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.
Many thanks to Peter Hughes for bringing this gem to our attention:
That cover photo apparently dates from about 1925: a time when Denby’s Mill (now Tong Park Industrial Estate) was still a thriving industry.
The first chapter looks at the geology and pre-history of the area. The last two glaciations of the current Ice Age, the Anglian and Devensian, saw complex ice movements amid successive advances and retreats. At some point a moraine formed between ice in the valley of the Gill Beck and the Airedale glacier. This spur across the mouth of the valley is the site of Tong Park station and receives the southern end of the viaduct. The whole landscape is studded with smaller moraines, drumlins and erratic rocks.
Human presence is documented from about 4000 BC by the presence of stone age implements of the Magelmose culture. From about 3000 BC Bronze Age technology followed: with progressive forest clearance. Stone carvings which litter the area from this time.
Celtic Iron Age culture is known from Yorkshire only from about 300 BC.
With the principle ‘Inclosures’ Act of 1773 and other similar legislation across the centuries stone walls were built around ‘Parlimentary’ fields in the valley. These overly the earth ridges and furrows created by earlier farmers dating back to the Celts. The long S-shaped ridges are still visible on pasture and golf courses.
At the ends of all of these fields are lynchet banks thrown up by the ploughs as they turned.
Weecher and Reva reservoirs, receiving run off from Burley and Ilkley moors, are the sources of the Gill Beck’s flow. Reva was completed in 1894.
Chapter two covers natural history: the list of species indicates little loss of diversity between the time of writing and today’s situation. In fact, I have the distinct impression that the valley is probably richer in flora and fauna today than it has been for much of the last century. It certainly looks considerably more wooded and wilder today than it does in many of the photos from the days when several thousand watched cricket matches at Tong Park. As Benedict Allen observes in his book ‘Rebirding’ ….’The post-industrial areas of Northern England have a very different aspect …In these areas vegetation freestyles in a way rarely permitted in any nature reserve or across much of the country….Here, less land is managed -and more is simply left’.
Chapter three documents the industrialisation of Tong Park. By 1778 there was a water mill on the site owned by messrs Halliday and Watson. Subsequently Thomas Gill upgraded this with the construction of Gill Mill. It’s unclear to me whether the name of the Beck derives from this.
William Denby and sons, incorporated in 1820, followed them and soon thereafter set about constructing the chain of upstream dams and reservoirs which ensured water supply to the factory. As well as the familiar main dam at Tong Park there are additionally the dam at the ‘frog pond’ on the north side of the beck, the Red Brick Dam below Moorside Farm, the New Dam on the Jum Beck above Hawksworth and the dam west of Ash House Farm, Sconce whose name remains unknown to me. At one time there was a large reservoir below the main dam and above the viaduct and enclosed by the bend in the beck.
Originally engaged in spinning, weaving and dyeing the business later progressively specialised in dyeing and fabric coatings. The tall chimney still nears the name ‘Denbirayne’: a patented waterproofed fabric.
The book includes a lot of detail of the lives of the inhabitants of Tong during the heyday of the mill. The impression is of a tight-knit, self-contained community; almost all of whom worked at the mill or were related to those who did. The men played cricket and football in the valley, grew vegetables and kept pigs. The village gathered in the wesleyan methodist chapel (which also possessed a library) on Sundays, did their washing on Fridays and shopped in the Tong Park Street Co-op. They also swam in the lake at the dam. Many of the men went to fight in the world wars; frequently failing to return.
This loss which must have had a profound impact on the small community. A sadness compounded over subsequent decades by bitter industrial disputes and the ultimate decline of the textile industry. The main street was lined with terraced stone cottages which were demolished in the 1960s: a shame since they look very fine in photographs.
There has been concern that the ‘step’ down in the bed of the Gill Beck at the top of the underpass below the main Otley Road might be a barrier to movement of fish. Effectively this is like a small weir. Trouble is that rectifying it would likely be a substantial project.
Having just seen this video (second clip in tweet below), I’m encouraged that maybe they can make it up anyway.
Well, it’s been a complete bonanza of Hazelnuts this autumn. In addition to the native Hazel there are also lots of planted Cobnut trees around the Hollins Hill golf course which will now be about 20 years old.
Until this year I had never seen a brown Hazel or Cobnut on a tree in the valley. But something has happened: this autumn they are everywhere. Last year was quite good. This year has been a bonanza.
Maybe it’s the weather. Maybe it’s the maturing of the trees.
The more intriguing possibility is that something has happened to reduce Grey Squirrel numbers. There are still plenty of them obviously…..on every camera trap I’ve set! But perhaps they’re not so completely ubiquitous.
If populations of Pine Martens can mysteriously appear in the New Forest and Cornwall; miles from anywhere they were supposed to be….
But there’s always a silver lining. In this case a lot of mushrooms in the valley. Like the trees, although the land use has changed some of the fungal organisms must have been soldiering on underground regardless.
There are numerous planted trees around the golf courses in the valley: mostly Hazel, Birch, Rowan and Ash. Along the crumbling remnants of the ancient stone walls which crisscross the landscape between the fairways are an older generation of native trees.
Similarly, Wych Elm doesn’t stand out like the big Oak, Ash and Beech but, when you start looking at each tree in turn along the walls you find there are plenty of medium -sized individuals.
In an echo of the global day of environmental demonstrations, we spent the day in the valley rigging up bird and bat boxes. The weather was idyllic, nobody fell out of any trees and Keith’s dance-floor injury didn’t hold him back.
The bird boxes all have hole sizes to suit Redstarts and Pied Flycatchers: both of which have bred in Spring Wood in the past and continue to do so within a few miles.