North York Moors National Park celebrates its 60th year

3:18pm Wednesday 8th February 2012

As the North York Moors National Park celebrates its 60th year, NATALYA WILSON looks back on how national parks came into being.

AS the indignant crowd ascended Kinder Scout in the Peak District on April 24, 1932, none of them was to know that this mass trespass could change the landscape of the English countryside for good.

These walkers, exercising what they saw as their right to walk unhindered on open moorland, faced opposition from gamekeepers employed by local landowners and scuffles broke out. The police arrested several of the trespassers, with five walkers ending up in jail.

But it was worth it, as this was one of the key events which contributed to the formation of national parks, which would preserve so much of England’s beautiful countryside and make it accessible for generations to come.

This year, the North York Moors National Park (NYMNP) celebrates its 60th anniversary and chief executive Andy Wilson is excited about this landmark year.

“We have plenty of special events, including a special exhibition at the Inspired By... Gallery (at Danby), featuring five internationally-known artists,” he said.

Andy, who has been chief executive of the NYMNP for 12 years, believes that the existence of the national parks is especially important in this day and age.

“People need beauty and nature in their lives and always have done,” he said.

“Research has proved that people get sick if they don’t have that. People need inspiration and the national parks are stunningly beautiful.”

As early as the 19th century, the romantic poets such as Byron, Coleridge and Wordsworth wrote about the inspirational beauty of the ‘untamed’ countryside. Until then, remote and relatively wild areas had been seen as somewhat uncivilised and dangerous.

Wordsworth famously claimed the Lake District as “a sort of national property, in which every man has a right and an interest who has an eye to perceive and a heart to enjoy”.

The first national parks were set up in America in the 1860s, when the Government saw the need to protect wilderness areas from exploitation and make them available for all to enjoy.

Britain at that time had no such wild areas – its moors and mountains were nearly all farmed or managed in some way – but there were influential individuals who recognised that increased industrialisation was a threat to the beauty of the more remote countryside.

These people founded conservation organisations such as the National Trust and began to lobby for more formal protection from the Government. Social reformers also felt that it should be the right of all to access clean air and enjoy the spiritual refreshment offered by walking in open countryside.

By the 1930s, more and more people were seeking an escape from towns and cities and there was growing conflict with landowners. By the end of the Second World War, the Labour government had set up committees to examine long-term land use and ‘nature preservation’ became part of the post-war reconstruction effort. Thanks to pre-war campaigns, there was an emphasis on making countryside available for recreation for all, not just nature conservation.

The Dower Report in 1945 led directly to Sir Arthur Hobhouse’s 1947 report which prepared the legislation for the creation of national parks in England and Wales.

In 1949, the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act was passed and 10 national parks were created over the following decade, including 554 square miles of the North Yorks Moors, which became the sixth national park on November 28, 1952.

The North York Moors National Park is a place where nature and history inspire each other. Its contrasting landscape has a long imprint of human activity: prehistoric remains, vibrant villages and breathtaking abbeys.

Meanwhile, ancient trees, towering coastal cliffs and rolling heather moorland provide habitats for a wide range of wildlife and its wide open spaces and breathtaking vistas bring a sense of peace and tranquillity.

Although ‘national’ in the sense that they are of special value because of their beauty and the recreational opportunities they offer to all, national parks are not nationally owned. The rich patterns in the landscape were created by farmers and landowners over thousands of years and today most of the land remains in their hands.

National park authorities work alongside many others to make sure national parks have the sustainable future intended by all those who fought for the conservation.

To protect these areas, help visitors enjoy them and look after the needs of local communities, the national parks manage public rights of way, advise farmers on grants and work with woodland owners on good management. They also encourage the conservation of historic buildings, provide centres and education centres where knowledgeable staff help people to make the most of their visits, run events and much more.

More than 10 per cent of staff are apprentices from local families and, in addition to those, Andy says that the several hundred volunteers who work in the NYMNP are invaluable and make such a huge contribution as they not only do so much of the work – contributing more than 10,000 days work a year – but also bring their knowledge, skills and enthusiasm to the job.

So what advice would he give to anyone wanting to work for the NYMNP?

“We do a lot by enthusiasm,” said Andy. “Government funding overall has been cut by about 35 per cent over these four years and inevitably we have been losing jobs, so we’ve had to increase our volunteers.

“So I’d ask anyone who wanted to volunteer to write to us as there are all sorts of opportunities – we have people who manage bits of countryside or plant trees, and some work in the gallery and office.”

These days, national parks face many challenges, from changes in upland farming, pressures from tourism and the need for affordable housing, to the impact of climate change on the environment. But what does Andy think that the future holds?

“I think that we will see more pressure on the developments already happening. After all, we are a crowded island looking for economic growth and need more space,” he said.

“One of the things that we want to do to protect the NYMNP’s future is to raise its profile.

“We’d also like to increase wildlife in the area, plant more trees and make sure that different habitats ‘connect’ better.

“We are looking forward to making the most of it and would like to thank the communities and people who own and manage the national park for all they’ve done to keep it beautiful.”

Join the 60th birthday celebrations

THE finishing touches are being put to an exciting programme of events to mark the 60th anniversary of the North York Moors National Park.

Thanks to an £8,000 grant from the National Lottery through Arts Council England, the celebrations will start with an exhibition by five renowned artists at the very top of their respective fields, who all live in and are inspired by the North York Moors.

Artists Peter Hicks, Len Tabner and William Tillyer will be joined by photographer Joe Cornish and glass makers/designers Gillies Jones Glass for an exhibition called Inspired Landscape, which will take place at the Inspired by… Gallery, Danby. The exhibition will run from May 13 to July 17 and entry is free.

The Arts Council England grant will also help deliver an exhibition entitled Your Place, which will offer 60 spaces at the Inspired by… Gallery to up-and-coming artists of all genres whose work captures the landscape, wildlife and atmosphere of the moors.

The exhibition will be displayed from July 21 to August 19. Anyone interested in showing should phone Sally Ann Smith on 01439 770657 or email s.smith@northyorkmoors-npa.gov.uk Details are at www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/inspiredbygallery

Other events planned include a moorland festival at Sutton Bank National Park Centre on July 29; performances by Yorkshire Dance at several locations in July and August; an exhibition of photographs illustrating the physical and cultural changes the area has seen in the park’s first 60 years, and a short story competition in conjunction with local schools based on unusual place names in the moors.

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