The suggestion the BMC acquire Horseshoe Quarry in Derbyshire was controversial. The BMC wasn’t about owning property – and what was so special about a scruffy Peak District limestone quarry? Eight years after the deal was signed, Ed Douglas discovers that Horseshoe has changed – for the better.
I’m not sure how Henry Folkard does it. I’m not young, but he’s more not young than me, and I can barely keep up. He’s a blur of activity, marching ahead, stooping briskly to tidy up a rare cigarette butt or toffee wrapper, and all the while offering a running commentary on recent improvements combined with a history of how it was the BMC came to own Horseshoe Quarry.
“Had it not been for the vision of the BMC's then president Mark Vallance, I doubt we’d have got it,” he says.
I’m not a madly keen sport climber, and haven’t been to the crag for a few years, despite living just up the road. So I am staggered at the transformation. I recall Horseshoe as the ideal location for a post-apocalypse movie, Mad Max 4 perhaps, a blasted, stony waste with all the charm of a Chris Moyles chat-up line.
Despite the rain that has been falling for most of June and July, the landscape Henry is now expounding on is far more attractive than I recall. The willows have spread, softening the hard lines of the disused quarry, a mood enhanced by the pond, dug in accordance with a biodiversity action plan drawn up at the start of the adventure with advice from Derbyshire Wildlife Trust and with crucial support from the Peak District’s Vision for Wildlife Project.
Henry is silent for a moment, contemplating its clear water. “The Derbyshire amphibians chap saw a greater crested newt here recently,” he says, and is then off again, speaking of barn owls and peregrines, explaining the demands of managing a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Last year Natural England certified Horseshoe – also known as Furness Quarry – as meeting its standard of being in favourable condition.
Beyond the pond and Horseshoe’s Main Wall, the large open area of rocky floor I remember is just as it was, albeit without the garbage.
“This is still quite stark,” I say, thinking aloud. Henry looks aghast.
“Ah, but we want it that way,” he says, and summons me over. At his feet is a small patch of fossilised coral. I’m entranced, my view of Horseshoe expanded immeasurably to take in long-lost epochs of warm tropical seas.
But Henry has left me beind, articulating a list of interesting plants that are enriching the habitat: ploughman’s spikenard, yellow rattle, Nottingham catchfly. There are several kinds of orchid too, including bee orchids, although I’ve missed them this year. Still, there are other treasures to see.
“Ooh,” Henry says, leaning over some rubble, “come and look at this. Asplenium trichomanes subspecies quadrivalens. Maidenhair spleenwort.” Ferns I know are something of a specialty for Henry. “Here’s golden male fern, and brittle bladder.” The latter, despite its rather unfortunate name, is exquisitely fine.
We walk up the ramp opposite the Main Wall and look across the flower meadows that ring the quarry. Horseshoe was choked with brambles before the BMC took it over, and preserving these meadows was one of the prime considerations in the new management plan. They are stunning, and I wonder how many climbers ever take the trouble to wander up and take a look.
Local people certainly do. New footpaths and the dedication of Horseshoe under CRoW legislation has persuaded more walkers and picnickers to visit. Henry shows me the viewpoint, now neatly fenced off, that gives stunning perspectives down the dale with a distant view of Froggatt.
Cash from the Derbyshire Aggregates Levy Grant Scheme helped in these works, but otherwise Horseshoe has proved very cheap to run. Apart from a small cost for a tractor and flail to keep the brambles down, the place is essentially cost free, albeit with a big voluntary effort from Henry and his team of helpers.
So was it worth it? There’s no question Horseshoe is a popular crag, even if we can all think of better ones. Given its location, it was also vulnerable to development, perhaps as a lorry park or for light industrial units. And soon after the critical management committee meeting that approved the BMC’s acquisition, Henry discovered a local shooting club was keen to acquire the site for its own exclusive use. In that sense, the small costs involved have been worth it.
Yet the real value of owning and managing a site like Horseshoe is in the lessons learned and the track record gained. DWT, who advised the BMC on managing Horseshoe, is less supportive of climbing these days. As Henry says, “There has been a very positive spin off for the BMC – in confronting firsthand the problems of land ownership and demonstrating to other landowners that recreation and conservation can coexist.”