Upland Limestone

Chris Wright
Chairman, The Yorkshire Dales Society

Farming conservation schemes
I’m always amazed at how keen the farmers are on some of these schemes, bearing in mind that the farming community has always been very conservative, not subject to change. But farmers are very enthusiastic - and it’s not entirely the fact that they stand to gain more money. Of course traditional sheep farming is not an economic proposition these days. It only survives by virtue of the hill farming subsidy and the Common Agricultural Policy which everyone agrees is not sustainable. Farmers to a certain extent can diversify - mainly into tourism - and there have been some ingenious ideas along these lines but the best way forward is, as the farmers are really the lovers of the land, is for them to become more involved in stewardship and stewardship campaigns and particularly the environmentally sensitive status. All of which is basically paying farmers for looking after the landscape, farming in the traditional ways and maintaining barns, walls and buildings for the good of the Dales.

Effects of off-road vehicles
There are certain minority activities which do cause rather a lot of disruption. At the moment there’s great, great concern about off-road vehicles traversing the Green Lanes. The problem here is that they may have been alright for pack horses in the past but they’re completely unsuitable for the high-powered four wheel drive vehicles that traverse them now. They cause disturbance out of proportion for other road users such as walkers, cyclists and even horse riders and many of these are in themselves almost historic monuments. They go back 600 -700 years and they’ve survived until the last 10 or 20. It would seem a great shame if they were irretrievably damaged. The difficulty is often that the legal status of these ancient trackways and roads is very ill defined, so we’re urgently getting people the think seriously about what they should be regarded as. It’s inevitable that some of them will have to have quite severe controls on their use by motorised vehicles.

Different uses of quarried stone
High grade limestone which is in the Yorkshire Dales is a very valuable commodity and hitherto was absolutely vital for use in things like the steel industry and the chemical industry. Although the purity of most Yorkshire limestone isn’t high enough for chemicals unlike that of Derbyshire. No, most of the limestone here goes purely for construction - in the past, mainly for roads and buildings. And it’s not always the best material - it’s a rather soft material: for instance railway ballast, it’s not suitable for that. Just because it’s a cheap material and it’s easily got out the ground, well over 90% I’m sure just goes straight into the construction industry.

Added Value Schemes
OF course there has been interest in what has been called added value. This is making a premium product which you can sell at a higher price than normal which produces extra income. Traditionally farms in the past have always made their own butter, cheese and so forth. A success story in the Dales is the Wensleydale cheese factory, which in its Milk Marketing Board days, at a maximum employed 70 people. It was due to be closed down and due to a massive campaign not only was it kept open, it now employs over 110 people. Even better news is the milk for all that cheese - instead of coming out of the Milk Marketing Board pool sixty or seventy miles away, it’s all now collected from local farms. So they’re getting a better price for their milk than they would from the Milk Marketing Board, by making a better quality product that’s in great demand.

The argument for local quarries
I think there is a good case to be made out for very limited local quarries the way we used to do, purely for traditional building materials, most of which are provided for now by recycling second hand materials, but they’ll come to an end eventually. Also they’re being imported from different areas… for instance this is a sort of sandstone area and a lot of materials are being imported from millstone grit which isn’t quite the right stone for the local area. So I think there is a good case to be made. And of course this would produce employment because much of the stone will be hand-prepared for smaller building projects.