Column: Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership - preparations going well for Niddfest

NiddFest patron Carol Ann Duffy reads to a packed audience at least years event.
NiddFest patron Carol Ann Duffy reads to a packed audience at least years event.

Festival season is in full swing. The fledgling birds are in the hedgerows. The meadowsweet is in flower. The bees are browsing in the heather.

It can all mean only one thing: it’s time once again for NiddFest, Nidderdale’s very own festival of nature writing.

The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership is proud to be one of the festival’s key partners.

Although only in its second year, NiddFest is already a fixture in the festival calendar.

Held over a long weekend from August 5-7, it’s a celebration of all things wild and wonderful, offering a unique mix of readings, music and outdoor events for nature lovers of all ages. There will be inspiring speakers and guided walks, star-gazing, den-building and woodland art, and much more.

The festival got off to a terrific start last year.

NiddFest director Kit Peel said: “We had an incredible amount of support. Some of Britain’s leading writers came to an untried festival in a distant corner of England. They put their faith in us, some of them turning down far larger festivals to come here.

“Why? One reason was undoubtedly the location. I suspect for many of them it was because they realised what a beautiful place they’d be coming to.”

The festival’s patron, poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, has spoken of NiddFest’s important role in “focusing minds and hearts on the relationship between the human and the earth at a time when so much of the natural world is imperilled”. But if that makes it sound like a sombre affair, it’s far from it.

Kit added: “We didn’t want the festival be stuffy or elitist. The aim was to put on a fun weekend.

“There’s something for everyone in this year’s programme. The events range from a talk by the veteran peace activist Satish Kumar to a Brambly Hedge birthday party in the children’s tent.

“The BBC’s Christine Walkden will be telling tales of her life in gardening and there will be music from singer Kathryn Williams.

“One of last year’s big draws was James Rebanks, the Cumbrian farmer and author of bestselling memoir The Shepherd’s Life.

“His account of a life lived in passionate engagement with the landscape evidently struck a chord with people from Nidderdale and beyond, because they turned out in force to hear him talk.

“Two of the names in this year’s line-up will be exploring similar themes. I’m looking forward to hearing author John Lewis-Stempel talking about the farmland he and his family have been tending for nine centuries. And also to local farmer Stephen Ramsden’s talk about life in Upper Nidderdale. Anyone who knows Stephen will probably agree that we’re in for a treat.”

Kit founded the festival with his wife, Megan. It was born out of a love of the natural world and of books.

“My wife and I wanted to showcase the best of nature writing – and where better than in the beautiful natural environment of Nidderdale?

“The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership was instrumental in getting NiddFest off the ground, and we’re thrilled to see it going from strength to strength.” See the festival’s website, niddfest.com, for further details.

If you’re coming to NiddFest, the chances are you’ll venture out for a walk while you’re here.

One of the Landscape Partnership’s long-term commitments is to ensure that as many people as possible get the opportunity to enjoy the Nidderdale countryside.

In recent years there’s been a welcome increase in awareness that not everyone finds it easy to negotiate stiles or boggy paths, and that access improvements are an important part of countryside stewardship.

That’s why we’re currently working with farmers and land owners on a series of eight easy-access walking routes. All will be clearly waymarked, and each will have a theme – farm heritage, for instance, or upland birds – that ties in with other areas of our work and helps make the history, wildlife and landscape of Nidderdale more accessible to all.

A new member of our team, Peter Lambert, is leading the project. He said: “Access in Nidderdale is by no means bad, but there are certainly improvements that can be made. One thing I’ve noticed is that signage can be a little vague once you have left the road.”

As well as installing better signs, Peter is making improvements to drainage and path surfaces, and replacing stiles with gates.

Meanwhile, Peter is appreciating some of the enviable fringe benefits of his job. “Although I know Upper Nidderdale reasonably well from mountain biking on the bridleways, I was less familiar with the footpaths and I’ve been enjoying walking them and discovering new corners of Nidderdale I hadn’t visited. There are some truly beautiful areas that are not well known.”