Beware the Infrastructure Bill

Beautiful views across our National Parks and your rights to access them will soon be under threat.

Beautiful views across our National Parks and your rights to access them will soon be under threat.

As I write, the ‘Infrastructure Bill 2014’ current sits in its committee stage before the House of Lords (next due before the Lords on 14 October 2014). You may or may not have heard of it. Its best known component is to introduce the right for companies to ‘frack’ under your home, without first seeking your permission.

There is however an even more insidious aspect to this bill that could undo decades of progress in terms of the formation of our national parks, access to our landscape and the protection of our wildlife.

The intention of this bill is clear. Its primary purpose is to ease the way for corporations and developers to gain unhindered access to any part of our land that they wish to use for development or to frack for shale gas. As a landscape photographer, lover of nature, supporter of public ownership of our nation’s assets and access rights to our cherished landscapes, this bill causes me deep concern.

It is beyond dispute that we need more homes (although an awful lot could be done to assist local authorities bring empty houses back into use) and infrastructure to service those homes. It is however the nature of this bill that shows flagrant disregard for public ownership, public access and local consultation.

Local councils will be ordered to give over 90% of their brownfield land to the Housing and Communities Agency (HCA). Brownfield sites are previously developed sites that have become vacant, but could be reused and include parks, playing fields, allotments, woodlands, public facilities and village greens.

The bill states that, “The Secretary of State may at any time make one or more schemes for the transfer to the HCA of designated property, rights or liabilities of a specified public body.”

It continues,”These transfers are to take effect irrespective of any requirement to obtain a person’s consent or concurrence, any liability in respect of a contravention of another requirement, or any other interference with an interest or right, which would otherwise apply.”

This bill will take away any local power of decision over land use and pave the way for publically held land to be transferred to the HCA, who can extinguish existing protection and rights of way, such as access under the Countryside Rights of Way Act 2000, possibly even protection for Scheduled Ancient Monuments and Sites of Special Scientific Interest, grant permission for new roads and buildings and sell off land as it sees fit.

Any private company that buys the land will no longer be subject to local planning regulations and consultation. The Secretary of State will be able to grant to any development without the involvement of locally elected members or council departments such as planning , simply by consulting a panel of as little as two people.

In short, we could well see our national parks, playgrounds, village greens, woodland, allotments or any other publically owned facility, sold off to private companies to build on, frack, quarry, lay railway lines or do whatever they like. One thing can be taken as a certainty, we will have no say.

As for fracking, that is another matter entirely which would need an extended essay in its own right. Let’s just say that it would be a disaster for our national parks, countryside or communities to have this nightmare imposed upon them. It represents no cure at all for our energy security or economy, will not bring about any appreciable long-term boost for jobs, will not lower energy prices and will be an environmental disaster in terms of its effect on wildlife, water supplies and air quality. I urge you to go and find information on fracking for yourself and not take my word on this matter.

The Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932

The Kinder Mass Trespass in 1932

Rights of access for ordinary people to some of our best loved landscapes could be lost. It would be as if the Kinder Trespass had never happened. The lifetime of hard work by Tom Stephenson, who’s commitment and passion led to the opening of the Pennine Way, undone. Our national parks just a fond memory (massive budget cuts have already seen the Peak District National Park Authority forced to put many of its best loved locations up for lease or sale)and the long fought for ‘Right to Roam’ extinguished. We could well see a return to the days when ordinary people were excluded from their own landscape.

The Infrastructure Bill represents the biggest land-grab since the Enclosure Acts of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. When George Osborne stated that green spaces would be protected, he meant the estates of his wealthy friends. Lands belonging to the Crown are conveniently exempt.

What do Labour have to say about this? Surprisingly little. Surely we can rely on Labour to champion the rights of common people? Unfortunately not, they have no current plans to oppose the bill. It seems that the transformation of the Labour Party from its socialist roots to neoliberal corporatists is complete.

