David Butterworth - Why I love the Yorkshire Dales

PUBLISHED: 00:00 28 April 2016 | UPDATED: 19:43 28 April 2016

Flower hayfield in Swaledale

Flower hayfield in Swaledale

© andy aughey / Alamy Stock Photo

We asked the chief executive of one of the most visited national parks to talk about what makes this place so special.

David Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park AuthorityDavid Butterworth, chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority

‘I was appointed as chief executive of the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority in October 2000. I was born in Barnsley in South Yorkshire (and still go back to the town very frequently to see friends and watch my beloved Barnsley FC). I worked for Barnsley Metropolitan Borough Council as an economic development officer before joining the national park authority in 1991 as the head of corporate services. I’m a member of the BBC’s Advisory Rural Affairs Committee and a trustee of the North of England Civic Trust. I am also the lead officer for the all English National Parks on Performance Improvement, Access issues and Europe. I have four children (Sophie, Kate, Liam and Lilly) living in Yarm, Exeter, Mortonhampstead and Munich! And I became a grandfather to Finley last year.

How did you discover the Dales?
My first visit to the Dales involved a trip to Burnsall with friends to ‘escape’ the royal wedding (the Charles and Diana one). It was very obviously a different environment to that in which I grew up and I was struck by the beauty of the landscape and the extraordinary night skies – as I slept under canvas in Appletreewick.

What’s your favourite place in the national park and why?
My favourite place in the Dales is the Howgill Fells. They are very different from any other environment within the park as a result of the geology of the area. As well as being an extremely challenging place to walk they provide a wonderful spiritual lift where it’s easy to lose yourself in the splendour of the landscape (sometimes literally).

Reeth village in SwaledaleReeth village in Swaledale

What’s the most magical time of the year in the national park for you and why?
Spring time is my favourite time of year. It feels like renewal as the place comes to life both in its flora and fauna and the birth of the Dales new-born lambs.

What’s your favourite way of travelling or getting around the national park?
The park is 840 square miles in size and about to grow by about another 160 square miles so the only practical way to get around the park for my work is by car. That can be a wonderful experience in itself but I still prefer pulling on a pair of boots and continuing my voyage of discovery. Even having worked and lived in the area for so long, I am still struck by the fact that each year I discover new parts of the park that I have never seen or only seen from the perspective of a vehicle.

Where do you like to meet your family and friends to spend a summer’s afternoon?
Headingley Cricket ground or Catterick races are always good! But if it’s in the park, Reeth and the Swaledale valley are a particular favourite but then so is Malham which has some of the most fantastic walks (and hospitality) in the park.

What surprises you most about the people who live and work in the National Park?
There is a fairly dour stereotype of Yorkshire folk in general and once you get into the remote rural areas that stereotype tends to be reinforced. The reality is rather different. What I’ve found during my time here is that Dales folk are very lively! This applies equally to the ones tracing the lineage back 400 years and those that are offcumdens (like me) who call this place home. There is a sharpness of wit which I really enjoy. That, coupled with a genuine neighbourliness and willingness to help others, I think are the strongest qualities.

Do you think the expansion of the park will change its character?
Of course! Although I would say ‘develop’ rather than change the character. The fact is there are another 160 square miles and around 4,000 people who are, from 1st August, going to be in the Yorkshire Dales National Park. They have dreams, hopes and aspiration and a cultural heritage that is different. However, my experience is that is no uniform ‘character’ in the existing park. Swaledale is very different to Wharfedale which in turn is different from Dentdale. Different place, different people.

What are your hopes for the future of the national park?
A lot more positive than they were a couple of years ago! By their nature, change and development in a national park is incremental, particularly in relation to the landscape. Managing the need for sustainable development whilst respecting the area’s heritage and biodiversity, remains the key challenge. On the whole, I think that challenge is being addressed well by a whole range of organisations and individuals.

What needs to be done to safeguard this very special place?
Political support for national parks, and indeed the environment in general, is crucial at a national level. The current minister, Rory Stewart, is one of the most outstanding individuals I have ever met. His love and passion for the British countryside in general, and national parks in particular, comes through whenever I meet him. So, politically, things are better than they have been for some time. Having said that, I do think that decisions on the way in which the area is managed and developed need to be taken at the most local level possible. My own experience over 25 years is that most individuals who live and work within the park have its interests at heart. I have met very few who simply want to exploit the area for their own ends. After all, why would you want to damage something that you then pass on to your children and grandchildren? We are all tenants in that sense.’


Latest from the Yorkshire Life