Dalesman’s Diary: April 2024

A Dalesman’s Diary

April 2024

Balancing on the clints of a limestone pavement, staring up at the view of Ingleborough mountain is one of those experiences which sticks with you: a moment of awe-inspiring wonder and pride.

With open vistas of rolling hills, criss-crossed by drystone walls and dramatic limestone pavements, Ingleborough and its foothills are one of the most well-known corners of Yorkshire – and one of our most inspiring places, an icon of our regional heritage.

Plants and people here have adapted to survive wild weather and upland conditions, and only the hardiest of cattle and sheep can roam the pastures.

When rambling along the lower slopes of this incredible National Nature Reserve, you might be forgiven for looking up and out over the view rather than down at your feet… but do take a chance to glance down – because this is where the truly exciting world lies.

The wildflowers around Ingleborough are a spectacle to behold. From late spring, a wander through the remnants of limestone grassland on Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s nature reserves – Ashes Pasture, Brae Pasture, Ashes Shaw – immerses you in a colourful world brightened with the yellow of rock-rose and the giant buttercup-like globeflowers, the tiny delicate pink of bird’s eye primrose and clusters of delightful mountain pansies.

Skylarks, curlews and cuckoos can be heard ushering in the brighter weather with their distinctive cries, and a pause among the nodding heads and swaying grasses may allow you to catch a glimpse of small, pearl-bordered fritillary and northern brown argus butterflies fluttering by. In time, and given more space, these oases of bright colour could spread out over hills, bringing more life and colour to the landscape.

Ingleborough’s limestone pavements are famous, tooth-like structures jutting out among the grassland. The Dales are home to a third of the UK’s remaining limestone pavement, and although Malham Cove is perhaps our most famous, Ingleborough plays host to some of the finest examples in the world.

Southerscales, photograph by Graham Standring

The pavements found at Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s Southerscales, South House Pavement and Ashes Shaw reserves are part of a mere fraction of what once existed, however – a reported 8-14,000 tons of pavement was removed annually for construction and gardens right up until the 1990s.

Ingleborough’s limestone pavements today are more well-known for being smooth and bare, but they have the potential to be carpeted in a variety of plant life. We can’t replace the lost clints but, with extraction stopped and grazing reduced, limestone pavement can recover into a rich botanical habitat.

The unusual depth of the ‘grykes’ of Ingleborough’s limestone pavements support unique ferns, mosses and lichens, and wild thyme and rock-rose are beginning to cover their clints. Given time, they too could become home to rare and special plants like holly ferns and willows, and the wildlife they support.

These hidden gems represent a fraction of what conservationists believe is possible – that this could be one of the most significant limestone landscapes in the world.

Ingleborough’s unique mix of habitats has given rise to some very rare flowers: protected spiked speedwell, with its columns of purple-blue flowers, clings to one tiny ledge on the Ingleborough site; the Teesdale violet makes Ingleborough one of its few homes; and the only place in the world the white flowers of Yorkshire sandwort are found is on
Ingleborough’s mountain slopes.

Many of these rarer species are in such small numbers – in single clusters and, in some cases, found nowhere else in the world – that they are highly vulnerable to damage, bad weather and the effects of climate change. Swift action is needed to prevent them from being lost forever.

Much work is already under way. Yorkshire Wildlife Trust’s groundbreaking Wild
Ingleborough conservation project began three years ago and will put Yorkshire’s famous peak on the international stage by helping to restore more of Ingleborough’s landscape and creating corridors for wildlife. Members of the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust have been working hard across Ingleborough to help wildlife thrive: they have been abseiling down cliffs to collect seeds, creating a tree and plant nursery at altitude to grow on these seeds until they can be planted out, trying new methods of growing ferns by spraying their seeds into the cracks of limestone pavement, and letting our conservation grazing cattle roam the landscape.

These are landscape-scale ambitions. Thanks to the generosity of the local community and long-term supporters, Yorkshire Wildlife Trust were recently able to purchase two new reserves – Ashes Shaw and Bellfield’s Pasture – to help expand the space for wildlife and protect more of this unique landscape. The ambition is to reach new heights and create a wilder, more connected landscape, with space for wildlife to roam, expand and thrive.

Drystone walling, Photo courtesy of WWF

The heritage of Ingleborough and the vital involvement of the local community has been a big priority. Dedicated local volunteers have worked alongside Yorkshire Wildlife Trust to start reinforcing and restoring the drystone walls, and historians have helped to uncover important archaeological remains – including some from the Bronze Age – at Ashes Shaw nature reserve.

Volunteers have been out and about, no matter the weather, replanting native broadleaf trees to create more cover for wildlife. In fact, they have contributed over 11,000 hours since the project began, helping to plant over 108,000 trees and other plants!

Local children from ten different schools have joined us on a wild wander to Ribblehead so they can learn more about their wild mountain, and children from Settle and Kirkby Malham primary school created a wonderful animation encouraging visitors to take care around ground-nesting birds, which was widely shared across the county. The Trust is also supporting more local school groups with their John Muir Award this year. With some careful planning, this area of the Dales could be a significant destination for visitors who also want to discover and enjoy more abundant wildlife, which could be worth millions to the local economy.

Wild Ingleborough is a small but critical haven, from which some of Yorkshire’s rarest limestone plants can flourish. Working with partners and a network of landowners and farmers, we can restore a wilder landscape fit for people and wildlife of the future. There is so much hope for the future of Wild Ingleborough and for the wildlife which could thrive there if given an opportunity, but this vision can only be brought to life with the support from our community and people who love this area.

To find out more, get involved with Yorkshire Wildlife Trust, or to make a donation visit
ywt.org.uk/Wild-Ingleborough or call 01904 659570 and select option 1.


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