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Friday, 8 June 2018

Volunteer AGM as part of Volunteers Week 2018

This week on the Eastern Moors we’ve been celebrating Volunteers Week 2018, which provides a time for us to reflect on and show our appreciation for all the hard work our fabulous volunteers do. Our team rely on a huge number of people who generously donate their time and expertise to help us protect and develop our moorlands for people and wildlife. This week on our facebook page we’ve been hearing stories from volunteers in a variety of roles about what they do and why they do it. You can read these here.

As well as this, yesterday was the Eastern Moors Partnership Volunteer AGM, which takes place every year in Volunteers Week as an opportunity to look back over the last year of hard work by our volunteers. Not only that, but it’s a lovely chance to get both the staff and volunteers together from the various corners of the Eastern Moors, some of whom never usually cross paths as they work on things as varied as archaeological monitoring, estate maintenance, and events.

This year we followed a tried and tested format of going out for a walk in the morning followed by a buffet and displays from staff members in the afternoon. Luckily we had an excellent day for it and the sun slowly burnt off the clouds as we walked from Birchen Edge car park, under Gardoms Edge and over the top of Baslow Edge, listening to willow warblers and blackcaps in the woods of Jack Flat. As it was such a beautiful morning, we decided (to mixed opinion) to deviate from the plan and take a slightly longer route back under Baslow Edge and then along Jack Flat and back over Clod Hall Moor through the woods below Birchen Edge. We were treated to the sight of a couple of woodcock as we walked below Baslow Edge, which was a lovely opportunity to get “off territory” and see a part of the local landscape that is not managed by the Eastern Moors Partnership.

In total we walked just over 6 miles, getting to the Robin Hood Inn right on time at 12.30pm with everyone seeming to forget about the longer than expected walk as the buffet shortly arrived. It was a really lovely spread put on by the pub who have been very accommodating over the last few years we’ve held the AGM there. We were also joined by a few more volunteers at the pub who had been unable to attend the walk, making it about 40 volunteers and staff all together which was a really excellent turnout.

After lunch and some time to rest our legs, the Eastern Moors site manager Danny said a very well thought out thank you to all our volunteers. Making the comparison of the land use between Eastern Moors and Geltsdale in Cumbria, which on paper are reasonably similar upland moorland reserves, Danny highlighted that the Eastern Moors gets far more foot traffic, with people coming here for so many different reasons and often with a deep and long lasting connection to the land. As such, the work of our volunteers in all their different fields allows us to maintain this place for people and for wildlife in equal measure, and the very presence of such a large group of volunteers reflects how important the landscape is to so many people.

With this lovely reminder of the importance of the hard work of volunteers in mind, the Eastern Moors staff then set up a variety of displays about what has happened on the Eastern Moors over the past year, and what we’ve got lined up for the future. This ranged from ecological monitoring results, the Sandyford Brook bridge and track restoration project, the new 2018-2023 management plan, and the upcoming footpath survey – all of which are aspects of our work that we couldn’t have done or continue to do without our volunteers. This also allowed volunteers to chat with relevant staff about upcoming training, to sign up to projects and events, and to sort out any administrative issues. We also insisted, somewhat cruelly, on snapping mug shots of as many volunteers as we could which will be compiled into a display about the Eastern Moors team at Barbrook Cottage, which wouldn’t be complete without the volunteers!

Overall it was a really excellent day. As quite a new member of staff, the volunteer AGM was a fantastic opportunity for me to meet many of our volunteers for the first time, and I really gained an appreciation of the hard work they do and vast bank of knowledge and experience we have in the Eastern Moors team thanks to these generous and talented individuals. Thank you so much to everyone who came along and here’s to next year, I can’t wait!

By Louise 
Community Involvement Ranger

Friday, 23 March 2018

Sandyford Brook Restoration Project 2

It has been a busy week back on the Sandyford project and we’ve made big strides to get the bulk of the heavy-duty work done as soon as it was dry enough, before commencing with reinforcements to the access and the pitched slope itself. Although it has felt for a while that things are starting to look a lot worse before they start to get better, repairing as much as we can as we go and using low-impact vehicles where possible ensures we minimise this. 

The weather at the start of the week did us no favours, with a quarry visit to select materials being put in jeopardy of delays due to the roads being impassable in the extremely heavy blizzards. Thankfully our route re-opened on the still frosty morning of the visit so we were able to confirm the pitching stone was suitable and hand-pick the foundations and bridge slab. These were then able to be delivered to site over the next two days and we have already began transporting them to the worksite in preparation for the next construction phase. This is when a group of experienced stone pitching volunteers from the Lake District National Park will begin laying the first section of track surface.

Measuring the bridge stones which will need to lock together in place for potentially hundreds of years.

To assist that next step, yesterday we were lucky enough to be helped out by a group of undergraduates from Nottingham Trent University, undertaking a conservation project case study at the Lindley Education Trust Hollyford Centre in Castleton. We also were joined by an archaeologist from ArcHeritage, the organisation who produced a recent survey of Eastern Moors' many thousands of archaeological items, who was on site to monitor any ground disturbances.

