Even amongst people who love Yorkshire, the Yorkshire Wolds, southeast of York, is one of the least well known and least visited parts of our region. It is a very different and distinctive part of Yorkshire’s amazingly varied countryside, but one that may soon be hitting the headlines.
To some extent, the process has already begun, thanks to England’s greatest living landscape painter, Bradford-born David Hockney, whose genius in capturing the Wolds landscape in a series of paintings and I-Pad drawings (many on display at Salts Mill in Saltaire) has brought the area to world attention. So it is great news that Natural England, the Government agency for the countryside, has recently, following the influential Glover Report, put The Yorkshire Wolds on a priority list for consideration as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), the second highest category of landscape designation in England and Wales.
The main reason for the area’s possible new designation is its geology: chalk. The Yorkshire Wolds are the most northerly chalk outcrops in Britain and second most-northerly in Europe. A huge crescent of chalk hills, stretching from the Humber almost to Filey Brigg, creates a very distinctive landscape of rolling upland, mainly arable land but crossed by ancient tracks and green ways, and deep, dry, grassy valleys. Many of these are now, thanks to the Countryside & Rights of Way Act 2000, now public access land. There are also many fine walking and cycling routes.
The area boasts one of Britain’s most popular National Trails – the Yorkshire Wolds Way, a 79-mile (127km) route between Hessle, near the Humber Bridge, to Filey Bigg, following the great escarpments overlooking the Vales of York and Pickering, but also including several High Wolds villages. But there are also some magnificent stretches of coastline, including Filey Bay, Flamborough Head, and Bempton cliffs with its famous bird sanctuary. It is an area rich in archaeology and local history.
Appropriately enough, most of the proposed AONB will be in modern East Riding, but with a narrow stretch in what is now North Yorkshire, once formerly historic East Riding. However, the Wolds lie also on the backdoor of the city of Hull, whose cultural and economic influences still dominate the Wolds today. For the people of Hull, the Wolds is a precious green lung.
Protecting this area from unsightly and environmentally damaging development will bring economic benefits, through the area becoming known for sustainable forms of tourism – for walking, cycling, horse riding, nature tourism. This will bring visitors and their spending power not only to villages within the Wolds, but to the attractive peripheral market towns such as Pocklington, Market Weighton, Malton, Driffield and the jewel in the crown, the historic town of Beverley. Even the coastal resorts of Bridlington and Filey will benefit.
Creating the AONB will take months of consultation with landowners, farmers, local businesses, voluntary groups, public bodies such as parish councils, local authorities and national agencies. But the benefits of national landscape designation, including the protection of nature, will be enormous.
An East Yorkshire UNESCO Geopark
There is a further exciting development for the Yorkshire Wolds, in this case including an even wider area of East Riding including Holderness and the coast as far as Spurn Point, as well as part of the Derwent valley and part of the Vale of Pickering. This is the proposal for a UNESCO Geopark. Its working title (to avoid confusion with political boundaries) is the East Yorkshire Geopark.
This designation reflects all the many qualities that will go into the landscape protection of the AONB but will cover this larger area. It will also recognise the huge, internationally important educational value, in terms of geological science in particular, of the predominantly chalk landscape. Amongst the most significant features of this are the coastal cliffs and caves and constantly shifting coastline (the Wolds chalk actually goes underneath the glacial clay deposits of Holderness), and the complex water and river systems, including the ecology of the chalk streams draining what is one of the most northerly chalk landscapes of Europe.
But it will also include many crucial aspects of the cultural landscape of the Wolds. These include the area’s rich archaeological heritage, an important local history from the Romans to the Victorians and beyond, and the work of such influential writers as Andrew Marvell, Winifred Holtby and Philip Larkin.
UNESCO status: protection of a precious, living heritage
Achieving UNESCO international status will require the bringing together of very significant research evidence to satisfy the UNESCO criteria. If successful, the East Yorkshire Geopark would join other established Geoparks within the UK such as parts of The Shetlands, North Pennines, North West Highlands, and the coast of Anglesey.
A community-led partnership, based in the area, is being established to work on the proposal in collaboration with a variety of key organisations. The aim is to harness the energy of the people of East Riding and beyond to create a dynamic new concept to protect a precious, living heritage in this wonderful part of Yorkshire. Further details at www.eygeopark.wordpress.com.