Friday, July 10, 2020

Building a bridleway: a Trainee's story

Dom Hartley is currently employed by the landscape partnership as a graduate trainee. Joining us with a Masters degree in Conservation and land Management, Dom is working closely with our Access officer on a number of sites to learn about path construction techniques as well as gaining experience in contract and project management. Here is his blog:

The new Chatburn-Downham Concessionary Bridleway

As many of you will have noticed, either through following our social media channels or from travelling along the Chatburn Road to/from Downham in the last 6 months, work has been on-going to create a new bridleway connecting the two villages. Previously walkers, cyclists and horse-riders had no choice but to use the road if they wished to travel from Chatburn to Downham, which was a somewhat unsettling prospect given that vehicles are permitted to travel up to 60mph there.

The Pendle Hill Landscape Partnership, with the support of the Heritage Fund, the Forest of Bowland AONB and the Downham Estate, are happy to announce the opening of the Chatburn-Downham bridleway which will provide the public with a safe and scenic route between the villages.

Early stages

Those of you familiar with the Chatburn and Downham areas will also be familiar with the prevalence of Roman history in the area. An old Roman road is speculated to exist, buried, in the vicinity of Downham/Rimington, a small section of which could potentially have overlapped with the proposed line for the new bridleway. Therefore, before any work could begin, we asked Greenlane Archaeology Ltd to survey the site to prevent any damage to any valuable archaeological evidence from Roman times. The survey took place in early February 2020; as many of you will no doubt remember the weather that month left a lot to be desired.

A top layer of turf and soil is carefully removed in order for the survey to begin

During a break in the hail, which was detrimental to visibility, archaeologists begin to examine the earth for signs of the old Roman road

After an extensive investigation on site, the archaeologists determined that the proposed depth of the bridleway works would not cause any damage to the old Roman surface, which likely lies just outside of the new track or deep enough beneath it that the work would not cause any damage.

The new route also runs close to a number of trees. Where ground works are located close to trees, protection of the roots must be considered. Forester and Tree Surgeon Richard Davis was retained to survey the area and calculate 'Root Protection Areas', which are used to determine the amount of protective material required to lay over tree roots to prevent subsequent ground works from damaging them. Terram and Geocell were used which ensures the continuation of essential air and water flow to roots and helps to distribute the weight of stone evenly, and this was installed below all sections of the bridleway where tree root protection had been identified as necessary.

Terram Geocell is visible in this picture. The roots of the tree on the left-hand side of the picture extend underneath the line of the new bridleway, and are therefore protected by use of the geotextile. Track material is then spread on top of it, ensuring both tree root well-being and a secure, comfortable surface to walk on

Construction Begins

Following the laying of geotextile in the relevant areas, ground works began in earnest. An area of ground was identified to ensure that enough space was afforded for a 3m wide track, comfortable for two-way traffic, with a further 2m of area suitable to support a hedgerow. A fence has been installed down the entire length of the new bridleway in order to protect and isolate the livestock in the adjacent field.

Initial work was slowed by the huge amount of rainfall we experienced in February; the machines needed for construction could not safely navigate such waterlogged ground without risking lasting damage to turf and soil. However, after the ground had dried in early March fast progress was made by Charlie Yirrell and his company CPY Excavations, beginning first on the 500m stretch from Chatburn to Greendale View Kitchen. The line of the bridleway, previously decided in consultation with the landowner, was excavated and a solid stony foundation was laid. Further aggregate was spread on top of the foundations then rolled flat. Subsequent good weather has baked the new track, creating a sturdy surface for foot, bike and hoof traffic.

Working carefully around standing trees, contractors lay a surface to create the bridleway

Heavy and sustained rainfall makes life difficult for machine operators; in addition to concerns about causing damage to the surface, the waterlogged ground makes driving machines difficult and unsafe

The extended good weather through April and May allowed for the making up of time lost in February. Then another curveball, the Covid-19 lockdown (from late March 2020), threatened to further slow construction. However, CPY Excavations quickly adapted safe, socially-distant work plans and risk assessments, and good progress was made regardless. By April, bridleway construction moved well into the second 500m stretch, from Greendale View Kitchen towards Downham.

