Thursday, 16 May 2019

Wild Thoughts: Moorland Fire

(Taken from a series of Instagram posts from a few weeks back)

I read a concerning article online last week from the New Scientist magazine about the number of wildfires in the UK so far this year - there have been more already this year, than any other whole year on record.

Last year in my previous job I was working closely to plan and coordinate moorland restoration work on a large estate just outside Stalybridge near Manchester. Just a few weeks after I started my new job and handed that task over, the estate was on fire and all over the news. It burned for ages, threw a cloud of smoke over Manchester, and terrified local residents. But it also turned what was an already degraded moorland - damaged by and still suffering from historic pollution and drainage issues - into an ecological disaster zone.

I haven't been able to go back and visit that site since the fire, but I'm fairly sure it would be heart breaking. To see a piece of land I knew so well so damaged, having invested so much time and effort on, planning it's future restoration and enhancement - arguably destroyed, at least in the short term. To see it now, most likely looking a lot like the picture above would be a hard pill to swallow.

Just a few weeks after the Stalybridge fire, and a few months into my new job at Staffordshire Wildlife Trust a large fire started on the Roaches, a reserve in the Peak District National Park. While not directly involved in the emergency response, the atmosphere of urgency in the office was palpable, and I could hear and see the sadness in the conversations and faces of my new colleagues. They were, like me with Stalybridge only up close and personally rather than from a distance, seeing years of effort and investment wiped out in a matter of days, and a haven turned into a wasteland.
I saw this fire in person, only from a distance, but close enough for the scale and severity of the damage to sink in, or so I thought at the time. I've since seen it several more times from a distance, but it took me until last week to actually visit it up close.

I have seen the recent aftermath of wild fires before. As a boy I walked across the fresh scars of a fire in the Brecon Beacons, fresh enough that the odd wisp of smoke still curled from hot spots. That was probably 15 + years ago but I still remember being speechless at the damage caused.

Fast forward back to now and the Roaches - this time the child in attendance was my own daughter. She too saw the fire burning from a distance and has commented several times since that she is sad about the fire because she loves the Roaches. It has been one of her favourite places for a family adventure for several years. I could tell that even though the smoke has long since stopped at the Roaches, that the damage left behind still made an impression on her.

The decision to go for a walk was last minute. It had been the plan for her to go out for a walk earlier in the day while I was at work, but with other members of the family unwell that hadn't been an option. Instead when I got home from work we made an impulse decision, threw together some waterproofs, jumped in the car and headed initially for Luds Church - the forecast was for heavy rain so we wanted to be somewhere a bit more sheltered.

As we passed the Roaches she decided that, actually, she wanted to stop here. The forecast had massively over-exaggerated the levels of precipitation so we did so. And I'm glad we did. You could tell her 6 year old mind was contemplating what she was seeing; that the damage was genuinely upsetting to her. I think it's a lesson she will carry with her. When she asked how it started and I explained she was cross with the campers. I'm pretty sure she will be more responsible on her future adventures as a result.

Anyway, to bring it full circle, if that New Scientist article is accurate, and we have another hot dry summer this year we could be in for a pretty dire year in our moors and hills. Be careful and sensible out there people - the poor decision making may be the work of just a moment, but fixing the damage certainly isn't!


Thursday, 9 May 2019

Highlights of wildness from the past few months

Despite the silence on the blog (for two months! whoops!), we have been getting outside as a family. As the actual 'getting out' is more important that writing about it, I don't feel too bad about the lack of writing. It's better than writing about it and not doing it! But the time has come for a bit of catch up on our family time as well as other things!

Our trips haven't all been to our local woods, we've thrown a few extras in here and there to keep some variety, including a few trips to the Peak District, our local National Park, and TWO trips to Scotland since the last blog post. But we have included semi-regular visits to the woods and the seasonal changes have certainly been apparent already. While we have passed up opportunities a couple of times because of the weather, we have been out on days where it would have been easier to stay in too! But it hasn't all been grey skies, we've also enjoyed some absolutely beautiful weather!

Since I last wrote we have managed the following outings among others, which as much as anything is a list of pretty easily accessible outings for people in the Stoke-on-Trent area:
- a wet, cold and blustery (and therefore short) trip out to Mow Cop Castle on the Staffordshire / Cheshire border. It's owned and managed by the National Trust but unlike many of their larger properties free to visit. There isn't much to the 'castle' these days, and you can't actually go into it but it is a handsome feature and has cracking views over Staffordshire and Cheshire. Of course, the view was not all that special when we were there as it was dominated by low, grey cloud and accompanied by heavy rain. But we were outside, working towards our fresh air quota for the week AND our daughter took an old camera for a 'photography lesson'. Much like the view, the lesson didn't really materialise while we were there, but it's a start!
- A post school / work trip out to Park Hall Country Park on the edge of Stoke-on-Trent for a walk. Being a very short (less than 5 minutes) drive from home this is a favourite spot of ours for some family outdoor time. It has expansive views out over the city and is the best place I have yet found to watch the sun set over Stoke-on-Trent.
- Several trips to our local woods including the finding of a new favourite climbing tree where the children have had some tree climbing lessons. On our most recent excursion the bluebells were just starting to come out in earnest, but we need to visit again as they are probably fully out now! The little stream which flows through the 'woods' - although really through the adjoining rough grassland and scrub - has also become a favourite of the children to jump across and splash in.
-  A sunny walk at Downs Banks National Trust reserve near Stone, between Stoke-on-Trent and Stafford. A mosaic of woodland and grassland on either side of a scenic brook. Stepping stones and shallow water make it a prime place to enjoy a bit of water play for small feet, but the woods and banks are full of interest for older eyes too. The meandering brook through the valley is a fitting centre piece to such a pleasant reserve which we have visited often before, and will continue to.
- Bank holiday weekend saw a chance to go a little further afield to the Peak District and the Monsal Trail near Buxton. We took a scooter and a bike for the little legs and enjoyed a morning scooting at various speeds along the old train line through old tunnels and over high bridges between the high walls of the stunning gorge of the river Wye. Climbers were enjoying more vertical adventures on the gorge walls with a beautiful blue sky as a ceiling, but the little Guys are not quite ready for adventures of that scale just yet.
- Finally the Roaches were once again a feature of a brief and short notice evening outing during the Easter holidays. The Roaches need no introduction here, but this was the first time I had visited properly since the huge moorland fire last year. It was sobering, but that is the topic for a different post.

This brief account skims over a few outings, misses entirely the two Scottish adventures which are also worthy of their own posts and also doesn't touch on my 'wild moments' from working as a conservationist which gets me out more than many - another subject for separate posts. There is stuff to keep me writing for a little while yet, so I will leave this brief update here with a map showing our trips out and about. Until next time...