The North York Moors National Park is coming of age as it celebrates its 60th anniversary today. Stuart Minting reports
WHEN the country's sixth national park was born 60 years ago, it was “just a line drawn on a map” and was widely viewed as the enemy by those living there.
Today, the union of the 554 square mile expanse of Jurassic landscapes featuring farms, forests, heather moorlands and 12,000 archaeological sites has been almost universally embraced as a concept, with visitors spending 10.6 million days a year there.
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Farmers, landowners and national park officers agree the path to the unveiling this week of its first truly unified plan - to maximise what the area can provide by way of renewable energy, food, housing, water and recreation - has been a rocky one.
When the park was established in 1952 to protect and increase public access to its “amazing wealth and variety of beauty", it had been 64 years since James Bryce, the British Ambassador to the USA, had proposed an Access to the Mountains Bill “for the purpose of recreation or scientific or artistic study on ... uncultivated mountains or moorlands”.
Bill Breakell, a former transport and tourism officer for the North York Moors Park Authority (NYMPA), said: “The ironworkers of Middlesbrough and the miners of Lingdale looked out beyond the smoke to the North York Moors knowing that there were no new rights to roam in what could have been and once was their back garden.”
Despite numerous attempts to increase access to areas such as the North York Moors, the majority of which remains privately-owned, it was not until after the Kinder Scout Mass Trespass protest in the Peak District in 1932 that the principle of national parks began to make serious headway.
When the idea of creating England and Wales’ sixth national park covering the North York Moors was proposed in the post-war years, many of its 25,000 residents were concerned wildlife and ramblers would be prioritised over food production.
However, the public inquiry into the formation of the park in July 1952 at County Hall in Northallerton was a low-key affair, attracting little interest, and after 47 square miles of land was deleted from its boundaries, the plan was ratified.
Mr Breakell said: “Designation of the North York Moors as a national park in 1952 made little difference to the millions who saw the Moors as a destination, but it was an important milestone in protecting the landscape of the area.”
Derek Statham said when he became the county planning officer for both the North York Moors and Yorkshire Dales National Parks in 1965, said “it was a one man and his dog operation and the park was seen by some as almost the enemy”.
He said: “At the start it was just a line drawn on a map, and there was very little by way of facilities for visitors, just a few car parks.”
In its early years farmers’ fears over visitors' rights harming their businesses intensified with growing car ownership and leisure time, alongside the popularity of youth movements.
Alan Staniforth, who became the park’s first information officer in 1974, said after the farmers’ concerns failed to materialise making changes began to become easier.
He said: “One of the biggest changes I saw was a complete reversal of attitudes of farmers and landowners, many of whom thought the idea of welcoming people into the park would bring all manner of problems, such as litter, fires, dogs straying.
“A lot of people thought it was an imposition that these rights of way cut across their land and we had to be particularly diplomatic.”
“By the time I left in 2002 those attitudes had almost gone completely.” Following changes to local government in 1974, the park was taken out of the county council’s control and passed to the NYMPA, which with an injection of funds, established offices in Helmsley and began to build facilities to visitors.
Mr Statham said following numerous threats to the park’s landscapes in the 1960s, which included a plan to flood 500 acres of Farndale to build a reservoir, a 1,000ft TV mast and potash mine proposals, the park slowly began to introduce improvements for visitors.
But the tourism industry which served tourists remained comprised mainly of inns and farms which offered teas, bed and breakfast or a field in which to pitch a tent.
Today, Mr Statham remains deeply concerned about the park’s landscapes being disfigured by schemes to extract resources, such as a proposed polyhalite mine near Whitby, but says it now boasts a spectrum of attractions, and tourism is credited with bringing in £416 million to the local economy in 2010.
Mr Statham said: “The basic landscape has remained, but the standards that are required for building are much higher than they were then. The main change is in the recreational use.
“In the 1960s there was virtually nothing for visitors in the national park, but now people expect to go there and find facilities.”
The park’s new management plan features a drive to increase the time visitors spend in the park by 1.6 million days a year, while creating “wildlife superhighways”, planting 3,000 hectares of new woodland and increasing agricultural production.
Farmer Jim Bailey, chairman of NYMPA, said: “The plan is a coming of age, in that it recognises that productivity and national park purposes can go hand in hand if we work together carefully.
“I think history has proved that over the years that the national park’s purposes have been able to pull us through.”