Clouds on Bleaklow – Peak District

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I set off from the tiny car park at the bottom of Doctors Gate. Storm Hector was battering Scotland and had its tail curled around Bleaklow shoving great volumes of warm damp air across the moor.  In these parts ‘Gate’ means ‘Way’, coming from the Norse people who inhabited these lands, their Wapentac, administrative districts connected by ‘Gates’ that often followed the old Roman ways and before that Neolithic man, who used the lay of the land, commuting between settlements and hunting grounds. It is rare to be the first in this land. Time and the land mark this animal’s progress.

In my mind I see a vicar, Doctor Talbot, travelling along this ancient path on horseback. Why would you travel from Glossop to the Snake Pass up a steep Clough and across windswept moorland? What was there to visit?

Tracking a stream northeast, skipping across sphagnum moss, a patchwork of yellow, lime green, grass green, dark green, trying to make sure that I step on the dark green and hoping for it to be solid. I follow a shallow grough, shallow enough to step down into, the water has not yet cut its way to bedrock, the floor of the clough is soft tussocks of grass. Where the grough climbs out of the landscape I find a strange device sticking out of the ground. Aerials and solar cells festoon its tiny structure. A board tells me it is part of a project by a University to log the levels of peat erosion on the moors that surround the Peak District. Moors for the future, the EU funded body that is restoring the moors had planted billions of sphagnum across the moors in a bid to soak up water, a tiny plant that could save a city and restore peat growth.

This monitoring station sends data about theUNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e0 teeming clouds via the clouds in the ether.
How many drops of CO2 does this make to calculate how much CO2 we generate?
Data centres are now a major contributor to CO2 emissions and who knows, climate change, global warming.

I think back to Doctor Talbot walking along his gate to see a patient in some remote farm on the flanks of Kinder Scout. See him battling the wind and rain. Breathing out his CO2 that is immediately dispersed by the wind and rain to be captured by the moorland grass. Perhaps he was heading to the tiny chapel at Gillott Hey.

I was walking on the eastern watershed; this water would eventually work its way via the rivers Derwent and Trent into the Humber and then out past Spurn Point into the North Sea. Hundreds of millions of years ago the water had flowed the other way and brought silt and sand from what is now the Rhine and deposited it at my feet for it to become gritstone. Later as trees and vegetation rotted and piled up layer upon layer, the gritstone disappeared below hundreds of feet of peat. A millimetre at a time for hundreds of millions of years.

I navigate between groughs, some with water; down narrow spits of land that curve down towards the Cloughs that run north-south in these parts. My aim is to keep my feet dry and not waste energy climbing out of the groughs. I’m heading east so the wind swirls from behind curving around my body as I move, a cylinder of water, carbon, data moving eastwards towards the water’s destination.

For a time I sit and watch the Cottongrass UNADJUSTEDNONRAW_thumb_88e9heads swaying in the wind. Large tufts of white candyfloss indicating wind direction. I’m amazed that they don’t fly off but they tenaciously cling to the slender stalks. Sometimes the air is filled with salt from the Irish Sea, but not today. Today it is laden with moisture, the sky filled with Mares Tails stretching for miles above my head.

I’m not far from Hern Clough and Alport Dale. It makes me think of Hannah Mitchell. Is this the way she came when she escaped the tortures of her troubled mother in Alport Valley and walked across the moors to a new life? Did she tread the stones of Doctors Gate, of Doctor Talbot, of the Roman Legionnaire, of the Norse warrior? Am I going not where I want, but where others take me?

Microsoft subsea data centre

https://news.microsoft.com/features/under-the-sea-microsoft-tests-a-datacenter-thats-quick-to-deploy-could-provide-internet-connectivity-for-years/

Data Centre Power

https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/data-center-virtualization/unified-computing/white_paper_c11-680202.pdf

Moors for the Future

https://paulbesley.blog/2017/04/27/moors-for-the-future-peak-district/

Hannah Mitchell

https://paulbesley.blog/2015/12/04/alport-hamlet/

 

Art and literature in the Peak District

There is a growing sense of place within the Peak District by the people that live, work and visit the area. The new millenium created some of that impetus, an urge to mark the momentus occasion. But I also think there is a need for place to be marked by people.

