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Logging Madness in Hardcastle Crags

From John Getty

Monday, 17 December 2012

Has anyone noticed the supposed 'forest management' going on around Hardcastle Crags?

They keep cutting down very healthy looking trees for no good reason that I can see. I've asked the National Trust about it but they just repeat the party line of 'it's woodland management'...

The only management I can see is that they're turning perfectly healthy trees into logs for their cabins and whatnot and some very sick old trees are being left around (I suspect because they won't make pretty firewood and building logs..!)

Well I like the woods down there but they're not big enough to be being used as a source of lumber nor are they easily and readily re-grown. Nor from what I can see are they making any effort to replace what they've cut down... I think this is a big problem that is going unnoticed by most because the National Trust can flash a 'we know best' at people.

Something needs to be done though because it really isn't on.

I have lived up at at Walshaw for 30 years and until a couple of years ago the National Trust didn't need a chainsaw. Recently the work on tree cutting has become a major occupation in the woods. My wife and I witnessed five people feverishly working at sawing and chopping logs to go on their little truck the other day. Never before have we witnessed National Trust employees breaking a sweat and yet these guys were positively enthusiastic about their "work". They looked somewhat sheepish when they saw us watching them however...!

Are they selling these logs - and if so who gets the money?

Someone in Authority needs to go now and look at the area just above the mill pond on the right. Today it looks like at least twenty more, one hundred year old healthy trees are being destroyed having been freshly cut down. This is just the most recent example of this vandalism that is clearing large areas of the crags of trees. We don't need clearings in the wood there are enough deforested acres just a few hundred yards up the moor.

Please get someone who cares to take a look.

From Andy M

Thursday, 20 December 2012


Woodland management for the purposes of regeneration, conservation and biological diversity will, by and large, necessitate a clearance programme. For example: woodland glades/open spaces are very important habitats for invertebrates, ground level flora etc and the reality is, that in woods of limited size, these habitats often have to be purposefully created and managed.

Felling can look destructive but is better for the health of the woodland in the long term.

Have a look on the web eg Forestry commission woodland management/ conservation etc and there's plenty of material! Or try asking the NT what their conservation aims are but there's recent info here.

From Reg Slater

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

The logging that John Getty is referring to on the right of the track just above Gibson Mill is definitely not intended to provide a woodland glade/open space. The mature and healthy trees felled were bordering an already extensive open area. They are, as it happens, adjacent to the main track and very convenient for transport and for the timber yard just below - which coincidentally has expanded greatly in recent years. As a long term member of the NT I'm curious to know exactly why those particular trees were felled.

I quote from a notice displayed on a tree in the Crags.

'Although they may look natural most of the trees you see here at Hardcastle Crags were planted in the 1870's. Beech, Sycamore and Scots Pine were planted none of which are actually native to West Yorkshire. By selectively felling small areas of trees, particularly conifers, we will gradually restore the woodland to a more natural state. Over time this this work will improve the structure of the woodland, helping to create better conditions for our wildlife and visitors.'

So trees which have been here a century and a half are still regarded as 'not native to West Yorkshire' - still aliens. If the same arguments were applied to human beings most of our population would be beyond the pale. In Jerusalem Farm, near where I live, one hundred year old magnificent beech trees have been felled for the same spurious reasons - despite protests from local residents. Beech are native to southern England - hardly a distant foreign land. Scots Pine are generic to Scotland, supposedly part of Britain, but obviously not recognised as such by the tree bigots in Hardcastle. These trees create their own micro-climate just as valuable to wildlife in Hardcastle as they were to the wildlife in their indigenous forests.

I doubt there are many visitors to Hardcastle who have been dissatisfied with the state of the woods. They do get upset when they see the vandalism that is taking place in the name of 'woodland management'. Tree stumps, wood chippings, and timber yards and are not what they walk in the Crags to see, and I presume these 'improvements' are going to continue in future years.

There is also felling taking place further up the main track, on the left, allegedly 'to improve the view of the old Crags as it was a century ago' and 'because these trees are reaching the end of their natural life'. The conifers here, which I believe are Scots Pine, normally live between 150-300 years, and I doubt these are anywhere near that age. However - a good excuse for chopping down even more trees.

