Monday, July 08, 2013

Meadows and the Yorkshire Dales

click photo to enlarge
There are few areas of Britain with a landscape that isn't heavily modified by man or that still exhibits climax vegetation. And, whilst most people know that this is true of lowland, agricultural areas with their improved fields, hedges and obvious drainage, rather fewer appreciate that it is also the case in most upland regions too.

This is as true of the Yorkshire Dales as it is of the Lake District, Dartmoor or the North York Moors. On my recent visit to the Dales, standing above Langcliffe, overlooking the Ribble valley, the limestone above Stainforth and the distant peak of Ingleborough, I made a mental effort to imagine what the mountains, hills and valleys would look like without the past few thousand years of man's influence. Gone would be the drystone walls that characterise the limestone and gritstone areas. Gone too most of the closely cropped grass that sheep produce. The fields of the valley-sides and much of the moorland would have large areas of scrub and trees with only summits and exposed or wet areas clear. Valley bottoms would be thick with trees and streams and rivers wouldn't be confined to single channels by excavation, bank reinforcement and levees. The variety of plant and animal life would be much greater too. A few areas of the Dales - and other upland and lowland areas too - retain ancient characteristics. However, we shouldn't forget that the landscape that people admire, and which is protected by statute in the form of National Park status is, for the most part, man-made.

Some of those artificial features are, it has to be said, very attractive. Take meadows. These are entirely the product of farming, of the need to produce a grass crop that can be stored and used to feed animals during the winter months. When I lived in this area I enjoyed watching and occasionally helping with the hay harvest. I appreciated too the way that flowers - buttercups, vetch, clover, cowslips, scabious and more -  populated the hay meadows before the grass was cut. In the last quarter of the twentieth century silage supplemented and replaced hay on many farms. However, hay fields never disappeared entirely though their flowers frequently did as maximising the crop led to the application of nitrogen and other chemicals. Today I get the impression that with a greater awareness and the subsidies available for "environmental" farming, that hay has made something of a comeback. Not just hay, but deliberately planted wildflower meadows such as this one at Lower Winskill where farming and environmental education exist side-by-side.

photograph and text © Tony Boughen

Photo 1
Camera: Sony RX100
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 18.5mm (50mm - 35mm equiv.)
F No: f5.6
Shutter Speed: 1/640
ISO: 125
Exposure Compensation:  -0.7 EV
Image Stabilisation: On