Even so, it has notched up some major triumphs over the years.

Who would have thought, for example, that a picture postcard village such as Thorpe, the "hidden village" of the Dales, so nearly hosted a huge quarry site? Yet in 1954, just as the national park was being formed, a legal battle was waged to prevent Butterhaw, one of the mounds which screen the village from all sides, being swallowed up by quarrying.

Mr Joy said quarrying was one of the major sources of concern to the CPRE, not least because of the large number of dormant licences in the area. He cited Ribblehead, near the famous viaduct, as a site where a licence existed.

"No-one wants to see any more quarries opened in the Dales," he said.

Even so, the existing quarries do cause members to wince. Skirethorne, near Threshfield, is making an increasingly visible scar on the landscape and the CPRE was opposed to the extended licence granted to Swinden Quarry recently.

However, the branch has detected a noticeable change in attitude from quarry companies. These days they are far more aware of conservation and restoration. The work carried on at Swinden for better screening, tree planting and dry stone wall building has not gone unrecognised.

Mr Joy was keen to point out that the branch is pragmatic and recognises that times change. For example, it supported the campaign to keep the Settle-Carlisle line open even though a century ago this could have been termed as an intrusion into the countryside, scarring the landscape. However the line has blended into the rural setting, becoming a key feature of the Dales landscape and playing an important economic role.

He also cited Scargill Church, near Kettlewell, as a fine example of modern architecture which blends easily into the countryside and which was supported by the CPRE. On the other hand, the branch was firmly opposed to plans to build a Roman Catholic church by Grassington bridge, slap bang in the middle of one of the most cherished views in this area.

Over the years the branch has taken up the cudgels on a number of issues which reads like a list of how, unattended, the Dales could have been greatly diminished.


During the early 1970s tax schemes led to the establishment of conifer plantations in the Dales. Today virtually all tree planting is of natural species, although the tax advantages may have played its part in this victory.


When electricity came to the Dales in the 1950s the CPRE lobbied the electricity boards to try to devise means of making the pylons as unobtrusive as possible. The branch is particularly proud of the way pylons are 'hidden' in Langstrothdale, although generally throughout the national park pylons are kept off the skyline.


As well as fighting the battle to prevent Butterhaw being turned into a quarry, the CPRE was also vigorous in opposing a quarry at Broughton in the 1970s. It also voiced concerns about quarry freight on the roads and led the campaign to persuade quarrying companies to cover their wagons with sheets.


The CPRE opposed in the 1960s the widening of Dales roads out of all proportion to their traffic needs. Mr Joy cited the construction of a flat, modern bridge to replace an old stone structure between Goredale and Malham as "way over the top".

"I think people should accept the character of the roads as part of the Dales, why straighten them out and make them wider so you can approach congestion at speed?" he said.


While stressing that the CPRE is not anti-caravan, a stance had to be made in the 1950s against sites "spreading like mushrooms out of control up the Dales". For example, in 1963 a major caravan site was successfully opposed at Buckden. "It would have drowned the whole village," said Mr Joy.


In the 1970s the advent of large silos, particularly around Threshfield and Littondale, aroused the concern of the branch. Although it brought them into conflict with the farming community, the branch successfully campaigned for such silos to be subject to planning consent.

Today a close look around the Dales will show where the CPRE can claim success or failure.

Picturesque Burnsall features on most postcard and calendar views and is just how the CPRE would like to see a village retain its charm built up over centuries, but even here there are eyesores. The concrete car park, complete with ugly steel barrier painted yellow is a modern and unwelcome development which offends the eye as one enters the village from Barden.

Further down the road at Threshfield the modern sprawl of the village down to the banks of the Wharfe shows where the conservationists lost.

The branch still retains its vigilance and flexes its muscles over issues which threaten the countryside.

A watchful eye is kept on the current pressure on housing in Skipton and the temptation to extend out into the countryside beyond its existing boundaries - and given the council's record on the ghastly approach into Skipton from Keighley, a sight more in keeping with the industrial West Midlands than the Gateway to the Dales, who can blame them?

Another current issue on which the CPRE has a view is the proposal to build a supermarket in Settle.

Mr Joy firmly believes that other shops in the town will suffer if any of the current schemes comes to fruition: "Settle is a beautiful market town which has retained its character, a supermarket would be a big nail in its coffin," he said firmly.

So there is no time to relax if the branch can continue to preserve our countryside but there are signs of hope. The public in general has become much 'greener' in recent years. Care for our environment features on the school curriculum and the CPRE finds it easier to mobilise opinion against any potential destruction of the habitat or landscape.

"We work by persuasion and publicity. We have to remember that the countryside has been passed on to us over the years, developed yes but ruined no and we have to ensure that we do the same for future generations," said Mr Joy.

Converted for the new archive on 30 June 2000. Some images and formatting may have been lost in the conversion.