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You can enter whatever you like but we think the most convincing arguments are regarding Bradford Council’s own stated aims to prioritise ‘biodiversity’, ‘environmental stewardship’ and ‘health and wellbeing’ through recreational activities such as walking and cycling.
Nationally, we have lost 97% of wildflower meadows since 1950. It’s difficult to think of another place in Bradford like Tong Park.
You can link to our review of the ecological significance of the valley if you want a bit of back up. It’s in the blog on our website.
The valley covers an altitudinal range from 50m at the confluence of the Gill Beck and River Aire up to 385m at the twelve apostles on the watershed of Rombald’s Moor.
Unsurprisingly, the whole area has been heavily utilised over the centuries; since sporadic settlement in Mesolithic times, through to the extensive woodland clearances of the Mid-Bronze Age (around 2000 BC) and enclosures from at least 1610 onwards (shown in a map of Baildon Moor by Robert Saxton of that date http://www.bradfordhistorical.org.uk/baildonmoor.html). Coal was extracted from shallow pits at many sites in the Baildon moor area from at least the 14th century until the end of the nineteenth -having a . The settlements of Low Hill, Sconce and Moorside subsisted on coal mining, quarrying, textiles, arable and livestock farming. In recent decades, the former predominantly agricultural landscape has become increasingly varied with leisure use for Golf Courses and horse paddocks.
Baildon Moor was purchased by the Bradford Corporation in 1899 to provide recreation for the populace and remains a ‘urban common’.
Rombald’s Moor is designated as an SSSI as part of the South Pennine Moors SPA/SAC (Special Protection Area, Special Area of Conservation) . This creates an obligation on planners to ensure that development within 7km does not adversely affect the area.
To the best of our knowledge, no other parts of the valley are protected by any designation conferring statutory protection although there are some Local Wildlife Sites (LWS) and most is ‘green belt’.
There’s a good variety of habitat types compressed into the study area. This review aims to look at each in turn and highlight aspects of particular significance.
Whilst it might be said that the Gill Beck catchment is nothing ‘special’, and maybe 70 years ago it wouldn’t have been; it must be borne in mind that we find ourselves in a situation where nature has declined to the point where there are fewer than 300 pairs of Curlew in the whole of England south of Birmingham, the number of UK Grey Partridge breeding pairs has declined by 64% in just 23 years from 1995 to 2018, Cuckoos by 75% and we have lost 97% of our wild flower meadows since the 1930s. The Gill Beck valley, which has all of these and more, represents a contiguous area of relatively wild country: a priceless resource on the doorstep of almost 2,000,000 people in the Leeds-Bradford conurbation.
The description of the South Pennine Moors SSSI, which encompasses Hawksworth moor describes ‘extensive areas of blanket bog occur on the upland plateaux which are interspersed with species-rich acidic flushes and mires. There are also mosaics of upland wet and dry heaths and acidic grasslands.’
Most of that part of Rombald’s moor which drains into the Gill Beck catchment remains managed grouse moor with sheep grazing, predator-control, drainage and regular burning.
The drainage network has been constructed to channel water, for example from Horncliffe Well, to Intake Gate and thus to Reva Reservoir.
Ling Calluna vulgaris is the dominant plant species. Also Crowberry, Bilberry and Sedges.
Heather moor on Baildon Moor was probably never so heavily managed and, in places, is rapidly giving way to Bilberry, Bracken, Hawthorn, Silver Birch, Rowan and Willow. Grouse have declined to become only occasional visitors.
The top of Baildon Moor is dominated by Purple Moor-grass Molinia caerulea. Molinia-dominance has become an increasing issue for landscape managers since this species tends to form a bland monoculture. The reasons for its rise to problematic levels are complex but probably involve sheep-grazing in the absence of other large herbivores, increasing nitrogen pollution and higher atmospheric carbon dioxide.
Since sheep have been removed the moor now has an issue with encroaching Bracken! Control measures have ensued.
For many decades Baildon Moor has played host to numerous human visitors. In the early 20th century crowds of 30-50,000 Bradfordians regularly gathered there on weekends and holidays to enjoy the surroundings. Walking, cycling, dog-walking, horse-riding and golf continue to be significant environmental factors; although obviously integral to its role in public amenity.
Rombald’s moor supports populations of Merlin and Golden Plover of international importance. Cuckoo (parasitising Meadow Pipit), Reed Bunting, Stonechat, Whinchat and occasionally Short-eared Owls are hanging on.
