Living Uplands

Natural History of Upper Weardale


By Jim Cokill: the Editor's synposis

Earlier chapters in this book consider some aspects of conservation. This chapter focuses on the wider aspects of wildlife conservation, and that of social history and why we should care for the future of Weardale.

There is a lot in Weardale to be conserved — outstanding geology, important wildlife, built and social heritage in a living Dale that is a home and source of income for many. Today we take nature conservation granted – but should we?

A brief description of the history of conservation in the area refers to views published in the Transactions of the Weardale Naturalists’ Field Club. In 1902 a letter alerts members to ‘the willful destruction and extermination of small birds’ in Stanhope Dene. It was only later in the 20th century that wildlife conservation legislation began to enter the statute books and conservation bodies grew and made their concerns known. Large parts of the Dale are now protected.

Yet the State of Nature report published in 2019, the most authoritative and well researched study of the current status of UK wildlife, showed that since 1970, 41 per cent of species have decreased in abundance. Many other statistics can be quoted — the fact is that across the world wildlife is in decline and in Weardale the story is the same.

Does that mean that nature conservation does not work?

No, it means that we are not doing enough. The Wear valley is a good place to look at how nature conservation works and how species can be brought back from the brink of extinction. The Wear is a Salmon river once more, and the Otter has returned as a predator (along with the less welcome Mink). Ground-nesting waders such as Curlew continue to thrive, unlike in most other areas of Britain and Ireland. Chapters on flora and fauna cite species that are rare and scarce that can be found in Weardale, including those that survive the heavy metal pollution of soil and water.

Image: Lapwings (c) Ian Hoseason

But there is uncertainty about the future of conservation.

How will changes in agricultural and environmental policy change land management practice?

Will it become more environmentally and economically sustainable?

The Environmental Land Management Scheme (ELMS) is likely to start in 2024, but as yet farmers don’t have the full information they need to make long-term decisions. Illegal persecution of protected species persists and controversy exits. But there is an opportunity for greater collaboration between all the interested parties to develop schemes and land management that are better than what went before.

Will this happen?

What has to be done to bring people together?

How will changes impact in Weardale?

Add to that ongoing habitat loss and fragmentation, pollution, worries about climate change and other potential threats and the future could be pretty bleak for wildlife. In addition the legislative and procedural mechanisms for the preservation and conservation of the historic environment, which have also been beneficial to the Dale, cannot be taken for granted.

None of the conservation legislation and measures would be effective without popular support and public participation. Ultimately it is the actions of the people of Weardale, over many centuries, that have shaped the landscape and nature that we see today. The pride of those living and working in this special place is the best guarantee that the historic environment, wildlife and landscape will continue to be cared for in the future.


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