Contested cultural landscapes: community resilience, heritage and the re-industrialisation of the North York Moors National Park

The last five years has seen extensive economic, political and social change to communities and their cultural heritage in the United Kingdom’s National Parks. Government funding to the parks has decreased in that time, traditional communities with links to the past are declining as young people look to other ventures away from the parks, rural amenities and services are closing down. The decision to leave the EU has and will have an impact on the future of tourism and conservation and industrial development such as mining is increasingly making forages into the natural landscape.

Visitors observing the ironstone kilns at Bank Top, Rosedale showing how the North York Moors industrial past has become an attraction for visitors.

Within this context, this PhD is an interdisciplinary study exploring the relationships between heritage, community and landscapes by looking at developments in the North York Moors National Park and the pressure industrial developments can impose on the historic environment, communities and tourism. This research will critically examine the role of the community and how they are represented by the processes and practices of heritage management.

In particular, this research will focus on the North York Moors National Park as a case study where one potash mine exists, another potash mine is under construction and hydraulic fracturing for shale gas may take place on the edge of the National Park which is causing increasing concerns amongst communities. As a consequencethese industrial developments provide an opportunity to understand how communities value this landscape and to explore the contested spaces in which different individuals and groups interact. By taking a qualitative methodological approach, this project will investigate how these communities look to protect their cultural heritage and everyday traditions when threatened by change and uncertainty – how do local people look to secure their future and preserve their identity?

There is a romantic opinion that National Parks in the UK are untouched, unblemished landscapes, yet humans have constantly shaped the land throughout time. In the North York Moors National Park, large industrial sites such as the potash mining industry exploit the wealth of these landscapes as they once did in the 19thcentury, again changing the lie of the land. With a history of Victorian industrialisation in North Yorkshire are we seeing the evolution of these landscapes moving ‘forward’ towards their Victorian past with the commissioning of large scale industrial developments? Alongside an increasing urbanisation of rural areas of the UK, how does this challenge our notions of untouched and unblemished landscapes?

As heritage is perceived as a ubiquitous, more modern process and as a future making practice (Harrison et al 2016: pp.68 -72) and landscapes are seen as places of change and contest (Tilley 1994: pp.25-26), this project will look to address an understanding of landscapes from a community perspective to inform future decisions around development, the evolution of these landscapes and how these landscapes become sustainable environment. The role heritage plays and how the future may parallel this will be vital to the findings of this PhD.


This PhD is a project which has developed from Tom’s wide interests in National Parks, how they change through time, and how managers, groups and the wider public come to decisions regarding what changes and what stays the same.

Before his PhD, Tom worked as a Consultant and Researcher in the Heritage and Tourism sectors. From 2012-2017, he managed a wide variety of heritage and tourism projects throughout the United Kingdom – for sites such as Tower Bridge, National Railway Museum and York Minster and for organisations such as the National Trust, Historic England and a variety of National Parks including the North York Moors.

Tom holds a BA Honours degree in History and Archaeology from the University of Leicester (2004-2008) and a Masters in Cultural Heritage Management from the University of York (2011-2012).