May – food for free

It’s been a while since I have written a post and we’re still waiting to hear the results of the inquiry. I imagine that all the recent changes in government have had an impact on that.

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Meanwhile Bullsmoor has burst into life. It is busy with birds, insects and butterflies. Calves are being born and there is blossom on the trees.

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I’ve also noticed how much there is to eat on Bullsmoor. I wander along picking fresh hawthorn blossom buds and leaf tips (which some people call ‘bread and cheese’) to nibble on or collect wild garlic to make pesto.

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So far I’ve spotted plenty of edible plants out there including sorrel, dandelion, daisy, nettle, rosebay willow-herb, plantain, ‘jack-by-the hedge’ (Alliaria petiolata), ‘sticky weed’ (Galium aparine) and later on in the year there will be raspberry, apple, elderberry and blackberry.

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So, if you feel like adding some local wild food to your dinner you could pickle daisy heads in vinegar like capers, make some flour out of plantain seeds or make a soup out of nettles and steamed bramble shoots.

Nettles are an amazing food and contain about 20% protein, and 100mg of vitamin C per 100g. The only down side of Bullsmoor nettles, other than the possibility of stinging yourself while you pick them, is that a dog has probably got there first.

Walking along and being aware of what is edible not only makes me become more observant of what is around me but can give a distant connection to the people who used to walk these paths hundreds of years ago, when knowledge of foraging was much more common than it is now.

‘A key point to understand abut the way our ancestors lived from the land is that there were available to them a lot of sources of food that required very little effort to gather-things they could pick up with their hands, or dig up, or collect without any specialised tools….sometimes it can be quite shocking, because our modern sensibility to food is shaped by the fact that all our foodstuffs are processed and come from shops.’ Ray Mears – Wild Food

 

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The sun sets on the final day of the inquiry

The public inquiry ended today, a sunny spring day when the hawthorn finally began to open its leaves, bluebells began to flower and there was a smell of greenery and fresh leaves along the paths.

 

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Now it’s time to wait for the inspector to make his recommendations to the Secretary of State.

It’s evident that the Protect Belper team have done all that they can to save Bullsmoor.

‘A small group of people, called Protect Belper, have spent the last two weeks of their own time in the Bullsmoor planning inquiry.They have spent years researching and preparing for this. And they were eloquent and convincing speakers. It will be some time to see if they have saved the world heritage site. But we already know that they are local hero’s. Thanks guys, you know who you are – your hard work will not be forgotten.’ Cllr Ben Bellamy – ‘Belper Have Your Say’

 It seems that the developers are still professing that the land doesn’t contribute to the World Heritage Status because it’s only small and that footpaths aren’t well used. I hope that the inspector was able to see the truth of the situation rather than get swayed by  legal speak and broad brush dismissals of all that people have been fighting for.  It would be good if he was able to appreciate the importance of the personal and qualitative evidence from things like the footpath counts. This evening I walked behind a father playfully chasing his two young children while they squealed ‘chase us daddy!’ . People walked their dogs and up on Pinchom’s Hill a group of teenage girls sat watching the sun go down. These are the kind of things that can’t be summed up in a desk based study.

The inspector walked on Bullsmoor yesterday morning and also viewed it from the Chevin. I hope that he could somehow appreciate it’s value, both as contributing to the world heritage of the area and as a place which people use, value and enjoy.

 

 

Don’t let Bullsmoor disappear

In the last few days Bullsmoor has disappeared into the fog. The same days that the public enquiry has been taking place at the Council Chamber in Ripley. The hazy images somehow represent the in-between time we are in when we don’t yet know if Bullsmoor will disappear into the hands of developers.

I am hoping that Bullsmoor won’t disappear the way that Whitemoor did. The name of the Co-op gives a reminder that there was once a moor there, and I wonder if anyone remembers what it was like. I wouldn’t want us to be left with just a street sign and future generations asking ‘What was Bullsmoor?’

