This week Stanage, the queen of the gritstone edges, has finally been blessed with some sunshine. Yesterday many people were out enjoying the crag, as the sun dropped and the moors burned a deep orange in the sunset. It's a scene that seems timeless and will hopefully be enjoyed for generations to come, but in reality the landscape we see and the easy access we enjoy is not to be taken for granted. Stanage – and the rest of the North Lees estate – is again facing an uncertain future.
You might remember a few years back the BMC's Stand Up For Stanage campaign. The Peak District National Park Authority (PDNPA), who own and manage much of the crag and surroundings, have blown hot and cold on Stanage over the years. One year it is a liability they desperately need rid of; the next 'the jewel in the Peak District's crown'. In recent years austerity politics have played their part, but the inconsistencies date back far longer.
What is the Stanage Forum?
Stanage is many things to many people – a crag for climbers, a landscape for walkers, a habitat for rare birds, a launch site for paragliders, a working farm. Back in 2000 the conflicting desires of these many users were making the estate unmanageable. The PDNPA's traditional top-down approach to management was failing – and so they tried a bold new approach.
Instead of laying down what it was going to do, and allowing for token comment, it produced a blank sheet of paper, and asked the public who treasured Stanage, visitors and local community alike, what they valued about Stanage and what principles must be upheld in looking after it, what needed to be done, and what should very definitely not be done. The idea, remarkably, was that the public should have a say in the management of public open space, bought with public money. Let's call that democracy.
The Stanage Forum, and a Steering Group it elected, was set up to devise a Management Plan. The BMC was represented on the Steering Group and ensured their members' views were well represented. And PDNPA Members enthusiastically endorsed its recommendations without alteration. An initiative borne of conflict created a textbook example of stakeholder involvement.
But time moves on. Staff changed and Authority Members – the 30 governors appointed by national and local councils – served their terms. New staff and Members saw an area that was getting along fine and struggled to understand the compromises that were reached, or even why the Forum existed. Users and local people did not forget, and have no desire to return to the old days.
Normally the Forum Steering Group meets a few times a year. In the event of major changes a full open forum is called. Now is such a time.
What has happened since the Stand up for Stanage campaign in 2013?
Initially the PDNPA made a commitment to retain the estate, and not sell or fragment it as had been threatened. Then they appointed a dedicated manager for the estate, who worked enthusiastically with the forum. Significant landscape improvements like woodland management and bracken control were delivered, there were big improvements to the camp site, the Ours to Care For donation scheme which entitled you to free parking at the Plantation was introduced, the wildlife flourished (including ring ouzels) and Stanage remained free from man made intrusions. So far so good.
However over the last couple of years the PDNPA has undergone a complete management restructure, and has a new CEO. Responsibility for the estate is now divided across different departments. The dedicated North Lees property manager is no longer; instead a new manager is responsible for all the National Park's land - of which Stanage is but a small part. Recreation is now under the purview of the 'Commercial Development and Outreach' department. Does Stanage need Commercial Development? Will it be expected to pay its way?
In addition Bill Gordon, the longtime estate warden, is retiring imminently. It is not clear who will replace him, or whether it will be a full time role or if they will reside on the estate. Bill has lived at Stanage for thirty years, working tirelessly at all hours, and always with the landscape's best interests at heart (click here to read Andy Kirkpatrick's fitting homage to Bill's timeless work). Bill leaves a huge pair of shoes to fill.
During the PDNPA's recent restructure, communication with the Stanage Forum broke down to the extent that two longstanding members – Henry Folkard and John Horscroft – resigned in frustration. This lack of stakeholder engagement has been made all the more obvious by comparison with the exemplary Eastern Moors Partnership – run by the National Trust and RSPB and covering Froggatt, Curbar and more – who have taken on spearheading the Ring Ouzel work for all of the Eastern Edges including Stanage. Recently communication has improved but it remains to be seen how reduced staff time will deliver the good work of recent years.
The 'Ours To Care For' sticker scheme is not being continued next year, although as always a more expensive park-wide parking permit remains available. Pay and display charges are increasing and will be enforced from the New Year. Knock-on effects of this - a longstanding bugbear of the Forum and the reason behind the existing compromise - do not appear to have been given much consideration.
At the Forum meeting at 2-4pm on Saturday 23rd Sept the PDNPA will deliver their vision and plan for managing Stanage over the next few years. This will be followed by an hour of open discussion. Everyone is welcome. If you care about the future of Stanage please come along. If you can't make it, please pass comment on the Forums - we'll try and make everyone's voice heard.
- Beyond the Mountain by Steve House 17 Feb, 2010