Rural campaigner, Colin Speakman, takes a look at 35 years of the Yorkshire Dales Society, what it has managed to achieve, and its plans in the future

2016 marks the 35th anniversary of one of Craven’s leading environmental charities – the Yorkshire Dales Society.

One of the major events in the calendar for the Society this anniversary year will be the Society’s Annual General Meeting which appropriately enough is taking place on Saturday September 24 in Grassington. It is appropriate for it was in Grassington, in 1981, where a group of local people came together to form what was to be the Yorkshire Dales Society. The society’s first chairman was the late Keith Lockyer, a Grassington dentist who at various times was a County Councillor, and Chairman of the National Park Committee. Keith was a colourful character who recognised that at that time the National Park suffered from major problems of communication. The trouble, as always, was planning or to be more accurate development control, that dominated agendas in an unhealthy way. Because the National Park was also the local planning authority, many local people assume planning restrictions were unique to National Parks. Disputes about local planning issues filled the local press drowning out any recognition that a National Park was about far wider issues of conservation and public access. The embryonic Yorkshire Dales Society saw its role as building bridges between the local community, especially farmers and landowners, and the many thousands of visitors who came to the area. Visitors valued the work the National Park did in terms of protecting and maintaining public access and visitor facilities and conserving a unique landscape and cultural heritage. In turn (and this was not widely understood at the time) visitors contributed massively to the local economy, helping to support local businesses and jobs.

But visitors also could cause problems for the local community in terms of traffic congestion, erosion of footpaths and occasional inconsiderate behaviour. The Yorkshire Dales Society believed that as an educational charity it could support the National Park by helping to increase public understanding of the rich heritage of the area, which included the need for responsible behaviour when out in the countryside, especially on farmland and moorland. Through greater understanding would come respect. People - whether locals or visitors - are less likely to destroy what they understand, respect and love. The Society began what have become two long standing institutions – a series of popular public lectures on various aspects of Dales heritage and culture, usually linked to a local walk, in different parts of the Yorkshire Dales, and what has over the years become a highly respected and influential quarterly magazine The Yorkshire Dales Review which all members receive free of charge.

As well as articles about landscape wildlife, local history and archaeology, the Review is also a means of campaigning for the values it believes in, which has always had people, especially the local farming community, as its focus. From the early days, the concept of people being at the heart of landscape protection has been central to the Society’s work. By bringing together both locals and visitors who share a love and concern for this precious part of England, the Society has become a strong voice for conservation, not just in the National Park area, but in the greater Dales including Nidderdale Area of Outstanding Beauty, and key market towns outside the designated areas. In recent years three simple words: Campaign, Protect and Enjoy have been used to encapsulate what the Society is all about. As a member of the Campaign for National Parks, the Society also works with national bodies to ensure Government support and adequate funding for all England’s National Parks.

The Society remains an independent, at times outspoken body, a “critical friend” of both the Park Authority and the AONB. Among major success in recent years has the establishment of new independent National Park Authorities; the establishment of the Green Lanes Alliance which has encouraged action to protect ancient green lanes; reducing the impacts of quarries and their traffic. One of the greatest success stories has been, in partnership with CNP and our sister organisation Friends of the Lake District, the extension of the National Park to the Howgills and Orton Fells. Another great achievement has been the setting up of the Dales & Bowland Community Interest Company, a wholly owned subsidiary of the YDS. Unique to any UK National Park Society, this not-for-profit social enterprise now manages the highly successful weekend DalesBus network, which in 2016 was featured on both BBC Countryfile and the recent BBC4 Country Bus documentary, with the Northern Dalesman in Swaledale named as perhaps England’s most beautiful bus service. The D&BCIC also works with other operators such as Pride of the Dales and the new Wharfedale Venture CIC Bus Company to promote bus services for local people and visitors alike.

Like all amenity bodies in the UK, the YDS struggles to attract younger members but with over 1,100 members, numbers are now stabilising and increasing slightly, with a welcome growth of local Business Members

The September AGM will be preceded by a morning Vibrant Communities visit to Grassington where Society members will get to know more about the village with the help of local people and business representatives. It will be interesting to contrast the village where the Society began life 35 years ago with the present, perhaps more prosperous and sophisticated community of 2016.

If you would like to come along on that day, or discover more about the Society, log onto