Curiously most of the felled trees and the 'small areas' being created are not in the remoter parts of the woodland and on the steeper slopes.They are being felled in an easily accessible area adjacent to the main track, and convenient for easy transport - valuable commodities to be sold, or used in the furnace of Gibson Mill. The timber of the Scots Pine, the main target for the chain saw enthusiasts, is one of the strongest softwoods and is widely used in the construction industry and in joinery and for use as telegraph poles, gate posts, fencing etc.

Everywhere there are obtrusive signs springing up, and evidence of 'improvements'. Hardcastle has become a commercial enterprise, starting to resemble Disneyland rather than a wild place - which has been it's distinctive appeal previously. Arguments that woodland is being improved by returning it to it's 'natural state' of a century and a half ago are ridiculous and should be seen as the confidence trick that they undoubtedly are.

Strangely, in other areas there is evidence of a distinct lack of interest and activity by the custodians of our Crags. The tracks leading down to Gibson Mill from the car park on Widdop Road for instance - damaged in the floods earlier in the year, and now left with deep chasms, which can only be described as dangerous. Nothing has been done to repair them. Similarly the bridge upstream of Gibson Mill, brought down in the same floods, is still down after many months. It's a pity the same enthusiasm and labour devoted to chain saws could not be applied to the repair of these.

But of course there is no commercial benefit to be gained here.


From Andy M

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

There you go - best to ask them directly if you have any concerns re: specific operations and objectives rather than speculating.

Personally, as a regular visitor to the Craggs, I have seen little to concern me and prefer to see it as a working environment rather than as a gradually decaying garden. I wouldn't like to see all the ornamental trees go but I'm sure that's not the intention.

From Anne Handley

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

When I studied forestry (30 years ago!) I was astonished by the popular attitude that all logging (and all loggers) are bad! Those nasty foresters just want to chop down beautiful trees and sell the timber! And to be fair, commercial forestry is a bit like that - it's an industry, like agriculture. You wouldn't expect sheep farmers to think 'I don't want to slaughter my sheep, I'll leave them in the fields for the general public to enjoy the view'. But forests are managed for lots of different reasons, and in this country it's often not commercial.

It seems some of you can only grudgingly accept that the NT are managing their forests for amenity and ecological purposes, and seem to think that, really they are foresters at heart and just want to chop down trees and sell the timber.

The NT's main aim is conservation and it must be difficult knowing whether to conserve what was present 100 years ago or 500 hundred years ago. However, trees that were planted by man (whether it was in 1870 or 1970) are clearly not part of the natural ecosystem and are not representative of native woodland in this valley.

From Reg Slater

Friday, 4 January 2013

Anyway, as a result of this thread or otherwise, NT has erected a post with an explanation for the chopping down of the dozen conifers on the open site above Gibson Mill. Believe it or not, it’s to develop habitat for the Hairy Northern Ant! So cutting down conifers, which provide pine needles which they use to build their nests, and use for their aphid farms up in the trees, is a way of helping them. The main nesting sites for the ants are in the pine woods on the slopes much further down the track below Gibson Mill - where similar carnage has recently taken place.

In the past this open site above Gibson Mill where the conifers have been savaged has been used for open air events and has a track running through it. We have all seen what happens to the nests that the unfortunate ants build adjacent to tracks. They get destroyed by the less environmentally conscious (putting it kindly) visitors to Hardcastle.

I’m also somewhat taken by Ms Handley’s breath-taking statement ‘that trees planted by man (whether it was 1870 or 1970) are clearly not part of the natural ecosystem and are not representative of native woodland in this valley’. So, not content with excluding trees not originating in West Yorkshire, she now wants to exclude all trees not originating in Hardcastle!!

This is puritanical arboriculture at its worst - ideologically motivated exclusion of the most extreme kind. I wonder how Treesponsibility, White Rose Forest, Carbon Footprint, Tree Council and a range of other UK planting bodies would manage to operate under these conditions.