We excavated the wet clay and matted dead vegetation topsoil, to reveal a quality hard-based tray on which to build up the stone surface. By being flush with the surrounding turf the final track will quick vegetate around the edges and between stones to become almost as natural as the rocky White Edge ascent above. We really hope the group got as much from the day as we did from them and were ecstatic at their work ethic and motivation, for the project as well as protecting the sensitivities of the area.

The NTU student group plan and mark out the track route and safe working areas. 
An archaeology meter stick above a preserved history of clay, peat and soil substratum.

As promised we have not closed off any areas of the open-access moorland up until this point, but have been warning visitors in close proximity of the works and will continue to do so. Only Eastern Moors Partnership staff are permitted to drive off-road vehicles on the site but please take note of the potential for significant increased traffic from the access gate to Curbar Gap car park over the coming weeks. The current deep-rutted access route from here to White Edge Fields unfortunately no longer resembles the traditional Peak District dual-stoned and central grass strip track, as the surface is now mostly compressed into soft ground has been by the weight of machine and materials. However we are already working to reinforce this with more traditional sandstone chippings back to its former state. This will also mean foot access to the site will become much more pleasant through to the temporary diversion that will come into play next week.

On this point, at this time of year it is worth reminding all visitors that on top of these works and heavy machinery traffic, the area continues to be a high risk for Adder encounters with dogs, who have also been noted causing potential significant disruption to ground nesting birds in breeding season. With livestock returning to this area at the end of the week it is vital that dogs remain on leads on the moorland to help out nature during these especially important months for wildlife.
Tools must be hand-carried down to site to minimize vehicle impact as much as possible.

Lastly, it has been great to engage visitors on site and gain some incredibly positive feedback about the project. As always, for any comments or queries please get in touch on, or on this blog or our Facebook 

The finished tray ready to receive stone pitching. Soil deposited to each side is able to be backfilled around the stone steps and vegetation transplanted to eroded patches.

Monday, 5 March 2018

Sandyford Brook Restoration Project

The Sandyford Brook Restoration Project is now underway as we look to enhance this important access track and river crossing point for visitor enjoyment and protection of wildlife.

We need to allow the surrounding surface of the track, which has become excessively trodden and eroded by weathering and heavy use, to naturally recover. We intend to achieve a big reduction in impact to ecological habitat by allowing users to stick to a resilient single track, rather than having to spread out to pass wet or slippy areas in poor conditions. There are additional benefits in preventing uncontrolled erosion damage to an area of the Scheduled Monument through which the track passes.

When looking at the priority areas for works this location was identified to be in most urgent need of attention to prevent further degradation. We are looking to achieve this by narrowing and reinforcing the track with stone pitching - a type of traditional stone-stepped surface that is more pleasant to use. We are also replacing the timber bridge which has reached the end of its useful life, with a stone clapper bridge. This permanent structure shall have reduced maintenance requirements and be more appropriate in its special Moorland setting. We are also reducing the length and height of the crossing to increase visitor safety and further allow it to sit softer in the landscape.

Example moderate sized stone clapper bridge

The bulk of the work will be carried out by our Warden team, who are experienced in working sympathetically in sensitive areas of Moorland. In addition, following consultation with the Peak District National Park Authority, National Trust and RSPB archaeologists, we are undertaking all excavation work under watch of specialists for protection of the Scheduled Monument.

To prevent disruption to visitors we are maintaining an accessible route between Curbar Gap car park and White Edge, by way of a temporary alternate access into the adjacent fields. This is also a separate project to provide a cattle gathering point outside of the more sensitive areas of the surrounding Moorland. People will then be able to re-join the track above the area works are being undertaken. At times there may be an increase in staff vehicle movements to the site from the car park but there will be signed and taped-off areas to warn of site hazards.

Photos below capture some of the decline in condition over the last year, as well as concept visual impression of what we would like to achieve over the coming years as the track blends into the landscape and vegetation recovers.

Current condition

Intended improved condition

Tuesday, 20 February 2018

Guardians of the Moors, Heritage Lottery Fund

A lot can change in three years. Youth Rangers grow up and move on to university, much valued staff and volunteers retire or move on and babies are born, grow and join Ranger Tots! We’ve seen a lot of change here at the Eastern Moors and much of it has been down the fantastic efforts of our community and volunteers. We’ve repaired miles of stone wall, planted thousands of trees, inspired hundreds of school children and eaten a LOT of biscuits.

This year of our Guardians of the Moors Grant funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund comes to an end after 3 years of funding. This grant has ensured our volunteers were trained, equipped with tools and kitted out in uniform – including our Youth & Junior Rangers and Muck In Volunteers. The grant also funded educational events, a brand new vehicle and part funded the role of Community Involvement Ranger (that’s me!) to lead on volunteer coordination and community involvement.

We’d like to assure all our supporters that tree-planting and biscuit-eating will continue on the Eastern Moors even once the grant has finished. But we’d also like to say an enormous thank you to Heritage Lottery and Lottery players, for giving volunteering and community involvement a huge boost that has set us up for years to come.  

