Opening up disabled access to the Yorkshire countryside

As the second largest landowner in Yorkshire, Yorkshire Water is striving to enhance access around some of our scenic reservoirs so more wheelchair users can visit these popular countryside beauty spots.

According to research, most visitors to our 70,000 acres of land are currently white, middle class and aged 35-55+. However, we are now looking to attract more disabled people by improving pathways and disabled facilities at our most popular reservoir destinations.

It is estimated that around two million people visit our land, such as reservoirs, ancient woodland and moorland, every year. These locations have become increasingly popular since they first opened up to the public after privatisation of the water sector in 1989.

To encourage more disabled visitors, we have teamed up with Experience Community, a not-for-profit Community Interest Company (CIC) who help disabled people access the Great British countryside. This has already resulted in more disabled group rambles around our reservoirs, such as Langsett  in South Yorkshire and Swinsty in the Washburn Valley, on specially designed mountain trikes and mountain bikes.

Geoff Lomas, Recreation Manager said: “We have 115 scenic reservoirs dotted around the region and these are all popular with dog walkers, picnic-goers, runners, anglers and cyclists, but we now want to make some of them more inviting to disabled people as a go to destination.

“This may mean improving paths around reservoirs by making them flatter, wider and addressing any surface issues so wheelchair users accessibility needs are met.”

Since this inclusive  access  initiative was launched last year,  pathways have already been improved at Grimwith reservoir in the Yorkshire Dales, in partnership with the Yorkshire Dales National Park Authority, as well as at Damflask and Langsett reservoirs in the Peak District. Plans are also in place to improve pathways around Fewston reservoir near Harrogate, which  is seen as the ‘jewel in the crown’ of our land.

Geoff added: “In the past, Yorkshire Water’s land used to be off limits to the public but since privatisation in 1989 we have had an ever increasing number of visitors to our land. Many of our reservoirs are now recreational hotspots and we want to make them as inclusive as possible by providing information and access that is both informative and enticing to disabled people. Our partnership with Experience Community will help achieve this.”

Craig Grimes, Managing Director of Experience Community, said: “Gaining access to the countryside for disabled people has been an uphill battle, but co-operation from landowners such as Yorkshire Water really makes a difference. Through working with Yorkshire Water we’ve been able to identify various reservoirs where small changes to infrastructure such as widening a gate or better access has been provided. There are now new longer routes with varying levels of difficulty that we can use with our rambling and hand cycling groups.”

Access to the countryside was first opened up to the public in 1949 having previously been closed off to ramblers.