The mind-set displayed by these purists in regard to trees is shocking. A healthy 100 year old tree, whether it was planted by man or is self- sown, whether Beech, Sycamore or Scots Pine is precious - something to be treasured and preserved. A tree that has survived for a century or more is obviously well adapted to its environment, will have a well-developed micro ecosystem and support a whole web of invertebrate and other life dependent upon it. It is supreme arrogance for some self-styled ‘woodland manager’ to presume they can improve on this – and destroy in minutes what nature has taken decades to provide.

We now have a variety of reasons in the Crags as justification for the chain saw addiction.

1. To provide open areas by eliminating ‘non-native’ trees – even though they have been here a century or more.
2. To return the view of the old Crags as it was a century ago – allegedly for visitors benefit.
3. To encourage the ants as above
4. To improve the view from some of the higher tracks – the trees that have been destroyed just reveal more trees.

The reasons given are creative – I’ll give them that.


From Anne Handley

Friday, 4 January 2013

I merely wanted to point out the difference between natural regeneration and man's interference by planting trees (whether they are native species or not).

Yes, you would have to be a purist to say that all trees that had been planted 100 years ago should be removed! Surely, the conservation team at the Crags have to compromise between the purist approach of returning the woodland to how it we believe it must have been before man's interference and the more conservative, pragmatic approach of leaving things as they are now. An important criterion is clearly preventing certain native species from becoming endangered, such as the hairy ants.
It's not that different from conservation of listed buildings etc. There is an ideal to aim for, but there's also a compromise with what work has been done in the past and the current functionality of the building/woodland.

Anyway, we should all learn more at the meeting on Thursday. I'm sure we will discover a variety of reasons for the current felling - none of which are due to chain saw addiction!

From Reg Slater

Monday, 7 January 2013

So the planting of trees 150 years ago was 'interference' but demolition by chain saw in 2012 is not interference. Curious logic. I'm sure all the tree planting agencies mentioned above will be pleased to know that all they are doing is 'interfering'. The reason Hardcastle is so attractive to visitors is by the planting efforts of custodians of the Crags 150 years ago – not by the culling efforts of the present generation.

And incidentally, it is interesting to note that the notice displayed a couple of weeks ago, in explanation of the logging activity above Gibson Mill has been replaced. It no longer refers to preservation of the Hairy Ants. Instead it now informs us that the cull is to create small open areas by clearing trees planted in the 1870s (they were 1970s trees on the previous notice), which don't belong in West Yorkshire - the good old beech, sycamore and scots pine again. Good to know they know what they are doing.

And these small open areas are around a large open area. The logic still defeats me. I hope the hackers never get around to Crimsworth Dean where the magnificent beech woods on the eastern slopes must be a mouth- watering prospect for them.

From Andy M

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

So what do you suggest Reg?

if you leave the woods untouched you'll end up with a lot of sycamore and precious little biodiversity - and eventually landscape - value.

From Reg Slater

Friday, 11 January 2013

Seeing as you ask - that is exactly what I would do. Leave the Sycamore alone.

It is one of the oldest tree species on the planet and is an important tree in woodland habitats. It was naturalised in Britain before 1500 and is a highly productive tree, producing a crop of seeds more often, and more reliably, than beech or oak. It also supports huge numbers of aphids, which together with the seeds, are an important food source for wildlife. The flowers produce abundant quantities of nectar, which makes it very important for our endangered bee populations, and for other insects. Older trees which have hollowed out are used by bats for nesting and roosting. There are allegedly eight different bat species in Hardcastle so the Sycamore is also important for the preservation of these.

It therefore plays an important ecological role and rather than detracting from the bio-diversity of the woodland - as you suggest - it is an invaluable asset.

However, it does require moist soil conditions with good drainage, and therefore usually grows near rivers and streams. It also needs full sunlight to remain healthy and is not a climax tree. For these reasons it is highly unlikely to take over the Crags - as you imply.

So - the Sycamore is a valuable part of any mixed woodland. But unfortunately is also victimised by the tree bigots, for whom 500 years of residence is insufficient to qualify for a tree passport. They still regard it as non-native and therefore a prime chain saw target in their zealous pursuit of woodland purity

From Anne Handley

Friday, 11 January 2013

Contrary to what you might think, I am not a tree bigot - and I'm not a purist - I'm a pragmatist and I believe conservationists have to use a bit of common sense and also stick to what is achievable.