Meticulous work on behalf of the contractors transformed a previously waterlogged field into a neat and even track. The verges were carefully left untouched, so that spring and summer growth will quickly cover any indication of recent works and help the bridleway to blend into the area 

By mid-May, track-work was complete and a new hedge, planted and watered through the drought by Ralph Assheton, is in position along the vast majority of the bridleway. Finishing touches were applied along the route, such as mounting blocks for horses, the installation of boulders for seating and a water-trough for thirsty horses. 

The final works required to make the bridleway a fully legal and safe was the installation of a series of gates along the bridleway where the track nears an exit to the road. You may spot the gates and at first be surprised by their spatial situation; they do not, after all, meet and form a barrier as normal gates would. In addition to prevent any attempted vehicular use of the bridleway, the main purpose of the gates is to create a holding area a safe distance from the road, where horse riders can see passing cars easily (and vice versa) before deciding to proceed from the bridleway onto the road. Additionally, when viewed head-on, the two separate gates will appear to a horse to be a single closed barrier, which will prevent any spooked animal from bolting into the road.

A safe distance from the road, the gates create a chicane which affords horse riders and drivers more chance to see each other before a crossing is attempted. Photograph by Graham Cooper.

From a distance, a horse will perceive the gates as a single obstruction across the track, preventing any bolting which may lead to a road traffic accident. Photograph by Graham Cooper.

As of mid-June 2020, the Chatburn-Downham bridleway is officially open to the public. We would like to encourage the safe and considerate use of the new route. Please stick to the track to protect the young hedgerow, pick up after your dog and take any litter home with you.  Please enjoy the bridleway safely!

Images by Graham Cooper

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

72 Seasons: how connecting to nature helps our mental health

 72 Seasons is part of our 'What's a Hill Worth?' project which seeks to understand the value our landscape provides to society, in this case, to our sense of well-being. 

Particularly during this time of lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, more and more people are finding that noticing nature, and especially the wonderful arrival of Spring life, can bring us joy and inspiration.

In this brief blog, the 72 Seasons co-ordinator Kirsty Rose-Parker reflects on the first few months of nature watching with participants, and how they have responded. You can see the rest of the article and the rest of the seasons here:

72 seasons is a year-long research project, to measure how being more connected to nature makes us feel. We do that through working with a team of volunteer seasonal seekers. We have planned a whole year where the seasons change every 4 or 5 days, originally inspired by the ancient natural calendar in Japan. Trying to notice the changes in nature, we are building a community around Pendle Hill who look a little bit closer, a little bit more often, even just from their gardens and windows as the world changes. 

Here we share the first results of the nature we have spotted, In 2020, we changed the season 'Winter' into 18 smaller seasons and asked our seasonal seekers to go out and about as much as they normally would, and see what they spotted.

The beautiful seasonal illustrations are by local artist, Cath Ford. Cath lives in Blackburn and she knows the nature we know. She is a very talented artist and we feel very lucky to be working with her.

Season; 1 - 4 January: The Earth is Unyielding 

Season; 5 - 9 January: Bare Branches are Stark

Originally we had planned that this season would be called 'Frost Adorns Bare Branches' but this was something our seasonal seekers disagreed with and so we chose a new season name to replace it, based on what our seekers saw. 

This image of bare branches was taken by
 Sam Root on 5th January 2020

This image of a misty Pendle Hill was taken by 
Stella Nuttall on 5th January 2020

For more of this blog head over to this site where you can also sign up to join the next phase.....

Thursday, March 12, 2020

Lancashire Woodland Connect: A natural solution for combatting the climate crisis

By Kristina Graves, Ribble Rivers Trust

Welcome to 2020 the start of a decade of climate and conservation action! 

We are all well aware of the biodiversity and climate crises that are facing us. The extinction of hundreds of species, recent fires in the Amazon and Australia, and, more locally, the recent floods that have affected Lancashire and other areas within the UK should not be the legacy of this decade, or even the year. The causes of these crises are varied and numerous, and solving them (if at all possible) won’t be straight forward, and it certainly won’t be easy; a combination of new technology, shifting behaviour and embracing natural solutions must be a part of the answer.

