Tuesday 1 February 2011

Public land in The Peak; good news and bad

adam long photography

Froggatt Edge: in good hands for the next fifteen years

Last week, the Eastern Moors Estate was finally signed over to its new management partnership led by the RSPB and National Trust. It hasn't been the easiest process, but its definitely good news for both the landscape and wildlife of this fantastic landscape - and the climbers, walkers, photographers and everyone else who visits it.

Unfortunately what should be cause for celebration is overshadowed by the uncertain future of developments elsewhere. The news may be full of the Coalition Government's plan to sell off land owned by the Forestry Commission, but the proposal to offload 'unprofitable' public land also extends to other landowners. Here in the Peak District the FC is a fairly small player when it comes to public land ownership. Natural England looks after a few key sites, like Lathkill and Cressbrook Dales, as National Nature Reserves, but the greater proportion of public is in the hands of the National Park. Since the change in government, the Peak District National Park Authority has been tasked with disposing of 80% of its landholdings within the next five years. Some will be sold outright, others will be leased as with the Eastern Moors. Amongst a host of smaller properties two stand out by virtue of both their importance to climbers, and outright landscape value: Stanage and The Roaches.

Stanage Edge

Stanage: For Sale

It is within living memory that both these iconic landscapes were acquired for the nation, and with the intention that public ownership would see them safe 'forever'. Not for sale thirty or forty years later...

Thankfully it is not simply a case of highest bidder wins; at least not yet. The Eastern Moors partnership solution should provide a model; as long as the Park can alleviate themselves of the costs of managing the land, bids should be considered on merit.

For Stanage, the bigger picture  looks promising. On a map Stanage (along with Burbage) form a missing link in a chain of National Trust properties which run in a horseshoe from Mam Tor, round Kinder and Edale, via Longshaw and White Edge to the Eastern Moors. An extension of the RSPB partnership to Stanage would be welcome but not vital, either way the National Trust look to mount a serious bid that will be difficult to better. Whilst I have some reservations about the NT's management style, on the whole it is overwhelmingly positive. And the NT have one major advantage: they have the capacity to declare the land inalienable - exactly the protection in perpetuity that was sought from National Park ownership originally. There are some details to be worked out with aspects of the estate such as the campsite, but things look to be headed in the right direction.

The Roaches

The Roaches: future uncertain

Sadly the same cannot be said about The Roaches. Although (or perhaps because) the National Trust have been making grand statements in the press about 'saving' FC land for the nation, they remain markedly lukewarm over The Roaches. Why? Perhaps because with so much land on offer, they simply can't take it all.

So who will take it on? Of the organisations that have expressed interest, perhaps the most serious looks like the Staffordshire Wildlife Trust. Although they have other land nearby, it would represent a huge increase in the acreage they have to manage. The Wildlife Trusts do a lot of great work, but their usual attitude to access (fences and restrictions) will not be suitable for the Roaches. Another interested party is The Land Trust - an organisation that has hitherto mainly worked with brownfield sites. Again it would seem a big step for them, and as their ususal approach seems to result in a third party being contracted to manage the land, something of an unknown.

Locally, the Staffordshire Moorlands Council is throwing its hat in with the Wildlife Trusts. A local group has formed in Leek, but whether their funding can compete with the other bodies remains to be seen. Its worth mentioning that the Eastern Moors experience suggest deep pockets may be required; the costs of completing the legal agreement alone topped £40K. The other serious declaration of interest comes from a grouse shooting organisation, who may well have the cash, but with what motive? In the short term shooting rights are not being offered, but long term who knows what may happen. They are likely to see it as a long term investment - as Mark Twain said 'buy land - they aren't making it anymore' - and with the current political direction that could see National Parks privatised in ten years time, its unlikely to be a good direction for access or biodiversity.

Perhaps its not entirely surprising that The Roaches might slip through the cracks. It has always had a lower profile than it deserves, facing as it does out into the small towns of the Potteries, not adopted by a city as Kinder by Manchester, or Stanage by Sheffield. Yet it is a local beauty spot of national significance. Nowhere else in The Peak is the geology so expressive. More than any other site in the country, this rugged, beautiful landscape represnts the precise meeting place of lowland and upland Britain. It deserves a bright future.

If you want to know more, get along to tomorrow night's BMC meeting at The Maynard's Arms, Grindleford. The National Trust's General Manager for the Peak District will be attending, and answering questions on the direction they will be taking in The Peak.