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The enquiry began on Tuesday and carries on into next week. The inspector is hearing the arguments for and against the development with a focus on different topics each day.

They have already covered heritage and landscape (covering things like the visual impact of development and its effect on World Heritage Site status). Amber Valley Borough Council, Appellant (the developers), Historic England, Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site and some courageous people from Protect Belper (speaking on behalf of local residents) have all had their say, being cross examined by a barrister in a formal process, which isn’t easy.

This is what’s happening next week:

Tuesday 17th April – Planning balance

Wednesday 18th April – Conditions and Obligations

Wednesday 18th April – Bullsmoor site visit (in the morning)

If anyone wants to show support it’d be great if you can attend the enquiry. The public are allowed to attend at any time during the days which start at 9.30am. This would help to support the Protect Belper speakers who are  putting a lot of effort in to making a case on behalf of thousands of local residents.

 

Around Bullsmoor-An Ancient Landscape

Yesterday I joined about 30 other walkers on a 3.5mile walk around Bullsmoor. It was led by Brian Deer and was the first of this year’s Belper Mill Heritage Walks.

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http://www.belpernorthmill.org/belper-walks.html

Adrian Farmer contributed the title picture of a view across Bullsmoor taken in the early 1900s. At that time the area between Nottingham Road and Spencer Road was common land and the area where Spencer Rd begins was called ‘Top Common.’ You can see from the picture above how the land has been filled in with housing. The common land where Vaillant stands used to be called ‘Bullsmoor bottom.’

During the walk I discovered that Coppice Brook used to be called Bradley Brook and that there is speculation that Bullsmoor was the centre of the early settlement of Belper as ‘Bradley’ was a variant of some of the old names for Belper. The layout of old fields and hedges indicate that Bullsmoor was used for farming, whereas the green areas nearer to the current town were common land, which shows that Bullsmoor may have been the area where the people of early Belper lived.

I also found out that at the triangle of tarmac at the end of Kirk’s Lane where people park used to be a pinfold. People would leave stray cattle there to be collected by their owners.

I discovered more about the history of the paths on Bullsmoor. That Kirk’s Lane and Pinchom’s Hill Lane are well established paths and in the past people used them as main routes to get to Belper. Mill workers walked along them to go to work in the Belper Mills and miners walked the other way to go and work in the mines at Denby.

Sandbed Lane was the old turnpike road that ran between Derby and Chesterfield and Kilbourne Rd  and Spencer Rd used to be called Ashbourne Rd. Prior to the current roads being built there was a tramway that carried coal from the Denby mines to Ashbourne.

I hadn’t realised that at the corner of Bullsmoor, along a lane called ‘walker’s bottom’ there is a house called ‘Bathhouse Farm’ which used to be a bath house. Until 1958 miners would have a bath there before going home.

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If you’ve noticed green gates in Belper you will see that they travel in a line across the town. I learnt that they show the route of the water pipe that runs from Carsington reservoir.

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During the walk people were asking questions about the proposed developments so David was given the opportunity to let the walkers know about the work of ‘Protect Belper’. The appeal is coming up soon and people have been working hard, often unnoticed, to gather evidence in favour of protecting Bullsmoor from development.

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In Country Images Magazine it comments how Belper has a semi-rural setting which has appeal to both local people and visitors. The walkers yesterday were genuinely interested in the history of Bullsmoor and some went on to eat and drink in Belper bringing custom to local businesses. There was also the added benefit of raising money to keep Belper North Mill Museum open.

‘For a town that has seen industries come and go, Belper manages to retain it’s semi-rural appeal. With countryside coming right up to its oldest part, it is easy to escape the pressures of everyday living. Not only does Belper have this countryside on its doorstep, it has, for a town of its size, probably more open spaces and parks than its rivals. No less than five recreation grounds and wildlife areas are visited on this short walk…’ Katie Jobling ‘Walk Around and About Belper’ Country Images Magazine 24/05/17

 

 

 

Flooding

In the last few weeks I’ve seen Jays, Buzzards and watched a Kestrel catch a sparrow, but today there were Mallards on Bullsmoor.