Benny Rothman of the Kinder Trespass (left) and Tom Stephenson, creator of the Pennine Way (centre)

Benny Rothman of the Kinder Trespass (left) and Tom Stephenson, creator of the Pennine Way (centre)

So there we have it, all nicely stitched up for a foregone conclusion. Private companies win and the rights of ordinary people are trampled over once again. Once these measures are passed into law, they will be very hard to reverse, even if the will from any future government to do so is there and all current indications point to that being unlikely.

What can we do to stop this? In all probability, not an awful lot but we must try. You can write to your MP or councillors and express the strength of your opposition. With next year’s general election on the horizon, your local politicians will be keen to gain your support, especially in marginal constituencies. Let them know how much of an important issue this is. You can get involved in your local community groups, rambler’s groups or outdoor sports groups and spread the word, or get involved in your local anti-fracking group. But most important of all, keep the spirit of Benny Rothman, Tom Stephenson and all of those men and women who fought for our right to protect and access our beautiful landscape alive!

Sunrise on Stanage Edge

Winter's End

Sunrise over Stanage Moor

As summer approaches, sunrises are getting earlier and earlier. Not that I expect that this is news to anyone, as it happens every year. The Easter Bank Holiday weekend was beckoning and I was itching to get out for a sunrise.

I usually like to be in position about half an hour before sunrise, as sometimes the dawn colours can be better than the actual sunrise itself. This also allows the opportunity to scout out a few views and angles towards the point on the horizon where the sun will rise and I enjoy watching the landscape slowly awake. On this particular day (18th April 2014), that meant being in position by 5.15am, for sunrise at about 5.45am.

Choosing to head for the southern terminus of Stanage Edge meant that I was spared a long walk and climb in the dark, as I was feeling a tad on the lazy side. Walking towards the edge, I was reminded of the last time that I had been here for sunrise, one February morning a couple of years ago, when I arrived to find the edge encased in a verglas. Lethal underfoot without cleats or crampons, I lost count how many times I’d slipped and stumbled!

Besides a thin line of cloud on the horizon, the morning was looking almost entirely cloudless. Although this makes for a lovely day, in photographic terms it isn’t necessarily a good thing, as a bit of cloud catches the warm light and can add a lot of interest and atmosphere to an image. On cloudless mornings, sometimes you get a nice glow of colour around the horizon (depending on the amount of moisture in the atmosphere), but the light becomes harsh very quickly. This makes being in position early even more important, as you need to work quickly and make the most of any colour before the sun rises to any great degree.

Warm light at sunrise, on the rocks of Stanage Edge

Warm light at sunrise, on the rocks of Stanage Edge

The sky to the east lightened degree by degree and bands of pale pinks and orange began to form around me. A pin-point of light appeared eventually as the sun rose above the thin band of cloud on the horizon. It is remarkable how quickly the sun rises and soon it was too strong to shoot directly towards but was now casting a warm red light onto the rocks of Stanage Edge.

It is during this period that I am at my most frantic, scurrying around lining up views and angles, shooting a few frames (I always bracket my shots), change position slightly – maybe try a lower viewpoint, then dash on to the next view. The sun was gaining height in the sky quickly and was now lighting up the peaks of Over Owler Tor, Offerton Moor and Eyam Moor, clustered around Hathersage.

As I was lining up another shot, I caught sight of something moving behind me, reflected in the screen on the back of my camera. My first thought was that it was a large cat, but on turning around, as all I had was a view of its backside, couldn’t make out what kind of creature it was. It was bigger and broader than a cat, with much shorter back legs. It clambered onto a rock and turned slightly, I then realised that it was a badger. I have never seen badgers on moorland before and was more excited than I expected. In fact, I think that I exclaimed, “wow, it’s a badger” to no one in particular.

