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Yorkshire Dales Limestone Country Project (Limestone Country)
Date du début: 1 juin 2002, Date de fin: 31 mars 2008 PROJET  TERMINÉ 

Background The Yorkshire Dales National Park is home to the most extensive range of limestone pavements and upland semi-natural calcareous grassland in the United Kingdom. Their importance is reflected in the designation of two Natura 2000 SCI sites covering some 11 100 ha and including 12 habitats listed in Annex I of the Habitats Directive. The limestone country is a dramatic landscape that owes much of its character and natural diversity to long-established patterns of grazing. However, over the past 40 years the hardy upland cattle breeds, which were responsible for creating and maintaining a complex mosaic of habitats in the area, have been gradually replaced by less compatible modern commercial breeds. In addition, there has been a general switch from cattle to sheep enterprises. These changes in agricultural systems, along with a general increase in stock numbers, have resulted in a steady decline in the conservation status of the unique limestone habitats. Objectives The project aimed to encourage a return to the use of hardy cattle breeds in mixed or cattle-only enterprises. The foot-and-mouth outbreak in the UK in 2001 presented an unexpected opportunity. Many farmers had to get rid of their livestock and so were looking for new sources of income. The project intended to contribute to the Yorkshire limestone country's economic revival by demonstrating that mixed hardy cattle enterprises could be both environmentally and economically viable. The project would help 15 pilot farms convert to a new mixed system of livestock over 1 500 ha. Management plans would be agreed with each to ensure that the grazing levels introduced were optimum for the habitats concerned. In addition, every farmer would be given advice on other funding sources available for such management (e.g. through agri-environment or rural development programmes) and on new marketing opportunities for conservation-oriented farms with traditional breeds. It was expected that the best-practice experience gained from the project would be used to promote this type of sustainable agriculture over the whole Natura 2000 site. Such a spread of practice would be supported by bids for European Structural Funds, once success had been demonstrated. Consequently, the project intended to focus on awareness-raising and information dissemination. Results The project took focused a target 1 100 ha area covered by two SACs: Ingleborough and Craven. Capital grants were provided to 18 farmers in the area for the purchase of hardy breeds – such animals would stimulate a change of grazing patterns from the existing mostly sheep stock, thus allowing better conservation of upland limestone areas. Support grants to improve infrastructure were also available as required. A National Nature Reserve herd of cattle was also purchased and its grazing regime was planned and recorded. The project also carried out a series of conservation measures, such as weed and rabbit control. The impact of these measures was assessed by monitoring, which highlighted some improvement in alkaline fen and calcareous grassland/limestone pavement areas during the relatively short project timeframe. Another key result of the project was the formation of an independent company, Limestone Country Beef Ltd, to market the speciality beef produced by farms involved in the project. Moreover, whole farm management plans were developed with the 18 agreement holder farmers. During the project the national agri-environment scheme was amended to become the Environmental Stewardship scheme; the project lobbied to ensure the use of traditional cattle could be included in this scheme. An extremely effective dissemination programme was carried out. The project won two awards: 2005 Eurosite Award and 2008 Yorkshire Rural award for Best Environment project. The project officer also won two awards for her work on the project. The project beneficiary hosted the Eurosite Workshop in 2006. Further information on the project can be found in the project's layman report and After-LIFE Conservation plan (see "Read more" section).


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