THE new chairman of the Friends of the Dales charity says he is looking forward to steering the organisation alongside a band of trusted and like-minded volunteers and trustees.

Bruce McLeod has taken the reins from outgoing chairman Mark Corner and was elected at the AGM in Long Preston on September 21.

“It is not only an honor to become the chair of Friends of the Dales but also exciting to join trustees and volunteers who form an effective, imaginative, committed and proactive, as opposed to reactive, organization,” he said.

“The iconic Dales landscape may appear timeless, but we know that biodiversity is in precipitous decline.

“The success of the tourist industry obscures the fact of a general unequal access in the Dales to affordable housing, to secure, well-paid local employment, to high-speed internet, and to public transport.

“Communities face the challenge of an ageing population, a lack of cohesion due to the proliferation of second homes and holiday lets, and the loss of services, not least schools.

“Behind the scenes flora and fauna, young families and the services they need are struggling to survive. The question therefore is how will we respond and adapt to a new, unpredictable and evolving reality? What sort of steps are we willing to take in order to reduce carbon emissions and institute sustainable alternatives to business as usual? How do we practice conservation and redefine consumption in order to safeguard and enhance the Dales? “

Mr McLeod said the charity has two campaigns on the burner - defence of roadside verges and the war on plastic litter.

He said: “In the one, we aim to protect verges from untimely mowing which decimates flora and fauna in these important ecosystems, often the relics of flower meadows which have long disappeared. In the other, our aim is to reduce the amount of single-use plastic in the national park.

“These are both what might be called thin end of the wedge campaigns: that is to say, they are not just to do with verges and plastic litter but will hopefully initiate a sea-change in behaviour and assumptions as regards maximizing care for our environment. In other words, changing the cutting regime applied to roadside verges also promotes the idea of wildlife corridors and the wilding of public spaces. The campaign against single-use plastic, especially the plastic tree guards which populate the landscape, will initiate a wider discussion about the alternatives to other accepted practices that pollute our countryside.

“These campaigns are what I call gateway issues: People, especially the young, want immediate and informed action and we hope that by pursuing these campaigns for a less polluted, less carbon-orientated, wilder and more biodiverse environment we’ll also attract more members. More members means more clout.

“My goal and hope is to work, as chair of Friends of the Dales, in cooperation with the numerous groups and organizations who imagine and will fight for a future that is as sustainable, beneficial and ecologically sane as possible.”

Bruce McLeod was born in Scotland and grew up in England before moving to the US where he lived for a decade and gained a doctorate in English Literature, publishing The Geography of Empire in English Literature, 1580-1745 with Cambridge University Press.

Since moving back to the UK he has been a freelance writer, mainly for film. He has been involved in conservation on both sides of the Atlantic, working with a large conservation organisation to protect undeveloped land along the Ohio River and negotiating with the State over a road widening project. He has been a long-time board member of a small, not-for-profit zoo as well as an organic farm co-operative, both set in the family farm in Kentucky. In the Dales he is a committee member of CPRE North Yorkshire and is chairman of the Otterburn Parish Meeting.