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by John Farquhar

The year 2000 will be remembered for many things, but as far as we in Ryedale are concerned perhaps the passing of the Countryside Act will prove to have been the most important. As a consequence there will eventually be 'open access' to the heather moorland, but this will be conditional. To safeguard groundnesting birds, of which Golden Plover and Merlin (and of course Red Grouse) are the most important, walkers and riders will be restricted to paths during the breeding season, which the Park Authority would like to mean March to July. Access may also be restricted on 28 days a year to allow for shooting and burning. And dogs will have to be on short leash.

The first step is to map the area to which access is granted, a task for the Countryside Agency which is likely to take four years, and meanwhile the local rules have to be agreed, new paths defined, additional rangers employed, and a programme of education put in place, so that walkers and riders know what they can do, and when.

Another part of the Bill provides extra protection for SSSIs - and all our heather moorland is now an SSSI and will also get higher status as a European Special Protection Area. And as an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty the Hambleton Hills gain a higher level of protection from harmful development.

We have also had the Rural White Paper, which while mainly concerned with the rural economy also stresses the need to conserve wildlife: it says ...we will issue new national guidance for local wildlife sites and develop new biodiversity strategies for England for species and habitats most in need.

And we have had floods again! But this time 1 was pleased to read that more people are talking seriously about the need to restore the natural flood plain rather than try to confine the water within an engineered channel.

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