Mental Health Awareness Week

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Back in 94, I was diagnosed with clinical depression, I’d had it awhile but not realised what it was. I think my brother suffered as well, his way of dealing with it was to lock himself away in his room for 7 years. I chose a different, more physically and mentally destructive path that eventually led me to a doctor who prescribed me some drugs and 3 days later I was stalking around the house like Jack Nicholson in The Shining. It wasn’t good, or healthy. I asked to see a psychiatrist or is it a psychologist, and Kathy Whittaker at Rotherham General saw me for 6 weeks and bingo I was back to what could be classed as normal. Kathy has all my thanks for that.

The depression never went away it just lessened in the degree to a point where there were days I didn’t notice it or feel its effects on me. I saw it as a black Labrador dog, probably because I’d read that’s how Churchill saw his. It IS real in my mind. Most days I don’t see it, but I do feel its presence. Other days I see its shadow walking down the corridor to my room and sometimes it stops at my open door and looks in then walks away. I’ve learned that this has connections with the levels of stress I am experiencing in my life at that time, so I try to take steps to reduce the level to keep the dog away.

But this time that hasn’t worked. This morning the dog walked into the room and came right up to me; he’s here by my side now as I type this out. The depression is back.

Looking back I can see the pattern forming a year or so ago.

There is no single thing, rather a collection of seemingly disparate events, things and people. It started with lack of trust in an individual and organisation along with a feeling of not being in control of my own life. I was subject to some trolling, both online and off, from someone I thought of as a friend but in reality, wanted to inflict harm on my well-being. Financial worries played a small part, but only when large bills presented themselves. There was nothing, taken in isolation, that would cause any great concern, except perhaps the trolling, but taken together they flipped the switch.

One of the ways I have of dealing with this is talking about it honestly, something that has helped me in another area of my life for decades. So that is what I am doing now. Keeping things bottled up leads to people harming themselves or others, sometimes both. I’ve seen it happen and I have lost far too many friends to suicide to think it cannot happen to anyone.

Another action that helps my depression is removing negative and destructive influencers on the equilibrium of my daily life. I started doing that a month or two ago, there is still some way to go, but already it is having positive outcomes.

I have just spent an hour with a friend over coffee and cheesecake. He doesn’t know it but the chat and the laugh we had together helped me in my day enormously. For a brief period, I felt positive and normal. Spending time with friends like that is something I need to do more because I have begun to isolate too much.

Taking more time with my wife is something I need to do because she is my best friend. Other than my parents Alison is the person I have spent the biggest part of my life with. She really is the one great stabilising influence on my life and a great example of how to live

Lastly is walking. I love to walk. I am fortunate to write about walking in the countryside, two things I love to do. There is always a point on a walk where I feel everything is just right with the world, it’s a physical as well as mental feeling. Walking gives me pleasure and a different view of the world. If I am lucky I get something new to see or experience too. I recently walked through woodland and felt, then saw, a Barn Owl gliding silently across the open space I was in. I have thought of that moment many times.

It took me many years to learn that good mental health was everyone’s right, and no one has permission to take that away from a person. Sometimes it has to be fought for and that is a battle for the individual. If they are lucky it’s a battle fought with the help of good friends and loved ones.

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

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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

 

Sheffield Ghost Buildings

The ghost building at the rear of the former PCL works on Eyre St, Sheffield.
The ghost building at the rear of the former PCL works on Eyre St, Sheffield.

Ghost buildings are a sign of a past use gradually diminishing backward as time moves forward. This is the rear of the former PCL works on Eyre Street. It is within my lifetime that this site lived and died as a manufacturing works, in the heart of Sheffield. The company decamped long ago to one of the industrial estates on the outskirts.

I walked around the works in my early days selling them engineering products, but I cannot remember what happened in this ghost building. Women making air inflators and such populated the floor, the men mended machines and managed everything. It was a common setup in those days. Almost everyone was on the clock and those on the floor had a piece rate bonus. People worked in groups and they looked after their own, managing the workflow so no one got left behind. On Saturday nights everyone went to the Working Men Club, had a game of bingo, watched an act and had pork pie and pickled onions with ham sandwiches. It was a micro community that had common social values and standards of conduct. They sorted their own problems out and kept the cohesion in society.

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