With regards to sycamore, as you so rightly say, it is abundant pretty much everywhere in the UK. It's a very successful species.

But if we are going to preserve some examples of native woodland, such as the Crags, then we can't let sycamore, or Himalayan balsam, or any other species take over to any great extent - at least not in these specific areas designated for conservation.

I certainly wouldn't recommend wholesale felling of sycamore just because it's not native! But neither does it need our special protection. As you say it is abundant.

From William Brown

Saturday, 12 January 2013

Nothing wrong with Sycamore, which is a magnificent tree when given space to develop a good branch structure. However, self-seeded within an existing woodland does not do the tree, or the woodland, any favours.

Sycamore takes the place where Ash should be growing and can come into leaf 4 to 6 weeks before Ash. This early shade mitigates against the spring flowers, which are shade evaders. Sycamores do not flower well in a woodland situation. This subject may soon be rather academic as the species may not be with us much longer. Grey squirrels are stripping the bark off young sycamore/beech and either killing them or causing severe die-back. There is also the fungus Cryptostroma corticale which is now spreading fast and killing sycamores.

Reg mentions 'climax species' but this is a misleading way of looking at woodlands. Oak, which many think of as a climax species, is really a pioneer species, does not tolerate shade and thrives best in a woodland edge or clearing.

Anyway Reg's type of woodland has been with us in many places in the Calder Valley for too long and we have been lead to believe this gloom is how woods are supposed to look. Not so, its a 20thC fabrication of a woodland structure, the like of which has never occured in previous centuries.

Has Reg seen the large mature Sycamores that are dead, further on Widdop Road; these (and there plenty of other trees disappearing fast) are the landscape feature trees we do not want to lose but no one ever seems to notice or care. Their loss is far more irreplaceable than any lost through woodland management. A cared for woodland will always survive but our late 18thC and 19thC treed landscape is forgotten and is not being replaced. Woodlands are being planted everywhere but very few people are planting trees. There is a difference.

From Reg Slater

Monday, 14 January 2013

Well William, you make some interesting points some of which I agree with, particularly concerning the fate of landscape trees. Unfortunately trees on roadsides or bordering farmland are likely to attract the attention of zealous council officialdom for health and safety reasons, or farmers who by and large dislike trees. The comment I got from a local farmer when I planted trees on my land was ‘We’ve spent years getting rid of trees and you ‘off-cumdons’ come along and replant them.’

However, you too seem to be of the purist persuasion that the only woodland worth having is that from several centuries ago. The whimsical harking back to a bygone age when everything was ‘natural’ is unfortunately pure fantasy. The good old days when only native trees existed in our green and pleasant land are long gone, and attempts to restore woodland purity are misplaced. Multiculturism is here to stay - a fact of life in the plant world as it is in our human populations.

There are good reasons why we should positively encourage planting of more non-native species. There are only about 34 ‘native’ tree species in Britain and the average number found in any typical wood is less than 10 - because some are niche species which will only grow under certain conditions of soil, rainfall or temperature. Therefore the chance of some new disease or insect predator causing devastation in that woodland is significant (greater than 1 in 10).

And these diseases keep coming. Ash dieback (Chalara fraxinea) could kill millions of trees. Phytophthora ramorum has led to the killing of thousands of larch. Our beloved ‘conker’ tree, horse chestnut, is threatened by bleeding canker (Pseudomonas syringae), and we all know what has happened to our elm trees. Potential climate change with more extreme weather events could threaten several native species, including beech.

Woodland should not be restricted to native trees – diversity should be the watchword. In Hardcastle our chain-saw wielding ‘woodland managers’ should be following this approach, and rather than eliminating non-natives should be actively planting these to protect against devastation by disease and climate change. The more variety you have in woodland the more robust its defences are likely to be.

And incidentally I’ve never experienced walking in a ‘gloomy’ 20th century wood around here. I find every type of woodland interesting, with the possible exception of the dreary conifer mono-cultures beloved of the Forestry Commission - and worse still the ‘managed’ areas in Hardcastle.


