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.

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

 

 

Grindle Barn – Peak District

 

One of my favourite short walks in the Derwent Valley takes me from Derwent Dam, through what remains of Derwent village and up via an old packhorse route onto Derwent Edge. It is not a taxing walk, the ascent up on to the edge a mere 160m along a well marked and in places paved path. What it has that draws me back to it on a regular basis is quietness and contemplation.

Once the crowds have been left behind at the dam I can amble south down the valley along a single-track road, passing along the way a bright red phone box by the gateway to the remaining lodge to Derwent Hall, a terrace of workers cottages and an empty farmhouse. Soon on the left is the old school, no longer in use, the image of the Virgin Mary and Christ above the doorway, telling me that I am on the Roman Catholic side of the valley and therefore on Norfolk land. It is a lovely building; the porch has a beautifully tiled floor with plain black and red Minton tiles and stone benches on either side of the entrance each below a small leaded window. In the garden lays a carved lintel from the Derwent Hall, showing the date and the coat of arms of Henry Balguy a previous owner.

The road continues on through the site of the village, crossing over Millbrook where it becomes a track and soon the way south is barred by a gate. To its left is the bridleway that will take me up on to Derwent Edge, part of the old 14th century packhorse route from Derwent Village in to Sheffield. It begins its ascent by working a ribbon of stone through a meadow, the stone from the old cotton mills of Lancashire, the meadow filled in spring, with Buttercup, Scabious, Saxifrage, Mallow, Cowslip and Cranesbill and more. It is a wonderful and sadly rare sight these days to see a meadow in full bloom. The colours of white, reds, yellows and blues dotted across a huge expanse serves as a painful reminder of what we have lost in the countryside.

The path ends at a collection of stone barns, known as Grindle Barn. The barns are made of coursed and roughly dressed stone with stone roofs. They sit well in the landscape, clustered together on either side of the packhorse trail, the trail having to form an “S” bend as it weaves between the buildings. The first barn is dated 1647 above a doorway and has the initials of “LG”, probably the person who built it structure. A second barn opposite remains closed, but the third around the corner has been converted in to a shelter for walkers and bikers and perhaps horse riders. This is the barn now known as Grindle Barn.

Grindle Barn is one of my main objectives of this walk for it affords a comfortable stopping off point, particularly in inclement weather. There is the best bench in the whole of the Peak District to sit on, placed in such a way as to afford a spectacular view in any season, down the valley to Win Hill on the opposite side. The floor sits high so is not prone to flooding or gathering dirt. The walls are adorned with small tiles, each with a drawing or poem from local children in the villages down the valley. Above the entrance, just a large opening is a carved wooden board, depicting packhorse trains working their way down the trail.

I love to sit here and simply watch. Sometimes people are present or passing by and it is nice to chat about the day, the view, different walks, what flowers are present in the meadow. But it is solitude and watching that I seek most. To find the barn empty is a delight. I can take a seat, and just look. It does not matter about the weather or season. Looking out in winter and studying the old field boundaries, or the long forgotten ways up to the high grounds that snow has now brought back to life, the way it does by laying in the hidden dips long after the rest has melted. In summer the area around the barn is filled with swallows swooping up and down the trail, flashing across the barn opening. Occasionally a mouse will appear, out of the wall, once a stoat suddenly put in an appearance, disappearing as soon as it heard people approaching. I have never seen a horse, much is the pity, and it would be nice to see a small team of horses working their way down into the valley.

Grainfoot Farm – World War Two

Above is Grainfoot Farm in the Derwent Valley, Peak District National Park, as it can be seen today, alongside a watercolour by Kenneth Rowntree from 1940, shortly before it was demolished to make way for the new Ladybower Reservoir. The two Ordnance Survey maps, one from 2018 and one from 1852 show the position of the map in the landscape and perhaps more importantly today the position of the field boundaries and other landscape items.

The farm was, at one time in the possession of the Eyre family, well-known landowners in Derbyshire, still in existence today. It passed through various other hands, by marriage and purchase, before finding itself in the way of the new reservoir and scheduled for demolition.

The farm was painted by Kenneth Rowntree of the War artists Advisory Committee, not because of its imminent demise but as part of a project to record the changing face of Britain. This started in 1939, overseen by Kenneth Clark, father of the Tory MP Alan Clark, and was devised to record important buildings and artefacts of Britain incase they were destroyed by the second world war. It also coincided with a growing realisation that the landscape was changing at a rapid rate, due to urban development, industrial growth, changing agricultural practices and a shift in the social cohesion of the country after world war one. It followed similar projects carried out in America under the Federal Arts Project. It was felt that by celebrating the unique British landscape in art, morale would be boosted during the darkest hours of the war.