Bilberries on Baildon Moor support the caterpillars of Green Hairstreak butterflies.
Plant communities Baildon Moor: these include Bog Asphodel, Sundew, Lesser Twayblade orchid and more.
A wide range of agricultural practices have resulted in a variety of floristic communities
Unimproved upland grassland covers the Reva Hill area, High Eldwick and part of Baildon Moor. This is upland acid grassland and upland rush pasture which is currently grazed by sheep and, in parts, also by horses and cows. There are Gorse, Willow, Rowan and Holly.
Here, there are still Curlews, Lapwings, Snipe and Grey Partridge.
This upland grassland is important for breeding Lapwing, Curlew, Grey Partridge, Snipe and Skylarks.
Improved pasture: Most of the pasture which dominates the valley is improved to a greater or lesser extent. Much of it has little floristic diversity, other than in the field margins, although some relief from the sea of Rye Grass is provided by Red and White Clover, Vetches, Dandelions, Daisies and Buttercup.
Horse paddocks and Tong Park: represent relatively unimproved lowland pasture -which has now become a very scarce habitat. Here there are Harebells, Yellow Rattle, Birdsfoot Trefoil, Oxeye Daisy, Ragged Robin, Devil’s Bit Scabious, Red Bartsia, Teasel, Pignut, Knapweed, Betony, Marsh rchid, Hedge Mustard, Pineapple Mayweed, Buttercup.
Drystone walls remain a characteristic feature. Lower down there are also hedges. Some of these have previously been layed and must be quite old. In some areas new hedges have been planted.
In less intensively-farmed areas there are broad expanses of Bramble and Rosebay Willowherb.
Butcher’s Broom on Strait Lane at Hawkstone Farm, Harebells, Foxglove, Dandelion, Hogweed, Cow Parsley, Coltsfoot, Dog Rose. There are isolated patches of primroses and cowslips.
The woods down the centre of the valley consist of semi-natural deciduous woodland. Spring Wood, Willy Wood, Birks Wood, Roundabout Wood in the lower part of the valley. Old Wood, West Wood, Great Wood (north of Faweather Lodges), Honey Joan Wood, Howden Wood (at Sconce) above the road bridge at Mill Lane.
Additionally, there are sizeable pockets at Hazel Head Wood on the Baildon side of the valley. Hollins Hall and Elm Wood on the Guiseley side. The Odda and Hawksworth Hall on the northern watershed.
This woodland shows a gradation from flatter, less acidic areas where Pedunculate Oak, Sycamore, Silver and Downy Birch, Holly and Alder (along banksides) are the main trees, along with a few Rowan, Yew and Field Maple. Holly Ilex aquifolium is showing strong regeneration in the face of the onslaught of the many Roe Deer. In some areas there are quite large contiguous stands (for example just west of Hollins Hall).
The herb layer in these areas tends to be dominated by bramble. Bluebells and Wild Garlic are plentiful, along with wood millet, hedge woundwort and ferns.
On the steeper valley sides a more acidic soil is found. In this area sessile and hybrid oaks are more common, along with Silver and Downy Birch, Holly, Wych Elm and Hazel. Parts of Spring Wood have old stools of coppiced Hazel which must have been managed in the past.
All of these areas are shown as wooded on OS map dated 1851 and remain so today.
Around these are various plantings comprising a wide range of native and introduced species: for example on Hollins Hall (dating from early 2000s) and Bradford Golf course (from early 1900s). Species include Ash, Hazel, Larch, Lombardy (Black) Poplar, Beech, Silver Birch, Scots Pine, Guelder Rose.
Beech (Fagus sylvatica) has been planted along the line of the aqueduct at Tong Park, on the Odda/Hawksworth Hall, Bradford Golf Club and at Hollins Hall.
Sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus), often magnificent mature specimens, is also widespread and locally frequent, often on slightly more neutral soils. There are many along drystone walls in pasture.
Ash is the characteristic tree of many drystone wall field boundaries, pasture and is also present within woodland.
Wild Cherry is scattered, often around buildings.
Along watercourses here are frequent Alder (Alnus glutinosa) with particular Alder Carr below the railway viaduct.
Goat willow (Salix caprea) and grey sallow (S. cinerea).
Regeneration is generally good among the broadleaved species, with oak, beech, birch, rowan and the sporadic ash all showing good spontaneous growth. No active regeneration was observed among the conifers.
There is plenty of dead standing and fallen timber throughout the woodland. This reflects the fact that no large-scale timber extraction occurs. As a result, fungi and invertebrate populations are quite diverse and numerous.
