The Protection of Our Rich and Natural Environment.


Chair Jean Pearson with David Wilson, Area Countryside Officer
Chair Jean Pearson with David Wilson, Area Countryside Officer

Early on in his talk on that subject at the April general meeting of Todmorden U3A, David Wilson pointed out that the responsibility for footpaths lies with the Public Rights of Way section of the council. David was speaking in his capacity as Upper Valley Area Countryside Officer and said his service receives many calls on the suject of footpaths as many understandably believe responsibility for their upkeep lies with them. Having said that, the Service is responsible for the Pennine Way and the Calderdale Way, and the Service is currently busy repairing a number of bridges which have been damaged by the recent heavy rainfalls.


David started by saying that the Service has been a victim of the cuts and less is being undertaken but then went on to tell his audience of how wide a brief the Service has, and how much, despite the cuts, is being done. David expressed his appreciation of the many volunteers who make this possible, some of whom were in the audience. Ogden Water Visitor Centre, for example, is entirely run by volunteers, who are supported by the Volunteers Co-ordinator. An Education Officer and Conservation Officer make up the rest of David’s team. Ogden Water attracts over 250,000 visitors a year. The Service is also responsible for Jerusalem Farm, along with 80 woodlands, the moors and Open Access lands. Street trees are also a responsibility of the Service.


David spoke of the invasive species found locally. Himalayan Balsam is familiar to many Calderdale residents and this plant is pushing out many native species. Moreover, when it dies back in the winter, nothing else grows, leaving the soil to be washed away. David encouraged his listeners to uproot as many of these plants as they can. The opposite is the case with Japanese Knotweed. Leave well alone, he advised, as it is all too easy to inadvertently spread by even the slightest of handling. It should certainly not be composted. Anyone encountering Japanese Knotweed should contact the council as specialist skills are needed to deal with it.


David then related the interesting story of Oxford Ragwort, poisonous to animals and humans. It was collected in Oxford but did not spread beyond the city until the advent of the railways. It established itself in the clinker of the railways and the trains then progressively transported it all over the country. Spanish Bluebell is another species that David encouraged his audience to uproot, as our native species is endangered by its spread. These are a paler blue or often pink or white in colour.


David explained how the Beech trees above Centre Vale Park will pose a problem as they were planted at the same time and so will age together and need replacing. Another problem the beeches create is that their large canopies allow little in the way of growth beneath and are not good for soil conservation. The plan is to plant a variety of native species which will aid the Service in another of its aims to encourage more wildlife, part of its Biodiversity Action Plan.


Partnerships with other with a wide range organisations is an important part of the Service’s work, including community groups and Friends of… Moor Watch, and the Police and Fire Services, to name but a few. David said that he has a finger in anything that’s Green.


In answer to questions, David said that the deer population is increasing but difficult to track and with no management as they move around and don’t stay in Calderdale! There is a fox population in Calderdale but not necessarily everywhere.


It’s not all serious stuff though. As well as the children’s activities that take place regularly, the Service mounted a Halloween event at Ogden Water that attracted 2,500 people, some of whom came from as far afield as Sheffield and Kendal. And David is the man behind the Boggart Festival. At the end of his warm and delightful talk, David was presented with a token of appreciation from Assistant Secretary Sarah Pennie.


Report by John Bouttell