Campaigns & Projects NYMA is involved in several campaigns and projects which protect and enhance the biodiversity and landscapes of the North York Moors – some are listed below. We’d love to hear from you if you’d like to get involved or have ideas for new projects.
York Potash Ltd (Sirius Minerals) Polyhalite Mining Project
York Potash Ltd (YPL) was acquired by Sirius Minerals plc in January 2011 after early exploration indicated a significant reserve of polyhalite within the North York Moors National Park. Polyhalite is a compound mineral which includes potassium, sulphur, calcium and magnesium. Its principal use is as a crop fertiliser, and the major potential customers are overseas.
In September 2012, after exploration drilling, the company was confident that it had proved the existence a substantial reserve, and announced that the mine-head site was to be located within the National Park at Doves Nest Farm (6 miles south of Whitby).
A planning application was submitted to the National Park Authority (NPA) in February 2013 for the extraction of polyhalite over 253 square kilometres. The mine-head site alone extended over 64 hectares.
Development consent was required from four separate bodies:
Mine-head and extraction area - National Park Authority.
Pipeline to transport the mineral to Teesside - National Infrastructure Directorate.
Undersea extraction - Marine Management Organisation.
Materials Handling Facility - Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council.
A decision on this application was deferred at the company’s request in July 2013 and the application was withdrawn in January 2014. By this time a huge number of documents had been examined and the application had already cost the NPA around £600,000 of its annual budget of £5 million.
For its second planning application, the company revised its scheme to include a 37 kms tunnel to transport the mineral to Teesside. After supplementary environmental information was submitted, a special planning meeting was held on June 30th 2015.
At this stage, there was no recommendation by the National Park Planning Officers although a 230 page report to the Planning Committee made it clear that the proposed development was in conflict with both the local plan and national planning policy.
Despite this, the Planning Committee approved the application by a vote of 8 to 7. The principal reason for the decision was the supposed benefit to the economy of the Whitby / Redcar / Teesside area in terms of job creation, local expenditure and the multiplier effect.
NYMA challenged the development from the outset when it became known that this was to be the largest mine in any British national park. We maintain that the polyhalite mine is inappropriate for a landscape which should have the highest level of protection, and we believe that the disruption to local biodiversity, to the important local tourism industry and to residents’ quality of life outweighs any potential benefits in terms of local employment and national revenue.
The decision is also of international significance, since if the special status of a protected area can be undermined in a country with high conservation awareness and regulations such as the UK, it sets a poor example for protected areas in countries with weaker regulatory frameworks and lower public support for the environment.
We are supported by the Campaign for National Parks (CNP), which has given an enormous amount of time and effort to opposing the project, seeing it as a test case for possible developments in other national parks. We are particularly grateful for the time and expertise given by Ruth Bradshaw, Policy and Research Manager at CNP.
In March 2015 NYMA (with the CNP, The National Trust, the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) submitted requests for the planning application to be called-in for a public inquiry, which we felt was the only fair way of deciding such a complex issue and of providing proper public access to information. However this was refused by the Secretary of State.
Consultation or PR?
From the start, YPL embarked on a massive public relations exercise which has presented some significant misleading information. At a public meeting at Ravenscar the company stated that the amount of spoil generated at the mine-head site would be 130,000 cubic metres. By the time the application was submitted this figure had increased to 600,000 cubic metres, and after admitting errors it was further revised to 1.3 million cubic metres. It now stands at 1.9 million cubic metres. The volume and nature of the spoil highlights the alteration that will take place from a natural landscape to an industrial engineered landscape.
The system of reaching a decision on major developments through the present planning system is influenced by the imbalance between public sector resources and the huge sum of money raised by the applicant. Sirius Minerals has spent around £100 million to get the approvals it needed, while the NPA spent approximately one fifth of its annual budget of £5 million on the forensic examination of thousands of pages of information in the period leading up to the decision. Small organisations like NYMA and CNP are clearly at even more of a disadvantage.
