Beacon Fell seeks volunteer Community Rangers
PUBLISHED: 00:00 05 June 2018
Credit: michael farrell / Alamy Stock Photo
The trail of storm devastation wreaked on Lancashire's Beacon Fell has cleared the way for a new era of care for our countryside, writes Cathy Darby.
If green spaces are the lungs of Lancashire, they had the air punched out of them by the recent storms – both physical and political. The latest, Storm Emma, swept in easterly blasts which devastated trees used to prevailing south westerlies, tossing them aside like pick-a-sticks.
Among the worst affected was Beacon Fell Country Park, Lancashire County Council’s busiest site, which lost an estimated 500 venerable trees in one hectare as the gales ripped a path through its dense, largely coniferous, woodland.
The effect was jaw-dropping where the vortex powered from east to west, scything through Tarn and Summit Woods, over the summit itself and on down through Starling Wood above the Life for a Life memorial garden. Peter Janus, who lives nearby, saw it first hand.
‘The Beast From the East having finally blown itself out, I walked up to the fell with the dogs to view the damage. Trees were down all over the place, either uprooted or simply snapped off part way up the trunk.
‘It was quite a scene of devastation. I suspect the Beacon Fell woodland, so used to being battered by the westerly winds, was taken completely by surprise by this vicious storm from the opposite direction. What a mess.’
So the challenge is on to cherish the Fell, an enchanting hill standing separate from the Forest of Bowland eight miles north of Preston, which is one of 90 sites owned and managed by the council. But its Countryside Service is not immune to reductions in council budgets, in which the original ten Countryside Rangers were reduced to two and half, and so has set out on a path to find new ways of managing costs and support their portfolio of sites. Excellent news for Lancashire’s nature lovers – but how will it work?
Countryside Services Manager Tim Blythe said they were looking to work with other organisations to develop a new band of volunteer Community Rangers made up of people who with close links to the areas.
Opened in October 1970, Beacon Fell is where volunteer training will be based and it is held in much affection. For instance, in December 2015 more than 4,000 people signed a petition to save its visitor centre.
It can claim to be one of the oldest country parks and it’s certainly one of the most popular with over a quarter of a million annual visitors to its 75 hectares of grassland, moorland and woods. Commanding views look east to the hills of the Trough of Bowland and lush Ribble Valley away to Pendle Hill, west to the Irish Sea, North Wales and the Lakes. And the hill holds memories of Viking settlements and beacon warnings such as that of the Spanish Armada in 1588.
Today the Fell’s guests come to catch sight of squirrels and sparrowhawks, perhaps even shy roe deer, to hear the clip clop of visiting horses and riders, to walk the dog along the trails, to enjoy picnics or set up family treasure hunts. A group of Duke of Edinburgh scheme schoolgirls chasing their award all the way from Ascot, who had to abandon their bid on the Brecon Beacons because of the Beast from the East, cheer joyfully as they claim the trig point at the 266ft-summit overlooking the Fylde coast and Morecambe Bay.
Prestonian Caroline Hawtin recalls adventures in the 1980s. ‘I remember cycling up Beacon Fell when I was a child. We used to stop off at the cafe at the bottom – with the black-and-white Tudor exterior. It seemed to take a long time to get there and it was always hot!’
Now this invitation to the public to get involved will help to create happy memories for the future. Volunteers are invited to sign up to be Information Assistants at the visitor centre. Duties will include giving advice and leaflets to visitors, small management tasks, site inspections and boundary checks. Country Park Rangers’ duties will additionally include patrolling and checking for damage. Volunteers are encouraged to undertake repairs and improvements and tools and equipment will be provided along with guidance and risk assessments. The Countryside Service will continue to supply polo shirts and fleeces to volunteers and a vehicle will be made available to utilise on the site.
Those who like hands-on tasks can already get stuck in to Practical Mondays which start at 10am at Carwags car park and include tree works, path improvements, walling and updating signage. Training days will coach volunteers on dealing with the public and emergencies, basic first aid and health and safety. It is also hoped to include guest speakers on relevant countryside topics.
Volunteer Co-ordinator Paul Shoreman said: ‘Volunteering in the countryside is a fantastic way of keeping fit and active, it makes a direct contribution to the health and well-being of the many residents of the county who use our recreation sites and will contribute directly to an enhanced landscape that everybody will be able to enjoy.
‘This is a new post for me and developing a diverse range of volunteer opportunities across all our countryside sites is certainly going to be challenging – but exciting and worthwhile.’
As well as helping to clear trees and debris to make paths and the circuit road safe in the aftermath of Emmageddon, plans to replace sculptor Thompson Dagnall’s iconic snake point a way to other public involvement in the future. After 20 years the wiggly wooden original which gave much fun to visiting children was rotting and dangerous, said Tim. So teacher Andy Harding at Cardinal Allen school in Fleetwood, whose pupils are regular visitors to the Fell, is seeking to raise £15,000 through sponsored walks and fund raising to join a £30,000 external grant from the Lancashire Environmental Fund, a landfill tax of with a proportion going to good causes. This would meet the £45,000 bill of a new snake and surrounding woodland management.
It’s a great example of community involvement in public spaces we all own. ‘The challenges and responsibilities of owning land don’t go away,’ said Tim. The storm devastation of 2018 may yet have a positive benefit if other partners come forward and the Volunteer scheme breathes new life into Lancashire’s green and pleasant lands.
* Volunteers are also invited to help out at Wycoller Country Park, Spring Wood, Crook o’Lune and Lee Quarry. Further details and information for all the sites mentioned are available by email from email@example.com.