This does not have the markings of heritage, it feels more like a longing, a desire to say “This is us”. There is a need for connection to the landscape to reach backwards and touch the old ways.

Walking around Middleton by Youlgrave I started to come across inscriptions carved in stone, part of a millennium project to mark the seventeen ancient entrances in to the village. Some are close to the centre of Middleton, others are further afield and some quite remote.

Visiting the sites gives a sense of what it was like before roads, cars and modern-day communications. It also illuminates what and where was important in the past. The old routes were the major form of communication, once lost and now resurrected.

I spent some time at the remote Long Dale stones. Three tall shards of local limestone engraved with motifs and a saying from a Tibetan teahouse. An odd thing until I learned the saying was brough back by a local explorer to the Himalyas. The site at Long Dale is an isolated place, sitting below Smerril Moor at the junction of bridleways parallel to the Roman Road that runs south west from Buxton.

I sat and reflected on the people that may have used the routes for perhaps thousands of years, travellers, miners, trades people, perhaps even those bent on destruction. And once again I was reminded that we all leave an imprint.

You can read more about Sites of Meaning here

 

 

Scout Trainee Search Dog

Scout at 10 & 12 Weeks Old

Scout has been with us two years now. His training to be a search and rescue dog in Mountain Rescue began when he was 12 weeks old, that’s him coming through the tunnel on his very first day of training.

He has a lovely nature, gentle with people and other dogs. Conversely, he likes to work hard, loves rough terrain and harsh weather does not seem to phase him. Training involves learning to go and find a body by detecting scent then coming to tell me, his handler, and guiding me back to the find spot. His reward is a game of ball, preferably a ball on a string that he can have a good game of tug. His favourite body Paul really gets into the game and Scout loves that, it gives him so much enjoyment, he really likes searching for him.

There have been a couple of milestones along the way. The first is a registration test to actually become a trainee dog. This is basic obedience and a stock test to make sure he does not chase livestock. Pass these and he get’s the coveted trainee badge, it’s all about badges! Next milestone is the indication test, where he has to find a body and come back to tell me, then lead me to the find spot. Scout has completed all these tests.

Now, Scout and I are learning to cover an area efficiently, find multiple bodies in varying situations in the day and at night. Scout now accompanies me on my walks and this builds his stamina and strength as well as increasing the good bond we already have. He is a joy to spend time with and walk with for a day.

The training, the game, has changed over the years, now we are trying to develop some directional control, with some success too, he is a quick learner. Scout has an excellent record of finding bodies, in fact, there have been only two occasions when he has failed and this has been in the same area on Baslow Edge each time, we call it Nemesis now. It’s an area where the wind can do all sorts of things and there are lots of boulders around, so it will be interesting to see how we crack it.

It’s not all training for Scout there are other duties and delights too. He is a big draw at the fundraising events, especially at Sheffield train station, he is also starting to join the team on training exercises and events. He even did some avalanche training a year back and loved being inside the snow holes. But mostly he likes to be out in the countryside with people and other dogs and he likes a good game of tug.

Scout
Scout. Trainee Search and Rescue Dog. Photo Mark Harrison

Update on Dark Peak plastic track

Midhope201802

Back in March I wrote about the plastic track that had been stretched across Dark Peak moorland in the Peak District without planning permission and without thought for its impact on the environment and beauty of the area. You can read the original article here.

A retrospective planning application, one of several over a period of years, had been lodged with the national park authority with a decision target date of 6th April. The application received over 180 objections from individuals and organisations, including Bradfield parish council, The BMC, Sheffield Wildlife Trust and Friends of the Peak District.

