Working The View: relating the Yorkshire Dales landscape to its guardians

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Wild Boar Fell at Dawn, chosen by Matt Neale, Area Ranger, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority: “This is on one of my local runs. I get the train up to Kirkby Stephen early in the morning, run over Wild Boar Fell and back home, which is about 12 miles.”

Sarah Butler writes…

Working The View (www.workingtheview.co.uk) is a two-year collaboration between my brother (a landscape photographer who lives and works in the Yorkshire Dales ) and myself, exploring the relationship between the Yorkshire Dales landscape and its guardians. Working with 40 participants – from farmers to planners, from archaeologists to experts in peat restoration, water management and forestry – we asked them to choose their favourite view and tell us how and why they feel connected to this unique part of the world.

We’ve brought the results – a collection of gorgeous photos and fascinating insights into the passion and politics involved in maintaining and making a living from this landscape – together into a coffee table book (available from http://www.yorkshiredalesphotography.co.uk/wtv/products-page/) and a series of exhibitions throughout the Yorkshire Dales.

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Myself and Mark at the launch of an ‘in-progress’ exhibition at Mill Bridge Gallery, Skipton

I am a novelist, with a practice in place-specific writing (www.urbanwords.org.uk) that, until Working The View, had been entirely city-focused. I was living in London whilst doing the interviews and writing for Working The View. The contrast between collecting stories from, for instance, Elephant and Castle in South London (for www.homefromhome-online.com), and talking to Fran Graham about Juniper conservation or Martin Davies about the politics of water management, could not have been greater.

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Juniper Gill, Moughton, chosen by Fran Graham, Wildlife Conservation Officer, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority: “Juniper has separate male and female trees. The male flowers produce the pollen. The female flowers are actually tiny cones that open up and receive the pollen.”

My grandparents moved to Wharfedale from Berkhamsted in 1984, when I was six. Their house became our second home, and I’ve spent many happy weekends and holidays walking in the Dales. It was a revelation, though, to listen to our forty participants tell me about the history, ecology and geology of this area, and share their own reasons for caring about it. I never realised the extent of the lead mining in the area – how what is now seen as a beautiful natural landscape was not so long ago the site of heavy industry. I was unaware of the delicate balance between running economically viable farms and planning for the long term ecological sustainability of the area.

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Booze ruin, chosen by Miles Johnson, Countryside Archaeological Adviser, Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority. Arkengarthdale is one of the most historically industrialised parts of the National Park. Most people don’t think of it as an industrialised landscape at all, but it’s as industrial as places like the Nottinghamshire coal fields, or some of the slate mining landscapes in Wales.”

These conversations – in National Park offices, back gardens, farm kitchens, community centres – made me think about what we mean by nature and by natural. Roy Lingard, Head Forester at Bolton Abbey Estate, talked about the ‘myth’ of ‘the traditional Dales landscape’, something that has only evolved since the 1750s. Peter Katic, a ranger for The National Trust told me: “In as much as you have wild landscapes in this country, this is a wild landscape, even though it’s totally manmade, and very accessible: everything you see is farmland.” And Fiona Clark, a farmer striving to run an environmentally sustainable business, said: “It’s a really fragile environment. People look at it and think it’s wild and rugged, but actually it wouldn’t take much to destroy it.”

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Nethergill from Oughtershaw Moss, chosen by Fiona Clark, farmer: “This is the sort of project we’ve wanted to do all our lives… The thing that amazes me most is that every little thing we do has such a profound influence on what species are here. We’ve been here seven years. It’s been a very steep learning curve, and still continues to be. There are lots of steps back, but I think we’re going in the right direction.”

Working The View has offered me what all my place-specific projects offer me: the chance to get under the skin of a place through the stories and insights of people who care about it. It has deepened my understanding and my love of the Yorkshire Dales and I’m immensely grateful for that.

If you’d like to find out more you can visit the Working The View website (www.workingtheview.co.uk) where you can follow links to buy the book: http://www.yorkshiredalesphotography.co.uk/wtv/products-page/.  

Words: Sarah Butler
Pictures: Mark Butler

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