From William Brown

Monday, 14 January 2013

I am not a purist for native species, as Reg has suggested. Indeed in a place such as Hardcastles where the attraction is generated by a different planting regime, then I see no problem in accommodating different species.

Even so, some species in the Calder Valley do not make good woodland trees, of which Beech and Sycamore are prime examples. A woodland is not necessarily wall to wall trees, of whatever species, and appropriate management can benefit both wildlife and people.

Our local woodlands are probably shadier than at any time in history and many are severly degraded. That is what I meant by our woods being 20thC fabrications; they have the illusion of looking and acting like a wood but examined closely they are derelict and many will not survive.

It's all a question of giving a woodland something to live for. Ignored and it will die of boredom.

From Reg Slater

Friday, 18 January 2013

'Ignored' and 'bored'? Would the trees dance with delight if the men with chain saws arrived ?

I would not describe the woodland of the Calder Valley as derelict and degraded. I can see nothing wrong with the woods in Jumble Hole Clough, Spring Wood, Cragg Vale, Luddenden Dean, Callis Wood, Brearley Wood etc. Most of the woodland around here is on scarp slopes in the cloughs and has mainly escaped agricultural use. The trees have therefore, by and large, been left to their own devices – and all the better for it.

The steep slopes are natural sanctuaries for wild life, being difficult for humans to penetrate and disturb. The trees are mostly self-sown and as older trees die and collapse, new saplings spring up to take their place. That is what woods do, and have done for millennia, before man arrived on the scene to 'manage' them. And unsurprisingly they are shady. You don't expect to get a sun tan by a walk in the woods.

I quote from head of forestry at the National Trust :
"One of the legacies we have learned [from the Great Storm of 1987 when millions of trees were felled] is that woodlands look after themselves pretty well. Just after the storm one of my colleagues went over a lot of our parks and gardens and took aerial shots in order to get an idea of tree and woodland damage. For the 20th anniversary of the storm, we redid it. Some of the areas that had not been replanted were basically back to woodlands - they had regenerated naturally. Whereas if you try planting trees into these systems at an early stage, then you end up with a huge maintenance job to look after the trees you planted, because they are being swamped by the natural regeneration trees, which tend to be more vigorous. This is because they come out of the ground straight from seed; they have not had the shock of being taken from a nursery and planted in the ground. So now, we leave a lot of woodlands to see what happens naturally,"

So, he has realised belatedly that nature knows best. Unfortunately the message has not got through to the custodians of Hardcastle.

The biggest immediate threat to common beech, at least in northern England, now comes from conservation organisations and wildlife trusts, who think the species should only exist within its natural spread of thousands of years ago. Nobody has bothered to define what constitutes natural spread. There is no doubt that beech is well adapted to our northen climate and pollen dating suggests that beech have been here in England since the last ice age. Nevertheless, beech is being 'ethnically cleansed' from parts of the north including Cumbria, North Wales and as far south as Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire - on the grounds that it is not native to these areas.

Fortunately groups of local people not imbued with the peculiar ideological baloney of the tree pedants are fighting back and have been successful on many occasions in stopping the vandalism and saving these superb trees.

From William Brown

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Reg, I think you will find that even the steep sided valley woodlands have been 'managed' or messed about with in the past. Where do you think timber for fuel/building/tools came from before the convenience era? Virtually all woodlands are in their present state due to human interference. Spring Wood, which Reg mentions may have been a coppiced wood at some stage, to which the name 'Spring' could be a clue.

I agree with Reg and the Forestry Commission when they say self-seeding is better than planting, within an existing wood. What he fails to say is that the FC are keen advocates of woodland management and have stated that our woodlands are far too shady. (In the Great Storm the trees that survived the best were those that had been managed for centuries).

There was a report commissioned in 1986 by Calderdale Council from the Institute of Terrestrial Ecology, specifically looking at Calderdale's woodlands. It makes for depressing reading about the present state and future of our local woods. Try and read a copy of this and then see what you think.
There is nothing wrong with having a Beech tree but please bear in mind that proliferating Beech saplings may eventually kill, by shading, the variety of species which attracts most people to the Crags.