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After the rain and snow last night there was a stream of water running down Kirk’s Lane.

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The edges of the fields were flooded.

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Going for a walk was a challenge as I couldn’t go this way….

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Or this way…..

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Or this way…..

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I was beginning to wish I’d brought my wellies. It seemed like the three teenage girls who looked as if they were on their way to town and found themselves wading along, their jeans wet up to the knees, probably thought the same.

Once down at Coppice Brook the water was running fast and covering the fields. Charlie decided to jump in, as he loves the water, and thankfully didn’t get washed away as there was a fast current.

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I like floods, the excitement of fast running water, the random disruption and wondering if paths will be cut off. I’ve stood on the bridge at Darley Abbey weir with the river Derwent rushing one or two feet below. I’ve also had the experience of being flooded and it’s really not much fun.

 

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It took months to sort out the insurance claims and get back to normal after this flood in Wales.

 

The urbanisation of land can have a direct impact on the risk of flooding yet the planning applications seem to skirt around this issue.

‘The changes in land use associated with urban development affect flooding in many ways. Removing vegetation and soil, grading the land surface, and constructing drainage networks increase runoff to streams from rainfall and snowmelt. As a result, the peak discharge, volume, and frequency of floods increase in nearby streams. Changes to stream channels during urban development can limit their capacity to convey floodwaters. Roads and buildings constructed in flood-prone areas are exposed to increased flood hazards, including inundation and erosion, as new development continues.’ (Effects of Urban Development on Floods – K.P.Conran)

There was flood water in the garden of the house next door to Vaillant, just to the right of where this picture was taken.

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I can see why people who live near to the brook worry about potential flooding if there is more building in this area, especially of car parks, roads and pavements.

‘Landscape and ground work contractors should be diverted into ….flood-prevention work…..No-one should be contracting them to cover more and more areas with non-porous paving. More severe storms and rainfall have been predicted for years now, but the government has been too fixated with the economy, and with its misplaced endless promotion of yet more economic ‘growth’ and ‘development’. It has plumped for Tarmac-ing over more and more, instead of making changes that would actually improve the quality of our lives…..’ Eastern Region Green Party 08/02/14

I am left thinking again that it would be great if Bullsmoor could become a common. The community could have stewardship of this land and there could be opportunity to create alternative ways of preventing flooding such as rain gardens. Belper already has an example of a rain garden which can be seen at the Strutts Community Centre.

http://strutts.org.uk/raingarden.shtml

On April 10th Len Mifsud spoke on Radio Derby about the flooding around Bullsmoor.

To listen to this go to 1hr 22min on the Radio Derby news round-up.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p061tpmw

On April 13th Belper News reported on the flooding

Belper flooding highlights issues as Bullsmoor planning inquiry begins

As the planning inquiry into a controversial Belper development began this week, flooding near the site reminded residents of problems which may lie ahead. The Planning Inspectorate began its review of Amber Valley Borough Council’s approval of industrial development on greenfield land at Bullsmoor on Tuesday, April 10. The plans have been fiercely contested by residents, primarily owing to the impact on Belper’s World Heritage Site (WHS) landscape , but also due to the flood risk. Their fears were reinforced over the Easter weekend as the Coppice Brook burst its banks. Leonardo Mifsud, of the Protect Belper group, said: “Any development within the WHS buffer zone is unacceptable but, at Bullsmoor, the flood risk is very real too. There are many natural underground streams which any development would disrupt. “Plus the fields offer a level of protection. Tarmac and bricks do not absorb water, meaning extreme weather will undoubtedly result in the brook being overwhelmed to a much greater degree.”The Bullsmoor hills form a natural soakaway, meaning that, if adverse weather hits the area, water can flow across the floodplain to a second brook near Stanton Avenue. Stanton Avenue resident Anita Armstrong-Bednall said: “We’ve seen the field flood before but it seems to have got worse in recent years since the development at Whitemoor. “The floodplain always does what it’s meant to do and carries the water away, but I doubt it’ll cope if they build above it.”Developer Peveril Securities, part of Bowmer and Kirkland, has always maintained that there is a low risk of flooding but did not respond to a request for comment.A spokesman for Amber Valley Borough Council said: “We will not comment further on this application while the inquiry is under way.”