V&A Museum Collection

Kenneth Rowntree

War Artists Advisory Committee

National Parks a dying landscape

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It is an odd time in the nations National Parks at the moment, they seem to be confused as to their purpose, their reason for being. It comes at a time when funding is being cut from central government and the political and economic mood of certain ascendant sections of society are for profit.

The latest furore to hit social media is the Thirlmere Zip Wire. People resigning in protest from organisations, business manoeuvring to get their way in the dash for cash. In the Peak District it’s now about false tartan, in plush cafes with cuddly toys on the shelves for the grandparents to buy before they set off back to Sheffield or Derby. Meanwhile the BMC take people out on to the moors at night to educate and illuminate, raise funds for path repairs and generally act as guardians of the park.

Commentators speak about going back to the original reason for the national parks and often quote Sandford in support of one stance or another. One thing that is familiar with the Thirlmere Zip Wire argument is that lots of people speaking against it were never actually born there, but moved there because of its beauty and their own love of the place, they often quote Wordsworth in their argument to keep the Lake District in aspic.

One thing that is striking about the White Peak is how empty the villages are and how many cottages, its always the nice ones, have their doors and windows painted in those pretend national trust colours so favoured by the middle classes. The gentrification of the White Peak is gathering apace, cottages inhabited by retiring oldies who pop off every friday in their Disco’s to shop at Waitrose and come back in their 4×4 laden down with frozen goods to stock up their Wickes kitchens with the granite worktops. Apart from the chintzy names that now adorn the cottages another sign to be seen is the country holiday let. A small plastic holder with leaflets or tiny cards giving the contact details of the owner should you want to book. It usually accompanies an old milk churn, or scythe, something that can add “authenticity” to the “look”. Walk through any village now and you can count on more than one hand the number of such dwellings.

These ghost villages once provided housing and work for young people, who had families and kept things alive. Now the villages are bereft of life, part of a landscape that is now a set in a giant government funded theme park. The locals forced out by low wages and high house prices and no employment. The national park seems to be a landscape that is dying, killed by the very people who profess to be its protectors. It’s now just a photo opportunity and a means to make money.

Perhaps we need to go back to Wordsworth, often quoted in any Lake District battle to preserve what people want as the status quo.

When responding to the proposal to build a railway to Windermere to bring tourists to view the wonderful landscape and bring in much needed revenue for the local economy he said, and I paraphrase, that members of the working class would be unable to appreciate the beauty and character that the area had to offer and concludes that bringing so many travellers in would destroy the landscape.

He may just have been correct.

Tideswell Church – Peak District

Tideswell Church Door. White Peak Walks. Peak District National Park. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press
Tideswell Church Door. White Peak Walks. Peak District National Park

I love church doors and entrance porches. The church door of St John the Baptist, Tideswell in the Peak District is a real beauty. The door is oak, hand carved with beautiful fluting and studding.

Quam Dilecta is from the second line of Psalm 83;

Quam dilecta tabernacula tua Domine virtutum

How lovely are thy tabernacles, O Lord of host!

An indication of what lay on the other side of the door in the Cathedral of the Peak. The church is well worth a visit with some beautiful Poppy Heads showing the stages of a humans life from birth to death.

Poppy Head in Tideswell Church depicting the Baptism. Tideswell. White Peak. Peak District. White Peak Walks East. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press
Poppy Head in Tideswell Church. Peak District

Navio Roman Fort – Peak District

Navio Roman fort at Brough in the Peak District National Park. White Peak Walks East. Author Paul Besley. Publisher Cicerone Press
Navio Roman fort at Brough in the Peak District National Park

I always try to have something to look at on a walk and walking in the White Peak area of the Peak District National Park means there is a plethora of things to view and wonder at.

I recently did a walk for my new book White Peak Walks East, published by Cicerone Press along the boundary between the white and dark areas of the Peak. It’s a place full of ancient sites with a history going back to neolithic times. A very productive period was in Roman times, this part of the world getting towards the northern edge of their domain.

My walk took in Navio, the Roman fort at Brough. It is one of a number of forts linking Templeborough, Melandra, Castleshaw. There is not a deal left now, a few stones in a hole in the middle of a field, the stones may or may not be connected. But you can still discern the square plinth of the fort, raised above the surrounding land. It is near a stream and has views in all directions across both the Derwent and Hope valley’s. A good spot to check movements. As often is the case, it now sits alongside major roads and junctions, I always find it amazing how we still walk and live in the places designed for us many thousands of years ago.