A decision on the application is still pending.

Natural England submitted a further response on 18.04.18 which can be read here

To summarise, Natural England the government body charged with advising on the protection of England’s nature and landscape, suggest that it would not object to allowing the matting to remain for a period of not more than 5 years, when the situation should be reviewed. This is to help the landowner continue with ongoing works, access for which the track was initially laid, without planning permission which was a legal requirement.

It is not clear what ongoing works entails, the estates application makes reference to “restoration”, view the letter here  and a further document here specifies “reprofilling” “heather regeneration” “footpath works” and “drain blocking”. There is no time scale outlined for the restoration to be completed, the original work began several years ago, and it is unclear what the final objective is other than restoration.

Grouse water bowls – Peak District

Grouse Water Bowl No.1 Oaking Clough, Peak District
Grouse Water Bowl No.1 Oaking Clough, Peak District

In time everything is consumed by the land. Even gritstone. Lichen forms a base layer on which mosses can grow. Moss traps soil, debris, waste, grasses form and then a heather seed lands, brought by the wind or a bird, perhaps a nocturnal animal foraging for food.

The western side of No.1 is almost free of lichen and moss, whilst the eastern edge that slopes down to ground level is gradually being colonised by the moor. The prevailing wind in this area is from the west, the gritstone bowl protected to a degree by the slopes of the clough and the higher ground to the east.

In time if left alone the No.1 will be lost, enveloped by nature as it inches west along the boulder.

Head Stone – Dark Peak – Peak District

The Head Stone on Round Hill in the Peak District
The Head Stone on Head Stone Bank in the Peak District

Travelling from Manchester to Sheffield along the A57 Snake Road you crest at Moscar and begin the long descent towards the Rivelin Valley. At Hollow Meadows on the right hand side of the road and prominent on the moorland skyline sits a tower of rock. It makes an impact on the eye because it stands perpendicular to a landscape that is for all intent and purpose flat along the horizon. This is the Head Stone. A tower of coarse red grit and conglomerate sitting on more of the same but adding in red sandstone, shale and coal to the surrounding areas.

It is a lovely spot to visit and of course try a hand at tower climbing. Access can be made from the Snake Road at Hollow Meadows but I prefer walking up from the Rivelin Reservoirs through Reddicar Clough and along Head Stone Bank, on a Sunday afternoon in summer this is a wonderful stroll. The tower sits at the western end of a long rocky promontory along a geological fault line with wonderful panoramic views.

Directly across the Snake from the Head Stone is Hollow Meadows, housing now, and expensive housing at that, but once an Industrial School,  meaning truant school, and before that a Sheffield Workhouse, looking beyond you can see the quarries where the inhabitants worked. I wonder if the poor unfortunates looked out at the Head Stone with longing for freedom or was the landscape viewed as a place to be avoided.

Head Stone is a place a pilgrimage too, judging by the small plaques screwed to its surface here and there and the bunches of flowers laid around. Which probably means it is a place well-loved by lots of people although I have never encountered anyone when visiting.

It sits amidst a boulder field that is well worth exploring for it contains the last of George Broomhead handy work for William Wilson the snuff magnate, who had George carving water bowls out of the rocks to provide drinking water for his grouse. George numbered each one in three sets stretching from Stanage Edge to Wyming Brook. Number 19 on this final set, the Oaking Clough line is a beauty, probably one of my favourites.

The grouse water bowls of Stanage Edge. Number 19 in the Oaking Clough line. Peak District
The grouse water bowls of Stanage Edge. Number 19 in the Oaking Clough line. Peak District

 

Objecting to a track on a Dark Peak Moor

 

 

Something is not right in the Peak District. You can feel the tension between those that have the information and those that can only surmise. At the centre of this maelstrom is the grouse shooting industry. A landowner is trying to obtain planning permission for a plastic track installed almost 4 years ago without planning permission.