The badger disappeared down the edge and was soon lost from sight amongst the rocks. I moved on and took a few more shots but by now, the light was becoming too harsh and the colours had faded from the brightening sky. I found a spot that offered a little shelter from the wind (it is surprising how cold the wind can be at that time of day, even on a sunny morning) and sat for a while, taking in the sunlight hills and moorland around me.

I stopped by the famous (and most photographed) millstones. The light wasn’t reaching them yet and thin patches of frost lingered in the sheltered spots on the western facing slopes of the edge. I sat for a while watching a couple of Ringed Ouzels (I think) flitting around the rocks. It is always with a degree of reluctance that I head back to the car.

Light Across The land

Sunlight floods the peaks around Hathersage

Winter Sunrise on Higger Tor

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At first nothing but dark silence,
stretches across the moor.
Frozen and still in the ice,
under the crystalline moon.

Ice puddles recall footprints,
of visitors past.
But I am alone,
none are here now.

Nothing stirs in this liminal place,
even the wind.
Frosted rocks suspended,
waiting for the warmth of the sun.

A sliver of light to the east,
pale but gathering strength.
A line of division,
chasing away the colourless night.

The horizon becomes a delicate spectrum,
of blues and pink.
The moor begins to wake,
red grouse the first early risers.

Colour stained clouds,
announce that the sun is near.
Bright heralds of the coming,
of the Golden One.

Finally, there it is,
a pin-prick of light at first.
Rising pale and red,
out of the cloud.

How many civilisations,
have worshipped this moment of magic?
Raising great stones,
to mark it’s coming?

The rocks of the tor glow,
to greet the arrival of the sun.
Red hot coals,
amongst the white ashen frost.

Light floods across the moor,
yellow grass and brown heather.
Both set ablaze by the fire,
that rises in the east.

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A Brief Visit to Carhead Rocks

A burst of light at sunset.

A burst of light at sunset.

It is no bad thing that the Peak District is becoming an increasingly popular visitor destination. The views are stunning and it supports a whole industry of attractions and accommodation. It is a vital green space, providing a place to breathe for millions of visitors.

There are however, still some locations where a bit of welcome solitude can be found. Usually these are places that are a bit more difficult to reach, such as at the end of a steep climb or off the beaten track. There is one place that is in the heart of one of the most popular areas, under the noses of the thronging visitors to Stanage Edge, that is a joy for photographers. That is Carhead Rocks.

Nestled below the popular end of Stanage Edge and easily accessible from Hook’s Car car park, Carhead is often overlooked as visitors turn their gaze towards the impressive rock faces of Stanage. Modest in comparison to many of the Peak’s better known edges and with no known historical sites or associations (although there is a ruined chapel and a Romano-British village within walking distance), what Carhead does offer is a bit of peace and quiet, as well as some fine views over the North Lees estate towards Bamford Moor and Win Hill.

A curious feature is a rock that has become commonly known as the ‘Knuckle Stone’, that perches on the highest point of the edge and has stood there for a very long time, judging by the deeply weathered grooves that it displays. How it came to rest in its current position is unknown, whether by glacial action or erosion, or by the hand of early man can only be speculation.

Despite its diminutive stature, Carhead is well worth a visit for the photographic opportunities that it presents and for the prospect of a nice quiet couple of hours.

Light over Bamford Moor.

Light over Bamford Moor.

Light breaks on a damp Autumn morning.

Light breaks on a damp Autumn morning.

Warm spring light at sunset.

Warm spring light at sunset.

Moody evening skies reflected in a small pool.

Moody evening skies reflected in a small pool.

Erosion in action! Ice clings to the Knuckle Stone.

Erosion in action! Ice clings to the Knuckle Stone.

Pike Lowe

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The peak is ahead,
Pike Lowe.
I’ve seen it often from afar,
the king of Midhope Moor.
Many times I’ve walked around its base,
but today, I’m heading for the top.

