Campaigns & Projects NYMA is involved in campaigns and projects to protect and enhance the biodiversity and landscape of the North York Moors – some are listed below. Let us know if you’d like to get involved or have ideas for new projects!
Sirius Minerals Polyhalite Mine - The Woodsmith Mine
York Potash Ltd (YPL) was acquired by Sirius Minerals Plc in January 2011 after 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.
National Parks should have the highest levels of landscape protection, and developments in these protected areas must have regard for their conservation and recreational purposes. NYMA and the Campaign for National Parks (CNP) campaigned against permission being given for the mine because its presence is incompatible with the status of the landscape. We highlighted the threat in a Yorkshire Post article in 2016.
Work on the Woodsmith Mine) is well under way, and our concerns include its industrial impact on the landscape, including visual and audible intrusion into the surrounding area and light pollution. We believe that building a mine of this scale in the North York Moors is at odds with the whole purpose of national parks. We continue to monitor YPL's activities closely in order to ensure that their activities do not degrade the special qualities of our National Park still further.
Sirius Minerals has given its thousands of small-scale investors a roller-coaster ride, with the steepest plunge in August 2019 when the company ran into a full-blown financing crisis which has cast doubt on plans to finish its colossal fertiliser mine in the National Park.
The mine could become the world's largest mine for polyhalite, but cash funds are needed to unlock a £20.5bn credit facility which will secure the project's future, and the issue of these bonds was a pre-requisite of unlocking the rest of the borrowing from the American bank JP Morgan. So Sirius is currently short of £2.5 billion.
Tom Chadwick, Chair of NYMA, comments: "This is after all what we expected from this group of entrepreneurs, who have always put the cart before the horse - we knew that sooner or later they would hit a funding crisis."
The company is currently thought to be putting its faith in a government bail-out, which may (or may not) be forthcoming due to the number of long-term jobs the mine will support in the depressed area of Teesside.
History & Development
In September 2012, after exploration drilling, the company was confident that it had found a substantial reserve, and announced that the minehead site was to be located within the National Park at Doves Nest Farm (3 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 sq. kms. Development consent was required from four separate bodies:
Minehead 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. For its second planning application, the company revised its scheme to include a 37 km. 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 application was approved by 8 votes to 7, the main reason being the economic benefit to the Whitby / Redcar / Teesside area in terms of job creation, local expenditure and the multiplier effect.
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 sums available to the applicant. Sirius Minerals has spent around £100 million to obtain the approvals it needed, while the NPA spent approximately one fifth of its annual budget of £5 million on examining 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.
In November 2016 the company announced that 'Phase 1' funding to construct the minehead and tunnel had been secured. In 2017 access roads were improved to take the increased traffic and construction of the access shafts began, with 24/7 site-working which entails continual flood-lighting.
NYMA challenged the development from the outset when it became known that this was to be the largest mine in any European national park (and also the largest mine constructed in the UK for decades). We maintain that the polyhalite mine is inappropriate for a landscape which should have the highest level of protection.
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 sees the project as a test case for possible developments in other national parks.
In March 2015 NYMA (with the CNP, The National Trust, the Campaign for the Preservation of Rural England and the Yorkshire Wildlife Trust) requested that the planning application should be called-in for a public inquiry, as the only fair way of deciding such a complex issue and providing proper public access to information. However this was refused by the Secretary of State.
Consultation or PR?
From the start, Sirius Minerals embarked on a public relations exercise which has presented some significant misleading information. At a public meeting at Ravenscar the company stated that 130,000 cubic metres of spoil would be generated at the minehead site. By the time the application was submitted this 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 rural landscape to an industrial landscape.
Some benefit will accrue to the National Park from the mine under a 'Section 106' agreement for Sirius Minerals to address the cost of environmental mitigation of the damage caused, and the National Park Authority is monitoring the impact on the environment and on the locally important tourism industry. A positive outcome of the mine is that Sirius Minerals has established and endowed the Sirius Minerals Foundation, a registered charity which donates funds to a range of organisations and projects across the area affected by the mine.
The project consists of the minehead development, 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.
In December a Section 73 planning application was considered at a meeting of the National Park's Planning Committee (a Section 73 application makes 'minor' amendments to original conditions agreed under a planning application). NYMA made a statement at the meeting contending that this application cannot be called a ‘minor material change’: the increase of the Materials Shaft Housing Building by 3 times its original size as well as the reconfiguration of additional buildings is more than a minor amendment.
The Materials Shaft Housing Building now being proposed in this application is 4,231 square metres. In total the reorganised buildings at Doves Nest Farm would occupy over 12,000 square metres, or 1.25 acres.
The minehead site is already a prominent feature of the landscape, while at night the site resembles a floodlit football ground.
The decision by Sirius minerals to exclude from their plans the MTS tunnel access shaft at Egton means that the tunnel drive from the minehead will extend to Lockwood Beck and as a consequence an additional 255,000 cubic metres of spoil in the form of pyritic mudstone will need to be accommodated at the minehead site. No provision for this is indicated in this planning application. It will nevertheless require changes to the land forms shown in this current application.
For this reason, NYMA requested that the application be refused or at least a decision deferred until there is clarity about the additional spoil which will have to be dealt with. However, the Planning Officer recommended that the change was approved by Planning Committee members and it was duly passed.
We welcome the government's decision to place a moratorium on fracking in Britain - although we note that the threat may return in the future.
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.
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 supports the National Park Authority in its opposition 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. Should the threat of fracking return, we will return to monitoring developments in this area.
NYMA makes a significant financial and managerial contribution to the operation of MoorsBus 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 Fridays-Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays 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 plaque was installed at the National Park's Moors Centre in 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-span.
In 2018 NYMA published a book and educational materials to accompany it. The book expands on the often quirky local events and personalities noted on the plaque, as well as national and international events with local resonance. It acts as an 'in-depth' guide-book to the national park, offering fascinating insights into its history and culture.
We are very grateful for support for the project from the Heritage Lottery Fund and from the David Ross Foundation through the Land of Iron Project.
As a contribution to the 2010 International Year of Biodiversity (and to mark our 25th anniversary), NYMA was given permission to improve biodiversity on a 1-acre plot of land close to Park Wood, Danby.
Regular voluntary work includes fencing, planting trees and clearing bracken. For instance we have to keep the fences in good repair to prevent sheep breaking through from the surrounding moor, and we plant more trees and clear undergrowth.
The plot includes a small area of Juniper trees planted under the Juniper Regeneration Project, and in 2019/20 we are planting Alder Buckthorn to support the 'Buckthorn for Brimstones' project run by the Whitby Naturalists' Club.
NYMA was 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.
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.