Under the Sheffield Moors Partnership, key conservation bodies, landowners and local authorities with support from the BMC have joined forces to offer a long-term strategy for some of the Peak District’s most iconic landscapes. Next up is the Burbage valley, which, as Ed Douglas reports, could soon be transformed.
I’m standing on top of Burbage West, as local boulderers call it, braced against a cold easterly while I peruse a photograph from the early 1970s. Veteran access campaigner Terry Howard, who is standing next to me, took the image as a young man. It shows the Burbage valley sprinkled with conifer seedlings that have since grown into the oppressively dense and alien woodland at its base – a dead heart in the middle of this hugely popular scrap of wild on the edge of Sheffield.
Ted Talbot, woodlands manager at Sheffield City Council, is explaining a little of the woodland’s history, how no one can recall quite why it was planted, and how there was never the budget to thin it properly, causing the understory to die off. The planting scheme, he says, created an outline map of the British Isles. ‘But Cornwall failed pretty early,’ he says, pointing out where the southwest should have been, somewhere below Carl Wark.
Now Talbot is leading a project to remove almost all these conifers and, over time, turn the valley into something more like Padley Gorge, the ancient oak woodland a mile or so downstream that ends at Grindleford. There’s a lot of consultation to be done, and interested parties to persuade, but it’s Talbot’s hope that work will begin in September and the woodland will be gone by December.
The plan will affect climbers. The southern end of the Green Drive will be closed midweek while the timber is cut and the footpath diverted. But it will re-open at weekends, and access to the area’s outstanding climbing won’t be affected. Talbot says the woods have become a popular all-night party venue and fires are frequently lit. With the dead understory, the woods could be on borrowed time anyway.
Regenerating Burbage is just one element of a long-term 15-year strategy for the moors around Sheffield that the BMC is pleased to support. Although the Sheffield Moors Partnership isn’t involved in the day-to-day running of estates, it brings together key landowners and managers to find a common path for the future covering conservation and broader ecological services, as well as recreation and access, interpretation and education.
The project has been running for almost three years now, and on Monday Defra minister Richard Benyon spoke at an event to celebrate SMP’s progress and launch its ‘masterplan’. Benyon, widely known for his shooting interest, seemed genuinely supportive of SMP’s aims and congratulated it on ‘its fantastic work so far. Keep doing it, you should be immensely proud of what you’ve achieved.’
BMC access rep Henry Folkard was also invited to speak, an acknowledgement of how important the outdoor community are to the plan’s success. ‘With the launch of the masterplan,’ Folkard told the minister and invited guests, ‘all aspects of management of the moors, and the economical delivery of the ecosystem services they provide, are given common purpose. We can conceive a landscape where people and conservation are complementary.’
This grand vision will be under scrutiny later this month, as plans for the future management of Stanage, part of the SMP, continue to develop. On 22 March, Peak District National Park Authority officers will give outline suggestions for developing the commercial opportunities at Stanage.
The farm lease at North Lees is up for renewal in September, and the PDNPA is considering including the campsite as part of the farm to improve its commercial appeal. But with reforms planned for EU farming and conservation subsidies, it remains to be seen how well the commercialisation of Stanage will fit with the long-term strategy of the Stanage Moors Partnership.