Other shrub species comprise hawthorn Crataegus monogyna, Blackthorn and Elder Sambucus nigra.
Honeysuckle in many hedges/wood margins. Many mature trees have Ivy, often a profuse covering.
It’s an indispensable resource for insects late in the year
Herbaceous layer relatively un-depleted by grazing deer: Wood Anenome, Wood Sorrel, Yellow Pimpernel, Wild Garlic, Bluebell. Locally, Green Alkanet.
Diversity of woodland birds is not what it could be: the wooded areas are perhaps just too small and isolated to support long-term viable populations of Redstart, Wood Warbler or Pied Flycatcher. Spotted Flycatcher, Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Lesser Spotted Woodpecker and Hawfinch which may have been present in relatively recent times have all experienced severe national decline.
Buzzard Sparrowhawk, Green and Great Spotted Woodpecker are all present. Kites have obviously become common and seem likely to breed.
Roe Deer are plentiful: their tracks are everywhere. Hares also use the woods…especially in hard winters.
On Baildon moor there is extensive Bracken and Hawthorn. Blackthorn thickets occur on the Odda, Hollins Hall golf course and at Tong Park.
There are plenty of man-made water bodies ranging from small coal pits on Baildon Moor up to the reservoirs at Reva and Weecher.
Reva and Weecher reservoirs: these cold, deep waters have few breeding birds. Notably Oystercatchers. They do provide roost sites for gulls, ducks and geese.
Hawksworth New Dam:
Tong park Dam: water lilies, Purple Loosestrife
Frog Pond at Tong Park: Yellow Flag, Willow
Red Brick Dam: Willow
Hollins Hall golf club ponds: Bulrush
Reservoir at High Eldwick
The Valley is home to good populations of Common Toads, Common Frogs and Smooth Newts.
Marsh at Tong park (2 areas) Bulrush Typha latifolia, Marsh Marigold, Marsh Thistle, Angelica, Himalayan Balsam, Hemlock water dropwort, Ragged Robin, Water Mint
Also above Weecher.
Blanket bog and coal pits on Baildon Moor
The Gill Beck and its tributaries remain in good condition and relatively pollution-free in post-industrial times.
A good range of riparian fauna includes Dipper, Kingfisher, Grey Wagtail (all of which have bred), Grey Heron, Otter (occasionally), Mink, Brown Trout and Bullhead. The only crayfish in the lower part of the beck are invasive Signal Crayfish Pacifastacus leniusculus
The invertebrate fauna of the beck includes good numbers of Mayfly. Mass hatching on fine spring days remains a feature.
Bankside vegetation of Gill Beck: Moschatel, Wood Anenome, Lily of the Valley, Wild Garlic, Daffodil, Butterbur, Crosswort,
Bankside smaller tributaries: Meadowsweet, Brooklime and, in shaded areas, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage, Fool’s Watercress, Brooklime, Great Burnet Sanguisorba officinalis, Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris, Meadowsweet, Cuckoo Flower, Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage
Tong Park Mills: Buddleia, Purple Toadflax
There are no large settlements in the valley (this being a large part of its attraction). The village at Hawksworth and scattered farms and houses.
Summary of significant features:
Ecologically, the most important habitats and floral/faunal communities are the wild flower meadows at Tong Park, the upland areas of Rombald’s Moor with its adjacent unimproved acid grasslands and the relatively unspoiled Gill Beck itself.
However, by virtue of being a large contiguous stretch of semi-natural habitat from the Aire Valley to the top of Rombalds Moor crossed by only two roads, the valley is important as a recreational and aesthetic resource for people who live around it and enjoy its natural spaces. There is a good network of public rights of way. It’s not a coincidence that the area was a popular holiday and leisure destination in the days before air travel. What it lacks is the focus of an area (‘nature reserve’) managed primarily with conservation outcomes in mind.
Potential threats and opportunities:
1: It would be a concern if land use at Tong Park were to change away from horse/mixed grazing. The current regime is ideally-suited to the maintenance of the diverse meadows. Further encroachment by housing would also reduce its value. Hopefully, the present long-term lessees will continue to use the area. If not, and if the opportunity arose to manage all or part of this area for conservation then that would be an opportunity which would be interesting to look at: if a team of people with the capacity to take on such a job were available. The area is intensively used for recreation by local people and is not big enough to support much in the way of larger fauna. However, it would be invaluable as an educational resource.
