THE farmers who have grazing rights on Swarth Moor, near Helwith Bridge, were not consulted before Natural England applied to the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority for permission for a restoration project which which will include the creation of water-filled ditches.

The Authority’s planning committee heard that Natural England’s project would involve the construction of peat bunds for re-wetting raised mire and the excavation of three mitigation ponds for great crested newts.

Stainforth and Horton-in-Ribblesdale Parish Councils had objected to the application because: the grazier’s hadn’t been consulted; the ponds could be extremely hazardous to the livestock, plus an increase in the number of visitors. These concerns were also raised by Austwick Parish Council.

Colin Newland of Natural England told the planning meeting the agency had met with Swarth Moor commons rights holders. He said he had been told that they were concerned about the long term management of the moor and the impact on graziers’ livelihoods. “One of the outcomes of that is that we will take forward a Countryside Stewardship Scheme for the common,” he said.

Committee member Allen Kirkbride, who is chairman of Askrigg Parish Council, commented: “It seems that the farming community who graze this area have been just an after thought for Natural England who should know better.”

He agreed with North Yorkshire County councillor Robert Heseltine that a few decades ago landowners were given tens of thousands of pounds to grip and drain the peat moors. “Now they are being given tens and thousands to fill it in,” he said.

Another parish council appointee, Chris Clark, spoke from his own personal experience: “We’ve blocked 125 hectares and the results of that have been an increase in biodiversity, improved irrigation, and carbon sequestration. On top of that we have had absolutely no problems with the stock getting stuck or drowned.”

The committee was informed that, as common land was involved, Natural England would have to obtain the consent for its plans from the Secretary of State.

A planning officer told the meeting that the project was aimed at halting and reversing the long-term decline of a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). “This is a national priority habitat which is very rare in the National Park and uncommon elsewhere,” he said. The application was approved.