A dramatic career change, motivated by a love of the outdoors, eventually led Iain Mann to Yorkshire and one of the county’s most fascinating and varied stretches of countryside.
The 45-year-old’s own story started in Kent, where he grew up, but it was the tales of the landscape - of which he has led the way in retelling - that attracted him to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in North Yorkshire.
As scheme manager for the Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership, Iain is at the forefront of safeguarding and celebrating the historic landscapes, cultural heritage and wildlife habitats in the area.
But how did a PhD in non-linear dynamics lead to where he is and what he is doing now?
“It was the exact opposite of what I do now. That was blue skies research, what I do now, is right outside the doorstep. I was in my early 30s when I had a complete career change.”
The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership is a ground-breaking Heritage Lottery funded four-year project that works with local communities, farmers, land managers and a wide range of organisations.
The partnership supports a packed programme of events including Nidderdale in the City at Kirkstall Abbey that showcases local crafts and farm animals, the recent Moorland Festival which featured immersive activities from stargazing to mountain biking, and the annual Nidd Fest.
As well as supporting those who live and work in the landscape, the partnership plays an important role in championing the rural sectors and expanding links between the countryside and the city.
For Iain the attraction of leading this work, came after an earlier career in private sector engineering, during which he realised he wasn’t motivated by money.
“I was looking for something a bit more meaningful to the places I live.”
His penchant for the countryside was instilled by family holidays exploring the Dales and it saw him move around, from studying at Edinburgh University and, “driven by the hills and mountains”, a stint at the Institut National Polytechnique de Grenoble.
“I’ve oscillated up and down the country and finally ended up in Yorkshire,” he said.
“What I do now is about the environment in a much wider sense. It’s about getting people to enjoy, get out and look after the landscape. What makes up the landscape – the old buildings, the way the land is managed, the way people use it, the history of the area – it’s a multi-layered thing.”
The Upper Nidderdale Landscape Partnership covers different strands to appeal to members of the public to get involved: Historic Nidderdale, Discovery and Learning, Training and Skills, Wildlife and Farming, and resources for visitors.
Some remarkable projects have been realised, from engaging local artists, working with farmers to increase biodiversity, archaeological digs and conserving flagship heritage sites, such as Prosperous Lead Mine.
“People want to know about their area’s history,” Iain said.
“If that falls away, that way to understand the past is lost.
“We’re here to help reverse that trend, whether it’s finding a space for wildlife or wildflowers, or conserving old buildings. There’s a real hunger for that, it’s a bridge to the past which people really value.
“We’ve got stories of primary schoolchildren coming here from inner city Leeds who think milk comes from a carton. It’s the first time they’ve been in the countryside and the first time they’ve seen farm animals.”
Of all the events and projects that the partnership has been involved in, the Foundation Programme for Heritage Skills is what Iain is most proud of.
“One of the risks to the landscape’s future is losing the next generation. So to make it a place where young people have skills and get involved with land management, that’s a really valuable thing to do.
“The kind of students who come on the course are in danger of falling through the cracks, so to hear someone has a job with an agricultural contractor or found a love of stone masonry, it changes lives.”
The partnership is a four-year project which is now coming to an end but Iain is upbeat about the roots the partnership has helped establish in the Upper Nidderdale community and he is confident there will be other means by which the area’s precious heritage continues to be explored and brought to life.
“There are people who previously wouldn’t have worked together, so there’s cross-over with the education sector and the heritage sector for example. They all want to keep working together.
“Hopefully, our legacy will live on, and for a long time.”