Read more at: https://www.belpernews.co.uk/news/belper-flooding-highlights-issues-as-bullsmoor-planning-inquiry-begins-1-9113802

 

 

 

 

 

Mud, Glorious Mud

Mud is amazing, how it can conjure up such polarizing feelings, how this simple substance can make us feel disgusted and revolted at the same time so joyous, inspired and alive. Amazing.’ from ‘Why playing in the mud is more than just Fun’ -Hyahno Moser 25 Jan 2018

There is an awful lot of mud on Bullsmoor and it often ends up on my kitchen floor and all over the walls as Charlie shakes himself off after a walk. It can get annoying having to clean my walking boots every day but I’d much prefer to walk through muddy fields and squelchy footpaths than on a re-directed ‘landscaped’ footpath through a housing estate or round the back of a factory car park.

‘Standing on soil feels so much different than standing on city pavement, it lets you look inwards and reflect and see who you really are, While you see a beautiful, unspoiled land……It allows your inner life to grow.’ Ricardo Montalban (actor)

It seems important to have the possibility of walking on the soil and scientific research points towards the idea that interacting with mud can literally help people to feel happier.

‘Scientists have discovered something that children have always known – playing in the mud can lift your mood. Recent studies have revealed that dirt contains microsopic bacteria called Mycobacterium vaccae which increases the levels of seratonin in our brains, helping to relax, soothe and calm.’ from ‘Benefits of mud’ -Mud Kitchens.co.uk

Mud is something which we can so easily take for granted and almost dismiss it as ‘just dirt’. The soil beneath us is more significant to our lives than we might realise, and this isn’t a new idea. A Sanscrit text from 1500BC says ‘Upon this handful of soil our survival depends. Husband it and it will grow our food, our fuel, and our shelter. Abuse it and the soil will collapse and die, taking humanity with it.‘ In 1862 a German scientist wrote:

‘There is nothing in the whole of nature which is more important or deserves as much attention as the soil. Truly it is the soil which nourishes and provides for the whole of nature, the whole of creation depends on the soil, which is the ultimate foundation of our existence.’ Friedrich Albert Fall

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It’s interesting to think, when sploshing through the muddy puddles, that each cm of topsoil takes up to a thousand years to be formed. Topsoil that can be scooped away by a digger in seconds. Beneath the soil there are Carboniferous age strata between 286 and 360 million years old.

Lady Eve Balfour (founder of the Soil Association) said ‘The health of soil, plant, animal and man is one and indivisible.’ and the Soil Association states that ‘soil is at the heart and soul of our planet. Put simply, we can’t live without it.’

‘The soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all…..Without proper care for it we can have no life…’ Wendell Berry – author and farmer.

Soil can help keep the balance of an environment. There are concerns locally about the Coppice brook flooding, particularly from people whose houses are close to the brook. Concrete and tarmac used for roads, pavements and car parks like those suggested in the new developments, are impermeable to water so rain would run off them into the brook, creating even more flooding.

 

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Coppice brook flooding on March 12th 2018.

 

Leaving the land uncovered by concrete or tarmac would help prevent flooding as would improving the drainage and quality of the soil that is already there.