Back in June 2016 I was completing research for my book Dark Peak Walks. A short walk with much interest took me from Cut Gate to Pike Lowe across Sugden Top. It was on that moor that I was stopped by a gamekeeper wanting to know what I was doing. This is open access land and no closure in operation. The keeper refused to give his name or who he worked for. He had arrived on an ATV type vehicle driven along a plastic track that stretched from over Harden Clough way right across Mickleden Brook and Cut Gate and then onwards to Lost Lad. He wasn’t happy that I was there and tracked me all day, making sure I saw him, even waited for me on my return to Langsett reservoir. It was an odd and difficult experience, the first time I had ever been stopped in 40 years.

The purpose seemed to centre around either the plastic track or grouse shooting, or the fact that a member of the public was on access land and the landowner did not want that.

Putting grouse shooting to one side for now, investigation brought to light that the track stretches across an area that falls within the following designations;

  1. Special Area of Conservation
    • Blanket Bog
    • Upland or subalpine dry dwarf shrub heath
  2. Special Protection Area
    • Breeding upland moorland birds
      • Golden Plover
      • Merlin
      • Short Eared Owl
      • Peregrine
      • Dunlin
  3. Dark Peak SSSI

The area is subject to Higher Level Stewardship Scheme and a Moorland Management Plan. The stated purpose of the track is to allow access on to the moors for moorland management and restoration duties. The track also links up two lines of grouse butts with access from the east via the shooting cabin at Sugden Clough. And a third new line of butts in the area of Bull Clough, part of a Natural Zone, installed without planning permission. Developments within a Natural Zone are not granted other than in exceptional circumstances.

A reference in the retrospective planning application states that the track may also be used by estate staff in their daily duties.  It is important to note that the application does not state the track will be used to transport shooting clients up to the grouse butts.

The application was made by Davis and Bowring acting on behalf of Wakefield Farms who manage the moor. Davis and Bowring are land agents who also specialise in operating and maintaining grouse shooting moors. Application Number:NP/S/1217/1304 is the fourth planning application made retrospectively about the plastic track. Two earlier applications were not passed, a third had errors and was replaced by the most recent made in February 2018 (Peak District National Park. 2018)

The plastic matting was installed without consultation with the proper authorities and without planning permission from the Peak District National Park. Changes were made to the ancient Cut Gate bridleway whose surface had been graded to allow the matting to stretch across the bridleway without affecting the travel of  vehicles along the track. This caused the track to slope down to a steep banking causing bikes to falter and feet to walk around the slippery plastic surface up onto moorland, widening the already eroded bridleway. The track stretches across Mickleden Beck, a natural watercourse then up onto moorland to the east and west of Mickleden Beck and Cut Gate. It is plain to see as a wide green strip which is incongruous with the wild nature of this area and not attentive to the ancient nature of the Cut Gate bridleway.

Photographs show that the plastic track is degrading through what the estate claim is “occasional”use by the estate to access the areas for management. Within the area can also be seen stacks of wooden posts to be used as support for vehicles should the ground become impassable on the track.

 

 

Management works upon the moor ceased sometime ago, but the plastic track still exists and has degraded in that time from use. In fact the plastic track was installed after the heavy machinery used on the moor had completed the work and vacated the area. So, clearly the track is not for moorland management but for access. As the track leads on to the moor from the shooting cabins at Sugden Clough there can only be one conclusion, that the track is to facilitate access on a permanent basis for grouse shooting.

Furthermore, and perhaps more potentially serious is the effect on bird life on the moors where the plastic track accesses. In 2015 a pair of Merlin were seen on site in April. The birds could not be located on subsequent visits but there is evidence that gamekeeper’s had regularly accessed the site after the 2015 inspection. (RSPB. 2018)

Finally, a point not directly related to this site but is important. In recent years there have been substantial improvements made to grouse moors for the purpose of shooting birds, these improvements are still ongoing. Tracks from whatever material are an easy and quick way of getting paid guns out to the butts. Several tracks have already been upgraded or appeared within the Dark Peak. Each has a detrimental impact on this special landscape.

