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Yet another poet leaves a mark on the northern landscape


The Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, has waymarkers in Pendle; Simon Armitage has inscribed rocks on Ilkley Moor. Now Sir Andrew Motion bestrides the Howgill fells and valley of the Lune. Michael Glover reports

The former Poet Laureate Sir Andrew Motion has added his voice to those who want to extend two of England's largest national parks to include a much less frequently-visited but wonderfully wild landscape which currently lies between them.

His intervention follows two previous poetic adventures in our northern hill country by the current Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy and Simon Armitage, both described in the Guardian Northerner here and here.

Motion has called on the new Environment Secretary, Owen Paterson, to expedite proposed extensions to the Lake District and Yorkshire Dales national parks, so that they join at the M6's dramatic defile through the Howgill fells.

Sir Andrew took an excursion on land overlooking the M6 motorway to see the proposed extension areas and also climbed 609m (1998ft) Middleton Fell to get a panoramic view of spectacular landscape.

Safely back at the bottom, he says:

The boundaries of the National Parks were arbitrarily drawn and missed this amazing green landscape. It would be a good idea to extend the park boundaries not just for preservation reasons but to enhance farming, tourism and other aspects of life.

It is more than two years since the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs was asked to progress towards a public inquiry to look at the expansion. Now that Caroline Spelman has been replaced by Mr Paterson, campaigners are eager that the new secretary should speed up the process. Motion continues:

The new Secretary of State should move the extension of the parks up the political agenda and get on with the public inquiry.

The poet, novelist and biographer looked down from his lofty excursion on to communities in the Lune valley area, as the guest of landscape charity Friends of the Lake District, who are campaigning to increase the protection for this beautiful part of the world. They invited him in his capacity as president of the Campaign to Protect Rural England as well as to support their own efforts in Cumbria.

One of the factors driving the campaign is the number of wind-farm proposals for areas just outside the protection of the national parks, including the breezy flanks of the Howgills. Giving extra protection to the 'in-between' parts of Cumbria and North Yorkshire takes on further significance with the Government's plans to shake up the planning laws. Motion says:

By designating these extra areas within the national parks we can ensure that the landscapes that we have come to recognise and enjoy can also be protected for future generations.

The policy officer for Friends of the Lake District, Jack Ellerby, who showed Sir Andrew how the area is under threat from adjacent wind farms and inappropriately sited transmission pylons, says:

Cumbria's economy is dependent upon its beautiful landscapes – so extending the national parks is a good news story for the local economy, jobs and future management of the landscape.

Objectors to the proposed extensions of both parks fear the impact of national park rules on farming, house-building and other planning issues. There has also been a certain amount of county chauvinism over the theoretical 'loss' of some parts of North Yorkshire and Cumbria to the 'other' park. But earlier this year a public consultation into the extensions plans generated over 3,000 responses of which 85% supported the proposals, representing both local people's views and those from across the whole country.

One curious by-product of a conjunction would be the status of the M6's central reservation, which is unusually wide in some places along the Howgill gap. Either it could become the only such piece of land to have national park status, or it would have rarity value as a sliver dividing two parks. Almost entirely inaccessible by humans, it supports modest but interesting plant and animal life.

Anyone up for a poem on the issue? The Comments thread is yours. How about:

There once was a poet who strode
On the fells by the M6 main road
He said to the Friends
The landscape depends
On connecting two parks at this node

OK, 'node' is a bit desperate. Go on, do better.

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