2: Similarly, the extensive mixed grazing of the Reva Hill area depends (to the best of our knowledge) on the management methods of a very few landowners. Again, it’s a big undertaking but such an area could be a valuable mixed-use conservation/farming project.
3: As is the case for intensively-managed grouse moors generally, biodiversity, carbon sequestration and flood alleviation on Hawksworth and Bingley Moors would benefit from reduced drainage, replacement of burning with alternative management tools, increased numbers of trees and scrub and reduced control of apex predators. It’s to be hoped that, given the pressing need, land managers, incentivised by the regulatory environment, will be able to adapt in positive ways.
4: Pretty much all waterways in England are vulnerable to pollution in one way or another. Regulation is not always effective given the challenges faced by the environment agency. The ecology of the Gill Beck could be severely impacted even by isolated incidents. Vigilance is required and a network of reporting observers would be a big advantage.
5: There are always opportunities to engage with land managers to encourage wildlife-friendly practices. It would also be nice to involve schools as potent agent of community engagement. River monitoring would be a good focus for this.
Looking at that image from a century ago, the most striking difference from today is how much more manicured the vegetation is compared to today.
In particular the ancient-looking Hawthorns which punctate every wall and field margin have clearly grown up since the end of the Great War.
I suspect that the photo at the top of the post marks a time when intensive grazing and management of the valley was tapering off. The wars of the 20th century will have taken away many of the men who worked on the land. Specifically, the generation of character Hawthorn which are such a feature probably got going during WWII.
The same may be true for WWI and many of the trees in the higher parts of Spring Wood…which look to be about 100 years old.
To balance the previous serious post…here’s the positive stuff 🙂
We’ve been plugging away at the paths and getting fitter (younger participants) or more cream-crackered (the middle-aged) in the process of wheelbarrowing tons of aggregate around.
We’ll be needing another delivery soon Richard!
And we continue to fight the torrent of litter, poop and general trash that gets left down there. Many thanks to the legendary Jeff Yates of Litter-free Guiseley for supply of bags.
All of the following pics were taken in the Gill Beck valley late summer and autumn:
This week there are still lots of Chiffchaffs hanging around and a few Swallows and House Martins. Lots of Siskins, Redpolls and the occasional Crossbill have been moving through overhead. The male Goshawk normally resident in the Shipley area, which is presumed to be a escaped falconer’s bird occasionally visits us.
There’s been an upsurge of interest nationally and locally in the quality of water in our streams and rivers. Nationally, the Environment Agency report on 17th September revealed the depressing fact that all UK watercourses are polluted in one way or another.
Locally, Ilkley Clean River Campaign have been valiantly fighting the inertia of Yorkshire Water and the authorities to reduce the shocking amount of raw sewage dumped into the river where many people swim and paddle.
So, it’s perhaps not a surprise that we have our own issues. In case you were thinking that our pristine Beck was …well, pristine, it’s perhaps time to publicise the fact that there are at least two places that we’re aware of where raw, untreated sewage also enters the Gill Beck.
CSOs are a consequence of the design of our waste water system -often dating back to the Victorian era. Excess rainfall is channelled into the same pipes as sewage. As a safety valve in times of intense rainfall there is built-in allowance for overflow to run straight off into streams and rivers. In reality this happens at times of intense rainfall……and also at other times….or, in some cases, most of the time!
Fixing this problem is a big challenge and, in reality, requires a vast infrastructure investment programme with political backing. This is an uphill battle in the face of large, well-connected, privately-owned and profit-orientated water companies. I stand to be corrected but my impression is there’s not much the environment agency can do when you or I ring to say ‘there’s sewage flowing into our Beck’….because, to a degree, that’s what’s supposed to happen.
This summer we’ve seen an enormous number of families out enjoying the wild bits of the valley and playing in the stream.
Other potential sources of pollution include farming and industry. Fortunately, we’re lucky that, to the best of my knowledge, the farmers along the Gill Beck valley are very good in this respect.
Last week, alarmingly, the Beck looked like this…
In contrast to its usual clarity:
This silt stemmed from construction works upstream. The issue isn’t quite as disastrous as serious slurry pollution but it’s still not great for the Beck ecosystem. Silt at this level adversely affects invertebrate populations by smothering them. Obviously, fewer invertebrates leads to fewer fish, birds, mammals and so on.
Privately, our view is that some works and development is inevitable with the number of people living in the area but there are relatively straightforward technical ways of reducing this kind of problem when work is planned in advance. Since the success of businesses involved in leisure and tourism relies largely on the valley being a beautiful natural environment we’re surprised that those involved weren’t more careful.