In my view the plastic track:

  • is not necessary,
  • impinges on the natural wild nature of the moorland
  • affects a natural watercourse
  • affects the natural habitat of the landscape
  • spoils an otherwise wonderful view for walkers, bikers, horse riders, lovers of wild life
  • was installed without consultation or planning permission
  • contributes in a detrimental way the presence of wild birds due to increased access
  • does not enhance moorland management.
  • Maintenance has not ensured that the plastic track maintains its integrity and this has detrimentally affected moor and watercourse.

I will therefore be objecting to planning permission being given for the retention of the matting. I would urge people to do likewise. At the bottom of this page is a sample letter which can be used or adapted and then sent to the planning Peak District National Park to register an objection. Objections close on Wednesday 14th March 2018

Peak District National Park: Application Number:NP/S/1217/1304 (2018) retrieved from: https://pam.peakdistrict.gov.uk/?r=NP%2FS%2F1217%2F1304&q=midhope&s=0

RSPB:Submission to Peak District National Park (2018) retrieved from: https://pam.peakdistrict.gov.uk/files/57523941.pdf

Where to object:

https://pam.peakdistrict.gov.uk/?r=NP/S/1217/1304&comment

Sample objection letter

Dear Peak Park Planning Body, 

: Objection to retrospective planning application NP/S/1217/1304    Midhope Moor plastic mesh.

I live fairly locally to the Midhope Moor area and regularly visit this ‘ Natural Zone ‘  of the National Park and enjoy the peace, beauty and solitude it provides. I am objecting to the continued presence of the plastic matting track which crosses the Cut Gate path on Midhope Moor. I had hoped that it was temporary as was initially stated and find its continued presence to be an eye sore and completely contrary to what one would expect in an area protected by the Peak Park Authority. One of the key attractions of this area has always been is its open character, wildness and few obvious signs of human influence. 

I had understood that this very obvious sign of human intervention was of a temporary nature, yet it now has a further application to remain.  Having looked at the Peak Park Core Strategy Development Plan Oct 2011  I  note that  Policy LC1  states  –  ‘ development that would serve only to make land management or access easier will not be regarded as essential ‘ .

 Also  within the General Spatial Policy   GSP1 –  7.19  it states  ‘ where there are conflicting desired outcomes in achieving national park purposes greater priority must be given to the conservation of natural beauty , wildlife and cultural heritage of the area , even at the cost of some socio – economic benefits ‘ .

The Peak Park Authority has a stated duty to uphold ‘valued characteristics’ of the National Park, including the natural beauty, natural heritage, landscape character and diversity as well as the sense of wildness and remoteness, clean earth air and water, wildlife and biodiversity.

I understand the supporting evidence to the application indicates that the development does not cross nor is near a water course. I have seen this plastic track/matting and it quite clearly crosses Mickleden Beck which flows from Bull Clough, eventually joining the Little Don downstream. Some of the matting is breaking up and will run off into the water course, causing pollution and being a risk to the animals that drink from it and live in it. This is completely contrary to current views on the impact of plastics on the environment. This is another reason for my objection to the continued presence of this matting.

I do not see how the imposition of the matting can have anything other than a negative impact on the landscape. It is an intrusive feature that can be seen from quite a distance crossing this wild valley. The Cut Gate Bridleway which the plastic track crosses and seen as a key feature on the other side of the valley, is a popular path used by many hundreds of people and the continued existence of this track detracts from their enjoyment of the area and conveys a message that those charged with protecting the quality and character of the landscape are allowing it to be spoiled.

I hope the planning committee will take these points into account when considering this application as this wild area of the Natural Zone of the National Park is worth defending.

Yours Faithfully

 

Letter in PDF format