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Who are we?

Our committee are elected by the society's membership.

Ben Aston

Ben works as an ecologist and environmental scientist and has lived in Harrogate since 2008. Growing up in the Peak District playing in woods and rivers, he is passionate about enabling people to access and enjoy nature. He has been involved in ecological baseline surveys at the Common and working with others to help inform site design.



Roderick Beardshall

"I have lived in Harrogate for over 15 years and even though I have had environmental concerns most of my life I was probably guilty of taking the beauty of its surroudings for granted. Two interconnecting events shook my complacency. Firstly I became a father for the first time in 2013 which put the future into sharp focus. Secondly, in early 2017 I became aware of the threat of a road being built in the green space between Harrogate and Knaresborough, thanks to a display at Woodfield library, which I was attending with my daughter for our regular Tuesday morning story and craft session. That led me to get involved in the campaign to halt the road and this in turn introduced me to Zero Carbon Harrogate where I now chair their transport working group. The idea of Long Lands Common ticks so many boxes as the type of project which needs to be supported and replicated if we are to build a positive future.


Trish Sanders

I have lived down Bilton all of my life, growing up, Bilton fields from Starbeck to Nidd, were my playground, I walked my dogs, rode my horses, and escaped! With my children I went on mud hunts, picnics, wildlife spotting  adventures, climbing trees, and paddling up streams, finding nature's treasures. Now my grandchildren are able to enjoy this special place on their doorstep, and I am hopeful that. having helped defeat the relief road, I can now move forward and contribute to this exciting new challenge.


Rick Brewis

Is a local 3rd generation landowner within the Nidd Gorge catchment area, woodland owner & business partner, and was a founding member committee member of Nidd Gorge Community Action Group & HALT.
Rick says:

"I am dedicated to preserving local habitats for a variety of wildlife & helping local communities to be involved in education in the countryside by teaching bushcraft & other activities on my land.
I have planted over 30,000 trees on my land & worked for 15 years at the Tees Forest (Community Forest) as Farming, Woodland & Biodiversity Officer. My role there was to advise farmers & landowners on how to integrate modern farming techniques whilst at the same time improving & creating wildlife habitats on their land. I was instrumental here in planting over 3million trees."

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Geoff Foxall

Discusses his involvement:

"I was born in Harrogate and have appreciated its surrounding environment all my life. As Chair of Starbeck Residents Association, I am keen to involve local groups and individuals in the project particularly Starbeck school and the specialist colleges in Starbeck.

I have been a member of Nidd Gorge Community Action since its inception. As a councillor for Bilton in the 1980's and 90's, I helped to successfully prevent the development of a Northern Ring Road which would have decimated the Nidd Gorge and green belt between Harrogate and Knaresborough."


Ian Fraser

Is a craftsman woodworker, originally from Canada. He has lived in Harrogate since 1998. His voluntary work with Christian Aid led him to learning much more about climate change, as it is the developing world that is far more vulnerable to its effects, and has done the least to bring it about.

After a well received Christian Aid event in December 2015 about climate change, at the time of COP21, the Paris climate change agreement, he and some other like minded people set up Zero Carbon Harrogate, a climate breakdown activist group ( Zero Carbon Harrogate) ; Ian is its natural climate solutions coordinator and focuses on actions that help our part of the biosphere heal itself.

He feels that the creation of a community woodland presents a really exciting opportunity to help along that healing. Creating this woodland will bring many benefits to Harrogate and Knaresborough residents and visitors: habitats for wildlife, increasing biodiversity and making local ecosystems more resilient; improving air, soil and water quality; as the trees grow they will absorb atmospheric carbon; as their roots grow the soil will become more permeable, which will help slow the flow of water draining into rivers, a means of natural flood management; creating green spaces for recreation activities, improving health and well-being, and re-connecting people with nature.

Angela Jex

I have lived in Bilton for 25 years. I love the countryside around Bilton and feel strongly that people need closely accessible open space and nature for their well-being. I am lucky that I have had access to green open spaces all my life to enjoy nature
I was involved in the initial relief road meeting and formation meetings of nidd gorge community action group.
My professional background is in nursing most recently working in the community (district) nursing team, currently I work part time as a covid vaccinator.
I believe in community involvement and I am proud of being involved in local scouting as a leader for 28 years.
I hope to contribute enthusiasm and practical can do skills to complement the more specialist skills of other board members

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Chris Kitson

51, has lived in Harrogate all his life, attending New Park County Primary School and Harrogate Granby High School. He is now a teacher, specialising in alternative education for secondary-age students.
Through his work, teaching practical conservation work in Nidd Gorge - in partnership with Bilton Conservation Group and Harrogate Council - he was compelled to campaign against the proposed relief road in order to protect the gorge, greenway and green belt.
As a founder member of Nidd Gorge Community Action, Chris assumed the role of Chair in February 2017 and took a lead in the high-profile campaign to ‘Save Nidd Gorge and the Nidderdale Greenway’.
As Chair, in 2019, he helped to initiate the Harrogate & Knaresborough Alliance for Less Traffic (HALT) and, as Volunteer Coordinator for HALT, helped to organise the successful, community-driven publicity campaign against the road. Now that the road idea has been dropped, ‘at this time’, following its overwhelming rejection by the community, Chris is keen to build on the momentum of the campaign and do more to protect the Harrogate & Knaresborough greenbelt for generations to come.

