A campaign to protect the first ever nature reserve and secure it as a World Heritage Site has been launched.
Campaigners want Walton Hall estate, the former home of explorer and naturalist Charles Waterton, to be recognised for its natural and cultural importance by United Nations agency UNESCO.
And they believe that if the site, which includes Waterton’s grave and Georgian mansion Walton Hall, was given protected status it would stop the government from being able to run the proposed HS2 link right through it.
A proposal for protected status has now been handed to Wakefield Council by Altofts campaigner Paul Dainton of Residents Against Toxic Scheme (RATS). And he wants the council to lead the application.
He has also written to broadcasting legend, and lifelong admirer of Waterton, Sir David Attenborough to join their crusade.
Mr Dainton said: “Walton Hall park has enormous potential and outstanding value to the environmental world history and culture.
“Unless there is a very rigorous management and protection regime of our national and international heritage, the destruction of such heritage will continue and we as local custodians of the site will only be able to stand by helplessly. Any such loss would undermine the rich character and texture of our environmental history, making it so important to all of the UK and indeed the world.”
The 250-acre Walton site was enclosed by Waterton in the 19th century and includes picturesque parkland, the moated Walton Hall and Waterton Park Hotel, which is owned by Kayes Hotels Ltd.
If approved, the HS2 route from London to Leeds would pass directly through Walton Hall park. But under World Heritage status the land would be protected by law.
To achieve the status it would have to be considered ahead of any other UK nominations and by a group of international bodies, before being approved by the World Heritage Committee.
Wakefield Council leader Coun Peter Box said: “I welcome any plans to recognise the important heritage of the Waterton site, a rich part of Wakefield’s history.”
Yorkshire is already home to three World Heritage Sites; Saltaire, Studley Royal Park, which includes Fountains Abbey, and Bradford was the world’s first UNESCO City of Film.
Liz Tattersley, from Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “Clearly it’s early days, but any more World Heritage Sites for Yorkshire to boast would be a good thing for the county’s tourism offer and would provide another major draw for visitors.”