I may be wrong but contrary to what Reg is saying, I thought Beech was the last tree to arrive in the South East of England after the ice age, before the land bridge with the continent was flooded by rising sea levels. Beech only really arrived in our area during the planting fashion of 1780 onwards.

The only 'ideological baloney' (to quote Reg) is the idea that Hardcastle Crags is a special woodland where no trees should be touched. Saville when he planted the estate in the 19thC would be somewhat bemused by this idea.

From Reg Slater

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

I'm afraid you have got it wrong William. Beech has been in this country for at least 12,000 years. Quote: Rackham: 'Despite some claims to the contrary, beech is native to England and Wales. Its wood and charcoal are known from the Bronze Age. Pollen records of beech go back even further than this - it has a long Pleistocene history in Britain. Fagus pollen was recorded in rafted peat sediments in County Durham in northern England'
[Bronze Age Britain spanned from c. 2,500 until c. 800 BC lasting for approximately 1700 years. The end of the Pleistocene corresponds with the end of the last glacial period about 12,000 years ago]

There is a campaign by Friends of the Rusland Beeches and South Lakeland Friends of the Earth launched in 2007 to reclassify the beech as native in Cumbria. The campaign is backed by Tim Farron MP who tabled a motion in December 2007 regarding the status of beech in Cumbria.

However, I wouldn't want to split hairs as the purists are so fond of doing. Even if this tree only arrived in the 1780's – I couldn't give a Fosters. Why is that a reason for chopping it down? Beech does not penetrate far in established woods and beech stands within mixed woodland are a tremendous feature, as can be seen on the Constitutional Walk upstream of Gibson Mill. From here up to Blake Dean is the best part of the Crags in my opinion, in large part due to these magnificent beech trees which probably date from planting by the Savile estate in the 18th century or before.

This area of Hardcastle, where Savile planted oak, beech, scots pine and larch has also since been much enhanced by many rowans, which are probably self-seeded. Savile obviously wasn't too concerned whether these trees were native or not. They remain largely unmolested, thank goodness.

I have no problem with sensitive management - wood piles to encourage invertebrates, or nest boxes, or planting of berry bearing shrubs and trees – so vital to birds at this time of the year (though not much of the latter goes on so far as I can see in Hardcastle.) What I do object to is the sort of industrial felling of trees to take out 'non-native' species, to 'improve the view as it was a century ago' - or to provide timber for sale, or burning in Gibson Mill.

Incidentally – it wasn't the Forestry Commission I was quoting it was the head of forestry in the National Trust – and I don't believe that managed trees survive wind-throw better than self-sown ones. Provide the evidence. Unless of course the 'managed' trees are stumps, in which case they probably would.


From William Brown

Friday, 25 January 2013

Thank you Reg for the update on the Beech introduction following the last ice age.
Just to re-iterate, I am not a 'native only' purist but do recognise that virtually all woods are the result of human influence.

Most woods until recent history were 'working woods' and before this they were heavily modified by wild animals. Never in history have woodlands been in a long static period until the present.

Sycamore is light demanding when mature but the saplings have shade tolerance and will, even though small, have quite a negative influence on the ground flora. Many young sycamore and beech are now ruined by grey squirrel bark stripping and we may not be able to produce the fine mature trees we have at present.

Beech is not a long lived tree and 160 years is a good age in our valley, after which problems of collapse begin to appear. Unless a Beech dominated area is wished for, maybe leave the old trees alone but prevent the secondary growth.

Management for butterflies and wildflowers is also important and if thinning of any species (native or otherwise) to achieve this is required, I see no reason why this couldn't comply with your terms 'sensitive management'. There is no reason why your berry bearing shrubs and trees should be absent but if light conditions had encouraged them, maybe there would be more. Hazel should be extensive but present light levels do not produce nuts.

I am glad you mentioned Oliver Rackham, he personally felled the last conifer in a specific woodland just over a year ago. Different woodland, different management plan but not necessarily wrong.

As far as the Great Gale and managed trees; trees closely grown within woodlands do not develop strong and extensive root systems, or reactive wood on their stems, to withstand gales, as those more widely spaced do. Creating the blow down gaps is replicating the more open and varied aged woodlands that used to pertain before the 20th century thought of woodlands as useless artifacts.