Here are just some of the highlights from the last three years…

Youth Rangers in their uniforms stand next to our Lottery Funded vehicle, after a hard days heather spreading!

Our adult volunteer team planting trees.

Muck In day volunteers learn how to willow weave and create an amazing structure to help improve Shillito Wood for people and wildlife, which has helped deter antisocial behaviour in this much loved area.

Visitor Experience Manager Katherine, teaches Youth Ranger, Jess how to survive in the wild!

Community Involvement Ranger, Bryony lead a tracks and trails walk.

Archaeology volunteers explore the area and learn more about the site they take care of.

Wednesday, 12 July 2017

The Big Wild Sleepout on the Eastern Moors

Q. What is the “Big Wild Sleepout” and how does it work on the Eastern Moors?
The Big Wild Sleepout (BWSO) is part of a national event headed by the RSPB, which has been running for five years and is hugely popular amongst families in particular. The aim of the BWSO is to give people an opportunity to experience nature close in a new and exciting way, whether in their own garden or on an organised event, such as the events that have been run on the Eastern Moors for the past 3 years. One of the most exciting parts of these events is that they take place on reserves and protected areas where camping is not permitted at any other time. All the events, including our own, are strictly assessed, monitored and run by staff who know the site and ecology well. The location for the Eastern Moors sleep out is on an area of low sensitivity, with activities and the fire (held in metal bowl) actually taking place off the SSSI in the grounds of Barbrook Cottage. We run activities for the families during the sleepout including evening nature walks, moth trapping, pellet dissection and educational activities to encourage their love of nature and help them learn more about this special place. Encouraging people, particularly children and young people, to connect with and learn about nature is integral to what we do and the future of wildlife conservation, people connect in many different ways and this is just one of the opportunities we offer families.

Q.  Won’t events on your reserves disturb the wildlife?
A.  The majority of our nature reserves are open to the public every day of the year, and minimising disturbance of wildlife is always forefront in our mind, which is why we carefully plan which areas of the reserve our visitors are allowed to visit. The same applies during Big Wild Sleepout; ensuring that the camping only takes place on areas of the reserve which are least sensitive from a conservation perspective.

The Eastern Moors event takes place on an area of low wildlife sensitivity with all activities and the fire taking place away from the SSSI.

Q. Why are you promoting fires on open moorlands?
We take moorland fires very seriously and run campaigns and education to inform people about the risks of fires and BBQs onsite. For this supervised event a fire held in a bowl is lit safely offsite, away from the SSSI moorland and managed at all times by experienced staff. We apologise if our advertising has misled in any way as to the nature of the event and will be reviewing how we promote this event.

Q. Why are you promoting wild camping on the Eastern Moors when this causes problems such as fires and litter?
We recognise that outdoor adventures are one of the many ways in which people, particular children, connect to nature and learn to love special places. However this has to be balanced with the primary need to protect the environment. We feel that running a supervised event offers the opportunity for people to enjoy these experiences without compromising protection of the environment or the experiences of other visitors.

We discussed how we would advertise the camp this year and for the previous years we have run it, as we wanted to be clear with the public that this is an organised, supervised event and a special opportunity – not an invitation for people to wild camp outside of the event. As the “Big Wild Sleepout” is a widely recognised brand and we used words such as “Exclusive” “One night only” and “learn from the Rangers” in our advertising, we thought we had made this clear. However if our advertising has led to any confusion we will look again at the design and wording of both the poster and website so that we can ensure no one is mislead by what we are advertising. We also put up signs during the event stating clearly that this is a staff-run event and camping on site is not permitted at other times.
We have no evidence to suggest that wild camping has increased as a result of the events we have run yearly or as a result of the wider BWSO. However we will continue to monitor this onsite and with adjacent landowners. We are aware that wild camping generally is becoming more popular, sometimes responsibly and sometimes less so, we are discussing how to go forward as part of the Sheffield Moors Partnership.

Q.  Why do your event prices vary so much for families? You have to be very wealthy to take part at an RSPB reserve.
A.  Big Wild Sleepout event prices vary due to differing event programmes at the various different reserves, and differences in costs for running the events. To be able to sleep under the stars, at one of our sites, is an out of the ordinary experience. However, it is expensive for the RSPB to be able to run events like these. We charge to at least cover our costs, and where possible make some money that will go directly back in to our conservation work, to keep these places special for nature and humans for years to come.

Q.  Why am I not allowed to camp on the reserve or the Eastern Moors at other times of the year?
A BWSO event is run by RSPB staff who work in conservation every day and know their reserves and the wildlife on it. They are therefore qualified to understand how and where to camp on a reserve in a safe way for the wildlife that lives there. We have a no camping policy at other times of the year, to limit disruption to wildlife and reduce the risk of wildfires.

There is no right to “wild camp” permitted in the Open Access agreement which covers the Eastern Moors area of the Peak District. The Eastern Moors is looked after for people and wildlife, but at this point in time unmanaged wild camping and bushcraft activity could pose a risk to wildlife and the spirit of place. Camping is available at Ed Byrne, Stanage and numerous private sites across the Peak District.

Images from previous BWSO events on the Eastern Moors...