On a positive note, this summer has seen work start on the final fish passes which will allow migratory fish such as Salmon and Sea Trout to get up into the Aire above Leeds for the first time in over a century.
Smaller streams such as the Gill Beck are potential spawning grounds for these fish when they make it through. It’s really exciting to think that we could have Salmon spawning on our doorstep. It’s important the Beck is in decent shape for them. Happily, it’s mostly pretty good in comparison to other watercourses; we’ve seen Brown Trout up as far as the caravan park this summer. We regularly have Otters, Kingfishers and Dippers. However, the situation clearly needs watching.
If you have any concerns about pollution or water quality in the Beck then please get in touch. Together we can monitor the situation and take effective action when necessary.
A slightly belated update this one: due to lots of stuff going on. However, as life creeps inexorably back to normal it seems like a good time to pick up the reins of the Friends of Gill Beck project again.
Lockdown has seen an enormous increase in people, especially young families, using the valley -which is great. Fantastic for them all to be able to get out there and mess around in the beck and the woods. We’re incredibly lucky to have such an amazing place on our doorsteps.
Hopefully a connection with the local landscape and nature is a legacy of the current crisis. The flip side of this is a big increase in litter: I suspect that, for many people, there’s nowhere else to socialise. For several weeks we’ve been collecting bags of litter including vast numbers of bottles and cans from the bin by the dam. The owners have thankfully granted us vehicular access which means we can now drive down and pick it all up. Although sometimes it feels like a bit of a chore I think, at least, the party people are putting their trash in/next to the bin rather than in the bushes. I know that quite a few people have been helping to gather up some of the mess and put it ready for collection -which is a big help and much appreciated. We perhaps need a bigger bin!
This is also the first run out for the FoGBV logo:
We are planning on using this, discretely, on some fence posts at entry points to the valley to generate some interest.
We’ve also been tackling the footpaths in one or two places. Mainly the heavily eroded section East of Spring wood.
This is going to be an ongoing project for a few months. Hopefully we can get it in decent shape before next winter. Bradford council have generously offered some aggregate to surface the path….but not a helicopter to get it to the bit where it’s needed. Muscle power is going to be required. A bit of socially-distanced labour should be possible I think.
Finally, a bit of a photo-gallery of recent bits and pieces:
I hope no-one is reading this confined to a small flat in London. It’s been a beautiful week in Yorkshire, notwithstanding the unfolding crisis. I’ve had the chance to visit some of the parts of the valley which I see less often.
Having just read the sobering accounts of Mark Cocker’s Our Place and Benedict Macdonald’s Rebirding I have new-found interest in some of the farmland birds which, thankfully, we still have up here. Although I guess we’ve all seen the stats, it’s only sinking in recently for me that birds like Lapwings are actually completely absent from large swathes of the country south from here. They’re also now absent from the lower parts of our valley.
The cattle- and sheep-grazed fringes of Rombald’s Moor at its eastern end are a relative oasis. It’s scruffy and marginal agricultural land but in brilliant spring sunshine this week the fields of Reva Hill are alive with drumming Snipe, Curlew, Lapwing, Skylark, Golden Plover and Grey Partridge: all of them priority conservation species.
It would be great to do something to do something to preserve this habitat but maybe it’s not under immediate threat. Possibly the greatest danger is of inappropriate wholesale tree-planting in this particular area. It could take a bit more vegetation: some Rowan, Holly and Gorse would be fine.
Spring is on the launchpad and ready to go at the next hint of warmth. It’s already quite dry but on the damp beck-sides there are Marsh Marigolds out-golding the adjacent saxifrage.
We’ve been a bit slack on the invertebrate front but these Ichneumon wasps mating on the dry stone wall at Tong Park are amazing. An alien-like parasite looking a bit out of place in Bradford in March! I’m amazed to find that there are over 2500 UK species of Ichneumonids.
…so I’m certainly not qualified to identify these with any confidence. However, geographically and seasonally this seems potentially compatible with Ophion scutellaris:
On the gritty matter of litter, pollution and other things-to-be-done, the area east of the viaduct looms large.
It’s difficult to know what to do with this lot. It certainly looks awful. On the other hand, some of the wildlife evidently doesn’t give a damn about living amid 200 years-worth of glass, plastic and goodness-only-knows what else. And it would be a major project to clean up. This conundrum is a theme of post-industrial landscapes.