Pollards, some of which are hundreds of years old and open grown, in the main suffered little damage. Perhaps these are the 'stumps' to which you referred.

Apart from tree diseases, imported via trees from around the world, our biggest threat to woodlands is deer. They are now in every wood in the valley. Apparently there are now more deer in the country than at anytime in history.

However, I know Reg likes trees and appreciates them. Differences of opinion are healthy and make the National Trust think about what it is doing. Far better than neglect or apathy. A bit like woodlands really!

From Reg Slater

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Well William that is a comprehensive coverage of various issues plus a few more thrown into the mix. Do I sense that you are connected in some way with the NT in the Crags? You appear to speak with some authority.

I absolutely agree that neglect and apathy are the worst things in most walks of life, but sometimes woodlands can thrive on being left alone, as the head of forestry at the National Trust has testified.

I do hope your comments about deer do not result in the culling of these beautiful creatures to add to the NT list of commercial opportunities. I know that venison is a valuable meat, much prized in butcher's shops. 'Hardcastle Crags venison' would not sit too well with Bambi lovers in Hebden Bridge. We have seen local examples of this where a butcher's shop in Halifax has advertised 'Luddenden Dean venison' for sale.

Seeing glimpses of deer in Hardcastle is one of the highlights of a walk – and I can't imagine that the Crags is likely to be overrun by these creatures anyway given its 'Family Friendly Visitor Centre' objectives. Decent weather days in the Crags nowadays attract nearly as many people as Blackpool beach – likely to frighten off any of these shy creatures I would hazard.

The list of crimes against animals that our 'protectors of the countryside' will have to answer for is long enough already. Interference with nature's natural order in the pursuit of agribusiness profit is sickening.

Rabbits have been exterminated in the vilest possible way by introduced myxomatosis. Foxes, their natural predators, are trapped and shot as vermin. Grey squirrel are seen as 'tree rats' to be destroyed. Badgers are now on borrowed time awaiting the dogs and guns. On the moorland fringes stoat and weasel are caught with hideous 'backbreaker' traps. Raptors are poisoned to protect grouse. Larsen traps take out crows, rooks, magpies and jackdaws indiscriminately, whilst the grouse in turn are destined to be shot for 'sport' by wealthy landowners and their acolytes.

The NT should have no part in this. In fact they should be speaking out as conservationists against this wanton destruction of wildlife.

I am also somewhat sceptical concerning the wildflowers and butterflies that will arrive when the woodland is opened up by chopping down healthy trees. This again seems to me to be harking back to some idyllic time when woods were only composed of native trees and all sorts of ground flora flourished in the bountiful and natural conditions.

There are already large open areas on the south west facing slopes of the Crags which, far from supporting flowers and butterflies, grow nothing more than bracken. In fact bracken is ubiquitous in the Crags, and together with brambles and nettles probably occupy over 90% of the ground area. I've studied the NT literature and website but can find no reference to eradication of bracken. No indication of any sort that NT is in the least bit bothered about it.

These areas of bracken on the south west slopes, which must occupy several acres in total, and where the bracken reachs head height in summer months, have long intrigued me. Unless they support some rare lizards or reptiles, I can't imagine why they have been left to themselves given the NT enthusiasm for 'management'.

Apart from any other considerations the bracken litter must be a fire hazard, particularly during the extreme hot weather events we have had in recent years - and likely to get more of in future. That hillside is ripe for a major conflagration, which would probably also take out the pinewoods where the hairy ants nest. As you probably know, pine wood will burn like no other due to the volatile resins in the wood. We have seen such a fire on the slopes of Colden Clough only a few seasons ago. The ants would survive – they will survive a nuclear blast - but their nesting sites and most other plant and animal life on those slopes would be devastated.

Given the NT penchant for health and safety, I'm at a loss to understand why these slopes are apparently ignored. But I suppose, on second thoughts, fire would create an awful lot of open space and save a lot of effort in chopping down those trees.


From William Brown

Sunday, 27 January 2013

Reg, to avoid any misunderstanding, I have no involvement at all with the National Trust but, like you, just enjoy woodlands and all the wildlife.