A trio of Access & Environment workshops

Hosted by ecologist, David Broom

As part of the excellent CPD workshop programme organised by the MTA Peak District regional group coordinator Stephen Jones, it has been my pleasure to provide a series of workshop days this year focusing on the Access and Environment components of the various Mountain Training award schemes.

Following an initial discussion with Stephen, Belinda and Jo over coffee and cakes in the Outside café in Hathersage it became clear that to provide a worthwhile CPD event to fully support the interests of MTA members, a series of workshops would be ideal. In particular, this would provide opportunities to cover key Access and Environment issues relevant to the Lowland Leader, Hill and Moorland and Mountain Leader schemes. The plan which grew from this meeting comprised a lowland day in the White Peak countryside around Cromford in Derbyshire, a hill and moorland day in the Dark Peak countryside above Edale in the Peak District National Park and a mountain day in the Borrowdale area of the Lake District National Park.

White Peak Lowland Day

White Peak
The first workshop was held on a hot and sunny day during June 2017. Stephen and myself had devised a circular route for the workshop that passed through an area of countryside between Wirksworth and Cromford in Derbyshire. The route included a series of locations where we could discuss a wide range of access and environment features and topics. These included some of the best unimproved limestone grassland and ancient semi-natural woodland sites in south Derbyshire, and some areas of fascinating industrial archaeology and agricultural heritage interest.

For most of the locations on the workshop route I had prepared a set of laminated topic cards. These were used as prompts for each member of the group to give a short talk on key features of interest at each stop location. By the end of the day everyone in the group had plenty of practice at this and were providing a masterclass in enthusiastic interpretation of a few simple facts about the ecology, agricultural and industrial heritage of the White Peak landscape. The day ended with some welcome shade from the sun with a walk along a wooded section of the High Peak Trail.

This was a great start to the series of CPD days. The group was enthusiastic and readily got to grips with the topic card sessions. At the end of the day we had looked at the identification of an impressive range of plant species within unimproved limestone grassland, traditional hay meadow and ancient Ash woodland habitats. We also had an opportunity to look at an example of internationally important vegetation that develops on abandoned mine spoil. Our route provided opportunities to look at traditional field patterns with drystone walls and field barns that are so characteristic of the distinctive White Peak landscape. The group was also treated to Stephen’s expert explanation of the extensive complex of eighteenth century canals, sluices and buildings that comprises the internationally important Cromford Mill.

Dark Peak Hill and Moorland Day

Dark Peak
The second workshop day was held on another hot and sunny day, this time during July 2017. For this workshop Stephen and myself devised a circular route that lead onto the Kinder plateau from Edale in the Peak District National Park. We followed the same approach as that adopted for the White Peak workshop where I prepared a set of topic cards for use by group members at specific locations of interest along the route. Combined with ‘walk and talk’ contributions we covered a broad range of access and environment interest features within a hill and moorland setting.

These included opportunities to look in some detail at the ecology and plant species composition of dry and wet acid grassland, dry and wet heath vegetation and the vegetation of blanket peat. By the end of the workshop the group had worked through the identification of an impressive range of grasses, herbs and dwarf shrubs and several lichen species that characterise the principal vegetation types of the sub-montane ecological zone. The Kinder plateau also provided a fantastic opportunity to review a range of important upland conservation issues. We discussed the ecology of footpath erosion in the uplands and the range of options for managing its ecological impact. We also discussed the causes and consequences of peatland degradation and looked at several examples of ecological restoration methods that are being used on the Kinder moorland plateau.

This was another very enjoyable day, with an enthusiastic group who were eager to participate in discussions and topic card talks.

Borrowdale Mountain Day

Borrowdale
The final day of the workshop series was held in the area between Rosthwaite and Dale Head in the Borrowdale area of the Lake District central fells. This was held during October 2017 on a day of typically rainy and blustery Lake District weather. I had scoped out a route for the workshop that would visit a wide range of wildlife habitats that typify the high montane ecological zone. We spent time looking at fantastic examples of temperate rainforest, discussing their value in the conservation of internationally important bryophyte communities, and the importance of livestock grazing management in the conservation of upland woodland habitats.

As we made progress towards higher ground we looked at the gradual appearance of arctic-alpine and other montane plant species in the vegetation. This continued to a point where, despite the deteriorating weather and poor visibility, we could look at relict arctic tundra vegetation high on the summit slopes of Dale Head. Other features and topics we were able to consider and discuss included the importance of livestock grazing management in the maintenance of montane heath and grass heath habitats, the specialised ecological adaptations that enable survival of arctic-alpine plant species in the British uplands, the importance of scrub as a montane habitat, and the importance of craneflies, short-tailed field voles and tiny moths in maintaining complex upland food chains, to name a few.

The choice of venue for the mountain day seemed to work well, providing opportunities to look at most of the principal habitat types that comprise the British montane zone. Yet again I enjoyed the company of a keen group who maintained their interest and participation in the workshop discussions despite some challenging weather.

I am extremely grateful to Stephen Jones for organising these workshops on behalf of the MTA Peak District regional group, and I look forward to doing it all again next year!

Written by

David Broom - qualified ecologist and instructor for Mountain Leader training and assessment courses.
3 is the magic number