Invasive species met its match when volunteers braved the elements in the remote South Pennines Landscape

Posted: 12.09.11

Volunteers braved the elements for three days in one of the most inaccessible parts of the South Pennines uplands to tackle the scourge of an encroaching invasive species: rhododendron scrub.

Five long-term volunteers from British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BTCV), Mark Williams, Nick Hodgkinson, Sarah Carter, Andrew Tiffany and Tim Howson, worked with BTCV volunteer co-ordinator Douglas Watson and alongside Calderdale Countryside Volunteers, on Hoar side Moor, above Heptonstall, West Yorkshire to remove between 300 and 400 rhododendron plants in a tough assignment that demonstrated their dedication.

“It’s quite exposed up there; each day we walked 30 to 40 minutes from the nearest car park then spread out to remove as many plants as possible,” explained Douglas. “Hopefully that moorland site will be clear of rhododendron for years to come and will instead be able to support smaller plants and help to bring sustainable life to the moorland again.”

The group dug up small scrub rhododendron to prevent them from spreading further, if left, they would encroach further onto the moor. Fortunately the group was prepared for all conditions as the weather proved inhospitable and for most of the time they worked in the rain and low cloud, only drying off when they returned to the Blake Dean Youth Hostel each evening. Once the volunteers had dug up the plants they dragged them into piles to be picked up by members of the Calderdale Countryside Agency.

The partnership project was initiated by the rural development organisation, Pennine Prospects, through the Watershed Landscape project. It brought together the BTCV volunteers; the landowners, Yorkshire Water; Calderdale Council and Calderdale Countryside Volunteers in a joint programme to promote moorland recovery. The project has also funded traditional heritage skills throughout the uplands of the South Pennines including dry-stone walling and hay-meadow management. And it has already removed unwanted bracken by employing working horses at Turley Holes, Hebden Bridge, and further bracken eradication is planned. There will be more work to do on the moor next year when the volunteers will return.

Traditional methods are important, as chairwoman of Pennine Prospects, Pam Warhurst, explained: “Although there are other means to eradicate alien species using chemicals, we are taking a low-impact approach that supports traditional skills in the South Pennines. BTCV and Calderdale Countryside Volunteers have the skills and volunteers to help us.”

The South Pennines was designated as a Special Protection Area in 1997; in recognition of the international importance of the South Pennine uplands including moorland and blanket bog. Blanket bog is a globally-rare habitat with specialist plants such as peat-forming sphagnum moss amongst other moorland plants including crowberry, bilberry and, of course, heather. Encroachment of rhododendron and bracken onto moorland is one of the long term problems that landowner Yorkshire Water is seeking to address. Britain has 70 percent of the world’s heather moorland.

“Yorkshire Water has embarked upon an ambitious programme that has brought its SSSI designated moors into ‘recovering’ condition by working with Natural England, tenants, sporting tenants and owners as well as other stakeholders,” explained Mike Pearson, land and programme manager at Yorkshire Water.

Yorkshire Water United Utilities Rochdale Metropolitan Borough Council Oldham Metropolitan Borough Council National Farmers Union
South Pennines Association Lancashire County Council Pennine Heritage Kirklees Council Calderdale Council
Bradford District Council Northern Rail Natural England Environment Agency The National Trust