The path ends abruptly,
now there is nothing but open moor.
There is no easy way,
I follow a ruined wall over the gently rising bog.
Towards the horizon,
looking for the easiest steps.

One footfall at a time,
sinking into moss and peat.
Giant spider tree roots crawl from the black,
straining into the light.
Reeds become stepping stones,
a hop, a jump, a squelch.

Higher now,
the bog concedes to rock.
The bones of the hill,
broken tooth crown around its head.
The gentle moorland symphony replaced,
by the clashing howl of wind.

Now to the summit,
surges of wind push me back.
The great cairn at the highest point,
collection of stone that began in the Bronze Age.
The sun is growing weak,
smothered by spoiling cloud.

Light quickly flees,
colour draining in the half light.
Turning, the wind at my back,
picking and sliding down the steep sides.
The bog awaits ahead,
to the darkening east.

A Wander Along Bamford Edge

Bamford Edge offers some of the best views in the Peaks.

Bamford Edge offers some of the best views in the Peaks.

Bamford Edge is an oddly overlooked place, considering its prominence between Stanage Edge and Derwent Valley. In the numerous times that I have been there, I have probably encountered less than half a dozen people in total. Very different to the southern section of Stanage Edge, which is often teeming with walkers.

My preferred method of getting onto the edge is to park by the stile over the fence and do the short, sharp assent through the quarry and up onto the top of the moor, getting all of the hard work over and done early on!

The top of the moor and the slow moorland descent to the foot of Stanage Edge, is peppered with cairns, enclosures, a small stone circle and a toppled standing stone, known as the Old Woman Stone (toppled during World War Two, along with many other markers and signposts). Most of these are now hidden in the heather and very hard to find.

This route affords some great views to the south and is the best spot on the moor for sunrise. For most of the year, the sun rises over Stanage Edge, so by the time it has risen enough to clear Stanage as well as the brow of the moor, to cast light on the rocks of Bamford Edge, it has lost much of its softness and is starting to get quite harsh.

The view south from Bamford Moor

The view south from Bamford Moor

Sunrise over Stanage Edge

Sunrise over Stanage Edge

Early light onBamford Moor

Early light on Bamford Moor

The path to the edge

The path to the edge

After a short walk along the top of the moor, you reach the scattered remains of a grouse butt, from here you can take the path to your left and walk down to the edge. If Bamford Moor is the domain of the ancient dead, then Bamford Edge is the domain of the mason, with evidence of quarrying and millstone production scattered across the edge.

Bamford Edge offers some of the finest views in the Peaks, particularly from Great Tor. To the north is Ladybower Reservoir, spanned by Ashopton Bridge, to the south, Derwent Valley stretches away towards Hathersage and to the west, the arm of Hope Valley sweeps towards Winnats Pass. Directly in front of you is the mass of Win Hill, behind it lurking the Great Ridge and Kinder Scout.

At the southern end of Bamford Edge lies what almost looks like a stone mason’s shelter, surrounded by quarry spoil and unfinished millstones. From here you can take the winding, slowly descending path back to the road.

Bamford Edge and WIn Hill

Bamford Edge and Win Hill

Early morning mist in Derwent Valley

Early morning mist in Derwent Valley

Storm over Bleaklow, from Great Tor.

Storm over Bleaklow, from Great Tor.

Remains of millstone production

Remains of millstone production

An old grouse butt, overlooking Win Hill

An old grouse butt, overlooking Win Hill

Curbar Edge Pinnacle Stone: The Sentinel

The Watcher

A single finger of rock, perched on the edge,
that only the brave dare to conquer.
I edge closer, shuffling, seated on crumbling rock,
clinging to last year’s heather.

Lone and mute, birds give you your voice,
the early risers in the crow’s nest.
Swathed in eiderdown mist, the valley below,
villages still slumber beneath you.

The slow creep of cold dawn, shows the ice on your face,
but time to you has no meaning.
Surely, as season follows season, year after year,
you will always be watching.