By late 2016 the company was trying to raise the US$3 billion required to finance the project. In November the company announced that 'Phase 1' funding - to construct the mine-head and tunnel - had been secured. The project now consists of the mine-head development at Doves Nest Farm, the Mineral Transport System, the tunnel and conveyor with an access shaft at Lockwood Beck, the Materials Handling Facility at Wilton Teesside and the Harbour Facility at Bran Sands, Teesside. Recent information from the company and from a financial report suggests YPL is already beginning to push the boundaries of the permission they have. NYMA will continue to monitor the activities of YPL very closely.
Extraction of Gas In and Around the National Park
Conventional extraction of gas within the North York Moors National Park was first carried out in the 1960s at Lockton. Since then there has been considerable exploration in the Vale of Pickering and in Westerdale.
In April 2010 an application for a major development was submitted by Moorland Energy Ltd for gas extraction at Ebberston Moor, including a pipeline and a gas processing facility on the edge of the National Park at Thornton-le-Dale. This was to be in open farmland 10 metres outside the National Park boundary.
NYMA objected to this application and gave evidence for objectors at the subsequent public inquiry in October 2011. However, the Planning Inspector recommended that the application be approved and the Secretary of State agreed with this recommendation.
After Moorland Energy failed to start the development it was taken over by Third Energy UK Ltd. They scrapped plans for the gas processing facility, instead proposing to pipe the gas directly to the Knapton gas generating station.
There is continuing interest in gas exploration within and outside the National Park and Third Energy UK Ltd have turned their attention to gas extraction by hydraulic fracturing (‘fracking’). Approval was given in May 2016 by North Yorkshire County Council for test fracking at a well near Kirkby Misperton.
NYMA’s Position on Fracking
NYMA is opposed to hydraulic fracturing in or under national parks. The government has said that surface structures associated with fracking are to be excluded from National Parks and AONBs but it will allow fracking to take place under these protected areas below a depth of 1200m. In response to a government consultation on fracking, with regard to surface structures, NYMA has asked for an exclusion area to extend outside the National Park boundary to protect the setting of the protected landscape area. We are monitoring developments in this area very closely.
NYMA makes a significant contribution to ensure that the MoorsBus can run during the summer months. The service makes the National Park accessible to non-car owners - and to people wishing to leave their car at home.
Running Saturday-Monday through the summer months, the services link towns and cities (including York, Malton, Saltburn, Middlesborough, Darlington, Guisborough) to key places within the park.
The History Tree
In 2010 (our 25th anniversary year) a metal plaque was installed at the Moors Centre (Danby) on the site of a Copper Beech tree which had to be felled 3 years previously. The tree was estimated at over 200 years old, and the metal plaque is inscribed with some of the key events which took place during its life.
The plate is a considerable attraction at the Visitor Centre and, together with several local history societies, NYMA is now producing a book to accompany it. The book will expand on significant local events and personalities noted on the plaque as well as national / international events with local resonance.
As a contribution to the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity (and to mark our 25th anniversary), NYMA acquired permission to improve biodiversity on a 1-acre plot of land close to Park Wood, Danby.
This is a long-term project, and regular voluntary work includes fencing, planting trees and clearing bracken. The plot includes a small area of Juniper trees planted under the Juniper Regeneration Project.
NYMA is one of the lead organisations in the Cornfield Flowers project, which conserves and encourages the wildflowers of arable fields. These plants were a common sight in our rural landscape for hundreds of years, but due to intensification of farming practices since the 1940s many have become rare or even extinct.
The Cornfield Flowers Project was initiated in 2000 to help reverse this loss in north-east Yorkshire. Working alongside local farmers and with the support of volunteer horticulturalists, naturalists, schools and other enthusiasts, this project has propagated seed and reintroduced new plants into protected farm fields.
Now operating with more limited funding, the project is hosted by the Ryedale Folk Museum at Hutton-le-Hole. Click here for more info.
Juniper Regeneration Project
This was a joint venture with the North York Moors National Park involving primary and secondary schools (2002-2012).
Juniper trees within the Park were found to have reduced to about a dozen old trees with no new trees naturally propagated, due principally to sheep grazing and heather burning.
The programme propagated new trees from Juniper berries collected by school-children, with seedlings planted out across the Park by school parties.