‘Healthy soil is essential to water storage and preventing floods and droughts. Healthy soil reduces the risk of floods, storing as much as 3,750 tonnes of water per hectare, the equivalent of one and a half Olympic swimming pools.’ (The Soil Association)

There is a connection between the soil and the way that Belper developed as a town. When walking on Bullsmoor you might be standing on ‘Wingfield flags’ (fine-grained sandstone with siltstone embedded between them) a rock that was used for roofing stones. 

From what I’ve read the west side of Bullsmoor is made of ‘alluvium’ (a deposit of clay, silt, and sand left by flowing floodwater in a river valley or delta) which makes the mud around Coppice brook fertile. The food for deer in the Duke of Lancaster’s deer park was grown in the fields near Coppice brook.

I’ve heard that the clay on Bullsmoor was used for pots made at the original Belper Pottery and that a piece of medieval pottery has recently been found in Belper that may have been made from Bullsmoor clay.

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Near the Coppice brook there’s Millstone Grit, Chatsworth Grit and something called ‘Lower Pennine Coal Measures Formation’. This is made up of grey mudstone, siltstone and pale grey sandstone. In the lower part it has mudstones containing marine fossils and in the upper part a lot of thick coal seams.

Beneath the ground at the north end of Bullsmoor there is a 40 metre long coal seam. The availability of coal in this area had an impact on the development of local industry and contributed to the arrival  of the nail making business in Belper in the 13th century.

So, as you can see, there is much more to the mud of Bullsmoor than the inconvenience of mess and muddy paws.

 Almost all other issues are superficial by comparison to soil loss. So why don’t we talk about it? (George Monbiot 2015 http://www.monbiot.com)

 

A lapwing and brightly coloured sledges

On my walk over Bullsmoor today I could hear squeals, laughs and shouts from rosy cheeked children sliding down the hill on brightly coloured sledges. The schools were closed today due to the snow so there were plenty of children and adults throwing snowballs, building snowmen and sledging. The wind was bitingly cold but it didn’t stop people having a lot of fun.

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A single lapwing was being buffeted about in the wind and the gulls blended into the white-grey sky. There was the trail of animal footprints in the snow across the field into the foggy distance.

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In the snow the juxtaposition of  agricultural and industrial landscape seemed to stand out more than usual. From what I’ve read about the history of the area nailers lived in the houses on Nottingham Road and looking at old maps it can be seen that some of the field boundaries on Bullsmoor are the same as they were on enclosure maps of the 1800s and earlier. Looking back across Bullsmoor onto Nottingham Road you can get a sense of an early industrial landscape standing against the remains of a medieval agricultural one.

The hedges around Bullsmoor have about 6 different kinds of shrub in them including Hawthorn, Blackthorn, Holly, Ash, Elder and Hazel. In the book ‘Hedgerow’ it explains how to date a hedge:

‘The number of different species of shrub in a thirty-yard stretch may indicate the age of a hedge. For each species add another century…..a hedge planted in Tudor times would have at least five different shrubs in it.’ From ‘Hedgerow’ by Thomas and White

This makes the hedges on Bullsmoor at least six hundred years old.

This historical setting makes Bullsmoor an important part of the setting of the World Heritage Site. In 2011 there was another planning appeal relating to the land at Hill Top Farm and the inspector wrote:

The appeal site and the rest of the abutting open land alongside the Coppice Brook and The Park represent a tongue of green, natural landscape that weaves into the eastern side of the settlement and, to my mind, forms an intrinsic part of understanding the setting of the WHS – the associative connection between the historic events that happened here and its wider surroundings’’.

I fell into a snow drift taking this picture which shows the houses on Nottingham Road backing onto the fields.

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The snow brought out the ridge and furrow marks in the fields again. I’ve been told by a local archaeologist that the ridges are pre-19th century as they measure 10yards top to top. They could possibly date back to medieval times and there may be remnants in the landscape of the time when it was used to grow fodder for the Duke of Lancaster’s deer park.

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