One natural solution that is getting a lot of media attention at the moment is woodlands, and rightly so. Woodlands are a valuable tool in combatting the climate crisis. 

Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as they grow and store it in their trunks, branches, roots and leaves: a process called carbon sequestration. 

Woodlands are also very good at slowing the flow of water down the catchment and into the river. For starters, their physical presence acts as a barrier to water flowing over the ground both directly and indirectly, through encouraging the growth of a scrubby understorey, which also hinders surface water flow. Secondly, our soils generally benefit from woodlands; they tend to be less compacted in the presence of trees, allowing water to soak into the ground instead of running into the river. The roots of trees and undergrowth anchor the soil in place meaning there’s more of it to absorb water, and the less soil that is in the river means there is greater capacity for water in the channel! Whilst more woodland won’t stop flooding happening ever again, it will contribute to less devastating consequences for people and homes after bouts of heavy rainfall.

Woodlands also have the potential to support biodiversity. Firstly, woods are areas of  trees and other plants that directly support populations of floral species. Indirectly however, woodland creation supports much more than manual population increase. Careful planning of woodlands can improve connectivity between existing woodland patches and allows animals to roam around a greater area of suitable habitat. Increasing the area of woodland can also support a greater number of individuals and increase the capacity of the woodland to support more species. Surprisingly perhaps, woodlands can influence freshwater habitats too. 

Nearby trees provide shade over river channels and keep rivers cool, our science team at Ribble Rivers Trust have seen water temperature increase by 9 degrees in an un-shaded reach of river, enough to wipe out aquatic life! Leaf litter and branch fall from trees on the river banks provide an important source of food for freshwater invertebrates and fish and create different habitat types to support a wider range of species. 

Finally, trees and riverside vegetation prevent sediment and diffuse sources of pollution from the catchment entering the water course and toxifying the habitat for species.

A third benefit of increasing woodlands cover is the innumerable benefits that woodlands have on our health. Air quality is becoming increasingly recognised as a problem in the UK and is estimated to affect the lives of 40,00 people with respiratory problems. But where woodlands run along the side of main roads and motorways, air quality is noticeably improved which will be a key benefit as emissions are increasing as we travel more. Activities associated with delivering a woodland plan including tree-planting, woodland management, fencing and litter picking encourage us to keep active in the outdoors, and the increasing green space that results from the woodland will encourage us to step outside more and improve our physical fitness and mental health.

With all of this in mind, we at the Ribble, Lune and Wyre Rivers Trusts have been busy launching our Lancashire Woodland Connect campaign. Focusing on nature based solutions, we have developed a plan to plant 500,000 trees across the whole of Lancashire over the next 10 years. The campaign is supported by a number of local authorities who acknowledge the many benefits woodlands provide. We will work with local organisations who are looking to improve the environment for the climate, biodiversity and people and/or to offset any of their unavoidable CO2 emissions.

Historically, we have planted over 150,000 trees in the Ribble catchment alone and have therefore developed an evidence based method to ensure trees are planted where they will provide the most benefit to the widest number of people. Data collected from across the entire catchment allows us to identify priority areas for reducing risk of faecal matter, risk of sediment input, risk of sun exposure and risk of water input. We combine this information with knowledge of catchments upstream of areas with high flood risk and the information about the local landscape, habitats and wildlife to work out where trees will be most beneficial for rivers, the landscape, wildlife and people.

 In order to deliver large scale improvements, we work with a large number of farmers and land-owners to plant lots of small woodlands that will contribute to creating a network of woodland habitat across the county. It is important to remember in this that farmers are contributing their farm-able land to any woodlands we deliver and, therefore, they have a say in every step of the process. We recognise it's important to make sure that the new woodland isn’t going to impact their day-to day work around their fields. As a Trust we recognise that we are working with a family business and therefore any woodland must not only benefit the environment but must also enhance and work with the farm business.

It is no mean feat getting 500,000 trees in the ground! Our woodlands are planted by a team of enthusiastic volunteers who contribute their time and energy to planting the 50,000 trees/year necessary to reach our targets. If you want to help us improve Lancashire’s woodland cover to support our wildlife, environment and our climate please  get in touch

Without dedicated people like you, this task would be a whole lot harder! Thank you