He sees a community-owned woodland at Long Lands Common as a natural follow-on project for Nidd Gorge Community Action. One that will help to preserve the greenbelt, improve bio-diversity and empower the people of Harrogate & Knaresborough to take more control of its green spaces.

Chris is the Secretary of Long Lands Common.

Richard Lord


"Enthusiasm was my initial feeling reading a flyer posted on the Nidderdale Greenway about Longlands Common. “I’d love a nature reserve so close to home, it’ll save me getting in the car.” What a great community idea & it might scupper proposals for a northern bypass through Nidd Gorge. I bought some shares soon after."

"Realising the idea was likely to happen I thought I want to make sure I can access the site in my wheelchair & I’m sure I won’t be the only one. So I started taking photos of nature places I like to visit & emailed the organisers my photos of gates, paths, even an accessible compost toilet that I found made good access without being too environmentally obtrusive. I met them on a couple of occasions too, to discuss ideas for making an accessible entrance from the Greenway. When asked to join the board at the 1st AGM in July, I was chuffed they’d valued my input & thought it’d give me a focus having lost my very part time job because of the pandemic."


Ben Skinner

Ben has been a Harrogate resident since 2012. A keen cyclist and local business owner, he became involved with the Nidd Gorge Community Action group in order to protect Harrogate's green spaces and campaign against the route chosen for the proposed "relief road" through the Nidd Gorge area. He provides IT and other digital skills for the team. Plus, if you've seen a drone flying over the Nidderdale Greenway and/or crashing repeatedly, it may well have been Ben!

Ben is the Chair of Long Lands Common.

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Allan Smyth

Has been a resident of Harrogate for 33 years and is a local business owner.
Allan has supported Nidd Gorge Community Action as Treasurer and has donated office space, transport and Audio Visual equipment to assist in the campaign against the failed proposed northern relief road.
Allan is a regular user of Harrogate green spaces as a dog walker and a keen environmentalist and cyclist.
Allan has agreed to support the Long Lands Common project as a board member and Treasurer and hopes the project is successful as it will ensure the continuation of the green belt well in to the future for the residents of the Harrogate district.

Allan is Treasurer of Long Lands Common.


James Mckay

Is the manager of two ‘Centres for Doctoral Training’ (research centres) at the University of Leeds: Bioenergy; and Water and Waste Infrastructure and Services Engineered for Resilience (Water-WISER).
James is also an illustrator, and collaborates with scientists and the public to create visual art that communicates scientific ideas, for example reconstructions of extinct species and ancient or future environments.
James has led several projects including ‘Dreams of a Low Carbon Future’ illustrating life in the UK in a zero carbon future society, including a focus on re-wilding, which he feels passionate about.
As a resident of Knaresborough, James is dedicated to helping with efforts to preserve and improve the biodiversity of the area, essential for our survival in the face of climate change.


Jo Smalley


For the last 10 years I have been privileged to work with my community and young family as a volunteer for a variety of hands-on projects to preserve, maintain and enhance our local greenspaces. This includes my role on the committee of The Friends of Jacob Smith Park (JSP) in Knaresborough, a beautiful 30 acre natural parkland bequeathed to the local community by a farming family.


I am happiest spending time in nature, and am passionate about providing opportunities in my volunteer work to connect children and adults with the natural world. This involves coordinating annual volunteer opportunities for all ages, and managing a variety of educational projects such as establishing a community wildlife pond, complete with a dipping platform, to facilitate science exploration with young people.


What I love most about volunteering is that it is so diverse and I am always learning. One of my biggest challenges, with the main aim being to connect children with nature, was to take an idea I had for a ‘moving’ theatre production of Wind in the Willows and turn it into an appealing show. It started at Knaresborough castle and travelled all along the river to Conyngham Hall. I co-produced and fundraised for the show with my friend and fellow volunteer Liz, and it became a successful collaboration between a professional production team and community cast.


Long Lands Common is quite honestly the project I have been waiting for. I cannot think of a better way for all ages to join together to make a difference to local wildlife, to the wider environment and to the community as a whole. I feel utterly distraught watching our district lose swathes of land to housing development, and I have been appalled that our most precious green spaces are not protected fully as they should be. I want a different story for my children, for all children and generations to come. Long Lands Common is the chance we all need to make that change happen.

Jo is the Membership Secretary of Long Lands Common.