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What does the future hold for Nidd Gorge?

A place that’s greater than the sum of its parts. Nidd Gorge and surrounding landscape, made famous by Rob Cowen’s stunning book Common Ground, is a beautiful urban wilderness. But this ‘edgeland’ and its ancient woodland is now under threat from relief road plans.

Nidd Gorge has a vital role in the area's biodiversity (Photo: Keith Wilkinson)
Nidd Gorge has a vital role in the area's biodiversity (Photo: Keith Wilkinson)

Proximity to Harrogate

Harrogate Borough Council, the Woodland Trust, former Countryside Commission et al have collaborated with local residents since 1983 to conserve the narrow Green Belt between town and gorge. This has created a buffer zone with a mosaic of habitats, wildlife corridors and 43,500 broadleaf trees planted in Bilton Fields. Nidd Gorge is very close to urban Harrogate.

As a designated Site of Importance to Nature Conservation (SINC), Nidd Gorge’s rich biodiversity is recognised, but making the urgent case for it to be given SSSI status could protect its uniqueness. Wildlife surveys taken between 1999 and 2017 reveal the site’s secrets, from otters to roe deer, eight bat species, red kite, buzzard, heron, hundreds of flowers and eighteen kinds of fish.

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The threat

On 7 December 2017 Harrogate Borough councillors received a new traffic study identifying five options to ease congestion on the urban A59 into Harrogate. Three were quickly discarded, leaving options B and E. Option B proposes sustainability measures for existing roads. E was B plus a ‘Blue’ or ‘Green’ re-alignment of the A59 through Nidd Gorge. Option E was then discarded by councillors for failing to address wider traffic problems and was considered unlikely to attract Government funding of £130M+ for a bypass moving only 7% bypass-able traffic. The County Council, which is leading the project, has now considered this advisory vote from Harrogate Borough Council and is revising Option E for public consultation in June 2018.

Plans to divert the A59 through Nidd Gorge and Bilton Fields emerged in 1986. This ‘Inner Northern Bypass’ failed when Government declined to fund a bypass carrying only 10% of Harrogate and Knaresborough’s traffic.

Nidd Gorge is home to some magnificent wildlife including this kingfisher (Photo: Stuart Ibbotson)
Nidd Gorge is home to some magnificent wildlife including this kingfisher (Photo: Stuart Ibbotson)

Out of the woods ?

Both Blue and Green A59 routes impact Nidd Gorge. The Blue route cuts a 20 metre swathe through the buffer zone, bridges the 30 metre deep Bilton Beck Wood Ravine, hugs the southern gorge rim, then east and south before bisecting Harrogate Golf Course. It severs the public rights of way and wildlife corridors and opens the statutory Green Belt to development.

The Green route leaves the Blue route in Bilton Fields and tracks the urban fringes of Bilton and Starbeck before rejoining the Blue through the golf course. Both dislocate public access to Nidd Gorge from Harrogate and diminish its sanctuary. They would render the bisected farmland non-viable for agriculture and will transform this rural community irrevocably.

You can help

The unique environment of Nidd Gorge could be lost forever. You can help protect this precious site. We will keep you updated as this progresses and will continue to lobby hard to influence decision makers.

In the meantime If you live locally, please send your Nidd Gorge wildlife sightings to for our environmental report. Or lobby Natural England for the protection of this very special place by considering Nidd Gorge for SSSI status.

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